Simply put, Evidence: The Last Ritual is one of the stranger games you're ever likely to play. That doesn't make it totally awesome, as players of the only game that even remotely resembles it - the failed PC experiment Majestic - will tell you. But it ain't at all bad either.
This is the sequel to 2004's lamely titled Missing: Since January (and its pseudo-expansion pack, Missing: The 13th Victim), and the gameplay and background are roughly the same as in the original. To wit: there is a fearsome serial killer on the loose in Europe who calls himself (or possibly herself?) The Phoenix, and who leaves behind CD-ROMs to taunt the authorities. Apparently, old gimmicks like a playing card, a note made up of cut-and-pasted magazine letters, or a pupaescent moth have been washed away by the flow of technology.
Anyhow, the discs contain a series of puzzles, and the theory goes that by solving the puzzles, you'll help catch the killer. At the beginning of the game, you're inducted into the "ICPA," the International Committee for the Phoenix's Arrest, a large international group of sleuths working together to crack the discs.
Here's where the weirdness comes in. Unlike more conventional adventure/puzzle games, Evidence requires a functioning email address and a connection to the Internet. Once you've started the game, the hunt for clues to solving the puzzles often require a substantial amount of real-world Googling, and you can expect to receive regular messages from the ICPA, in real time, while you play (along with - predictably - taunts from the Phoenix himself).
For example, one of the Phoenix's more consistent obsessions is with Dante's Divine Comedy. So, the solution to one puzzle involves looking up Inferno on the web (in Italian, no less), then inputting the canto and line numbers of a verse flitting about the screen.
Not every solution requires that kind of work - some can be solved just by logic - but many do, and if you're the sort who has a lot of odd, historical and literary trivia floating around in your head, it's kinda neat to run across a game that rewards it.
It's worth noting, however, that other searches and clues point to web pages specifically designed as part of the game, and one kinda cool touch is that, unless you're paying very close attention, it's not always apparent which pages are real and which aren't. In addition, the game plugs you into the Phoenix-Investigators.org website, so you can get in touch with other players from around the world and trade ideas and solutions.
But as different and challenging as Evidence is, the P-I site also brings up the game's more annoying side. While the site has a rudimentary search function for finding other players to team up with, there's no apparent way to search for a specific player. So if you and a friend want to get together, you're kind of screwed (unless you're very lucky and a random search happens to pop up with his or her screen name). True, you can always communicate outside the game, but it's still pretty annoying.
And there's more. The game requires you to enter your password every single time you start a new session, which is as flatly stupid as you'd imagine. Also, the discs include large segments of video detailing the European authorities' ongoing investigation and you're supposed to glean clues from these little Quicktimes. However, on at least one occasion a vital clue was all but impossible to make out thanks to sloppy, impenetrable handwriting in the video. And yeah, as with all adventure/puzzle games, while some challenges are pretty clever, an almost equal number are pointlessly inscrutable.
Despite these faults however, Evidence: The Last Ritual is still an interesting ride. Plus, it has to be said that its Se7en -inspired serial killer lunacy is good for a genuine chill or two. It ain't perfect, but it's different and interesting enough to be worth a good look.