Shivah is an unapologetic old school point and click adventure game. With pixellated graphics, dialogue tree gameplay and big exaggerated animations, it is definitely going to immediately appeal to people who are familiar with the classic point and clicks of the past.
At the same time the graphics might well put some off, and it's worth noting up front that this is a decidedly retro game, visually. That said, when run in a window the graphics looked fine, and most of the animation has an cartoony element consistent with the feel of the game.
You play a disgruntled Rabbi named Russel Stone, who becomes embroiled in the death of a former member of his synagogue. The gameplay is very much classic LucasArts adventure, though with very few items - mostly you collect clues which can be used to ask questions of other characters. There's even a nod towards the old Monkey Island insult fighting, though the fight felt a touch long winded in game$, possibly due to it being a bit late by the time I got to it!
Rabbi Stone always has a slightly snide comment or wisecrack to deploy as you go through the various locations in the game, and the interactions with the other characters are often entertaining in themselves, usually including a "Rabbinical Response", that answers with a question - leading to an amusing rabbi-off in another synagogue at one point in the game.
On top of the usual ingredients there are several sections in the game where you have to use a computer, with a nice integration of a puzzle for working out logins. A search engine on the computer is used for some puzzle solving, as is an email interface. Also available is a button that outputs a variety of amusing jewish jokes, which is never a bad thing. I've long believed I'm missing out through not having a wisecracking jewish friend from New York, and the Shivah certainly helps fill that gap.
There are some extras thrown in, including a "kibbitzing" mode, which I haven't yet tried but promises to offer directors commentary like interjections from the developer. There's also a fun bonus when you complete the game, which I wont spoil.
Given the length and price of the game, the closest competition would probably be something like Gumshoe Online, though I think the voice acting and style of Shivah gives it the one up over Gumshoe, I'd say that the average GSO mystery is probably little more of a challenge.
There are some poor decisions in The Shivah though, mostly relating to the interface. For example, the clues can be combined by dragging one onto the other, but there is only point in the game where you actually have to do that, and it's entirely possible to go through the game without realising you can right click to describe an object. Not knowing that wouldn't stop you from completing the game, but you would miss some of the jokes, and I think would have justified a brief instruction screen at the start of the game.
In the end, the decision comes down to whether you want to pay a few quid for a short game, and I would encourage anyone to say yes. I found the story and characters engaging, and while it's not the most polished game in the world, The Shivah captures a lot of what is good about adventure titles - humour, plot and fun.