Evidence: The Last Ritual

When I wrote about Missing/In Memoriam, I acknowledged that there was an invisible time limit until support for its alternate reality gameplay was shut down. When I finished The 13th Victim, I was pretty worn out on scratchy puzzles, French accents, and objects being described as “esoteric.” I decided I would take a break and get around to revisiting the proper sequel, Evidence, later. After all, the servers were still up and obviously would stay that way forever.

Sharon and Jessica’s search for Jessi’s missing brother is half the tale.

To be clear, I played Missing and Evidence when each was originally released in the mid-2000s. I thought both were fascinating, but as they were new, writing about them then wouldn’t have been very “retro.” This also probably contributed to me ignoring my own advice – I knew how Evidence ended, so I didn’t have that gnawing curiosity to drive me.  The inevitable came just two years after I wrote about In Memoriam – Lexis Numérique closed its doors, so both support and their various ARG websites blew away like dust in the wind.

Now, almost ten years later, my idiot brain has decided it’s the perfect time to get back to what I started. This actually does work out, though, because now we can talk about what happens after Thanos snapped the servers out of existence. Can you still play Evidence? Yes. Sort of. Not easily. Is it still going to be as fun? Yes. Sort of. Sometimes.

In Memoriam has seen an astounding level of fan support post-closure, with the In Memoriam Revival Project managing to recreate its email server and archive/host its many unique websites. If you’re interested in the series, you should absolutely start there. Not only because it remains the most playable, but also because this sequel references far too much of the original story and threads to come into unaware. You can mark that you’re a newcomer when starting Evidence, then different versions of emails and some in-game text will try to fill you in on plot points. But honestly, the revelations here just won’t have as much meaning without experiencing the first.

Also, time has not been as kind to Evidence. There’s no comparable revival project for this one. My understanding is that preserving In Memoriam was already a pretty large undertaking, and since they both went down at the same time, much of the sequel’s parts are lost for good. There are ways, and we’ll talk about the duct-taped experience you can have today in a little bit, but first let’s talk about the sequel itself.

Phoenix’s puzzles are still cryptic and his clues even more so.

Without getting spoilery, In Memoriam told the tale of journalist Jack Lorski and partner Karen Gijiman investigating a murder captured on an old 16mm film. This journey led them afoul of The Phoenix, a serial killer with a… unique M.O. We learned Phoenie believed himself to be the resurrection of a real-life, D-list historical figure, out to take his revenge on the descendants of those who killed him. Secret orders, forbidden texts, and deep conspiracy theories all factored in as you raced to decode his cryptic CD.

All of this carries over to Evidence. Phoenix is back with a new CD (well, four of them) and you’re once again “decrypting” levels of the main disk by playing through puzzles with chilling art design. Unlike the first, there are no more skill-based minigames. As I talked about with the 13th Victim expansion, this is extremely welcome news. Dragging knives around without touching the walls, or trying to survive waves of a pointless Galaga clone, were easily the worst part of the first. They are replaced with more internet investigations and a greater reliance on fictional lore.

Evidence also comes off as having a greater confidence in its storytelling and methods – surely boosted by In Memoriam’s sales figures – so it doubles down on what worked in the first. There are more ARG websites, more videos in shot at real-world historic locations, more lore and conspiracies. The two parallel investigations keep you interested and wanting to poke further into the CD to see where all of this goes, while the Phoenix carves his way across the Northeast U.S. and Europe, taunting you all the way.

A new Zoom tool lets you search puzzles screens for hidden info.

Just about everything is also a clue. The developers do a great job at keeping things consistent, so when Jack is in a city in Spain, his videos will offer clues to the Phoenix’s current puzzles about the area. A very appreciated video replay option now exists, so you can review videos you’ve unlocked and pause on papers, objects, and similar. If you’re not taking detailed notes, you’re probably going to have to review every one of the videos to solve one of the final puzzles.

It’s worth noting that sound forms the basis of a fair number of puzzles, as well as areas where color blindness could be an issue. There’s no assistance for these in game, plus no subtitles for the videos. I also ran into a few errors while playing, but nothing that broke the game or made it unplayable. You can leave a puzzle and return to it, which cleared up any issues I ran across.

I will also note that Evidence is more uncomfortable than the first. Karen being held by The Phoenix was referenced in In Memoriam, but the Phoenix’s victims – be they dead, or alive, bound, and terrified – are front and center for more than a few of Evidence’s puzzles. The very first one shows Jessica captured and apparently abused, starting things off on a pretty icky note, which, I suppose, is the point. On the other hand, you fight back here more than you did in the first – using tools to analyze and bypass parts of Phoenix’s CD, isolate and track down “spyware” signals to find him, and overall, feel like you’re helping to get the best of him by the end instead of always trailing behind someone else’s investigation.

Evidence trends a little darker than the first, but Phoenix is a serial killer.

Unfortunately, the loss of the game’s websites is a huge hit. This is what made the alternate reality part sing, as the developers created fictional historical societies, shops, even character blogs, and seeded them on the real, capital-I Internet. Clues in the puzzles instruct you to search Google or similar with key phrases to find these pages. These pages are crucial to proceed as they literally hold the name, phrase, date, or whatever needed to unlock the puzzle. When it’s a real-life location or true piece of history, Wikipedia can do. When it’s a fictional character, or a part of the game’s lore? Not so much.

I remember feeling so clever when playing these games on release. Now that the magic simply doesn’t work anymore, I can see how I was just manipulated. Thousands of players searching the same puzzle terms would naturally float these game websites to the top of any engine’s results. This is how the game’s puzzles and conspiracies get away with calling Joan of Arc (name changed, not a real spoiler) a Masonic Grandmaster and having you actually manage to find a website that supports the claim. They were great at making you feel smart, but finding some words in a puzzle, searching for them, and getting linked to the page explicitly designed to show up when those words are searched, well, is really nothing more than playing your part.

And while the skill-based minigames are gone, there are still minigames. You can’t fail them, but you can get the shit frustrated out of you as each one finds a new way to obfuscate entering the information you’ve found. Very rarely can you ever just type the name or date you’re asked, instead you’ve got to draw circles around letters until they disappear. Or you have to push icons into place using localized explosions, while keeping them away from “evil” icons that destroy them. Or you have to pass numbers through beams that change the number somehow – you’ll have to figure out the background math each beam triggers – so that you can turn the number into the date needed. You’re already doing work to find the answer, so having the game go “Ha HA! Now tell it to me with one hand behind your back while standing on your head!” gets pretty tiring.

If nothing else, this team consistently does impressive things with Shockwave, like this fully textured 3D cube puzzle.

If you’re like me, though, you’ll keep coming back. Walking away for a day or an hour is just part of the game and I found it surprising how ready I was to continue the story after a bit of cooling off. This also gives time for the alternate-reality emails to roll in. As with the first, you must give a working email address to even start the game and will get contacted by support characters throughout. Emails will give you backstory, clues, hints, and even codes for “downloadable” software to examine puzzles with new abilities. It’s a critical part that also makes this feel like a grander team effort if you want to let your imagination play along.

So that’s what you’re in for if you want to tackle Phoenix’s latest challenge. It’s why I cannot recommend you start here before the first In Memoriam – there’s just no point. Especially now, when you can have a reasonably true experience through the Revival Project. Use your time there to decide if continuing with the sequel is worth the herculean hassles you’ll have to deal with. But, if you’ve finished IM and want to see how the story ends, well, let’s break down what you’re up against.

First, the only websites still up are ones captured by the Revival Project. This means you can access The Phoenix’s original website, used in the tutorial of this game. Some early puzzles can be answered with clues from the first game (save those bookmarks!) But the entire list of the rest – some 20-30 sites – have been offline for a decade. Luckily, nearly every one of them is captured well enough on archive.org’s Wayback Machine that you can pull the answers off those sites. The problem is, you have no way to find them.

A lot of solutions end up pretty far out there.

As said, manipulating search engines was a critical part that made this game work. That’s gone, so you’ll have to use a walkthrough to find these sites. But if you don’t want to just follow a walkthrough line by line, then the hardest part is trying to figure out if you’re supposed to go to a game-specific site. It’s the literal difference between having enough information to solve the puzzle, or never being able to. I would frequently give up too early and hit the walkthrough, convinced I needed a long-gone website, only to find I had what I needed in front of me and just needed to think it through more.

To address this, I’ve made a list of each puzzle and whether you need a page created specifically for the game, or not. My hope is this guide helps with a part of the game that significantly drug me down as I tried to play it today. It’s NOT a hint book or a walkthrough, it’s simply letting you know if you are literally able to solve the puzzle on your own. If not, it will give you the game-created fake website that (probably) would have shown up as the top search result anyway.

Second, you’ve gotta have those emails. As with the first, you cannot even start the game without registering an account and receiving an email with a unique access password. Fortunately, a player named Simon Rodriguez did some digging and found that the servers only relayed the emails – the actual text was always triggered and coming from your individual game client itself (the phone calls are coming from inside the house!!) This makes it possible to replicate the email server locally and make both new accounts and character emails available, more or less, indefinitely. Instructions are on his site. It’s an undertaking, but anyone moderately tech-inclined should be able to figure it out.

How can you search by the first letter of each line of a poem? You’ll have to figure it out.

Third, Adobe and the world have been trying their damndest to wipe Flash off the Earth. Not great when you’re talking about an entire game – and some associated websites – built off the technology. Shockwave can be installed from the disk and is required for the game to run. I had no issues doing so on Windows 10. The bigger issue is about four sites used Flash for critical game clues. One, xineph.com, returns from the first game and so is covered by the Revival Project. The rest are gone, as archive.org does not appear to archive Flash files – you’re forced to use walkthroughs here. At least Evidence’s finale is located on the disk this time.

If you overcome all of this, congratulations! You’re now ready to play a cut-rate version of what used to be a pretty good game. The design that made it shine simultaneously made this outcome inevitable, but I don’t believe in throwing up hands and simply declaring the game dead forever. I’ve certainly wanted to play a game I missed out on and been perfectly willing to make accommodations. If this is you, good luck! If it’s not, I see no shame. There are YouTube Let’s Plays, or someone in the future might be able to recreate the websites with the scraps on archive.org.

Evidence is not critical to play and definitely doesn’t end the series. Everything is set up here for another sequel, but given that it’s been 15 years and The Phoenix hasn’t killed anyone else, I guess you can make up your own head canon. It is, however, a worthy sequel to In Memoriam, with more of what made that game great and less of what didn’t. The fact that it’s a bear to play these days just means you’re not going to get the full experience you would have had on release. If you’re okay with that, it’s mostly a journey worth taking.

 

If you missed it, we have a spoiler-free guide to help you know when you need an offline website, or if you can solve a puzzle with what you already have.

 

The Good

More brain-bending challenges from a team of great designers. No troublesome skill games to waste your time. Goes deep into its lore in ways that are satisfying to unravel. What The Phoenix is up to this time is actually a pretty shocking twist.

 

The Bad

Mostly that it doesn’t work the way it was supposed to anymore, which doesn’t seem fair to deduct points for. Definitely expert level difficulty overall, while some challenges are a bit much, like recognizing you need to switch Greek for Latin – and then doing it – but websites and emails would help you along.

 

How do you know it’s him?”

“Look! It’s an encrypted alphabet he made up just for us when we were kids!”

 

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