Thursday, March 7, 2013

GAME REVIEW: RICHARD AND ALICE (2013)

Developed and Published by Denby Raze

Two people, Richard and Alice, are incarcerated within a rather cushy prison. They have flatscreen TVs showing vintage nature documentaries and old school anime; clean water for the shower and the toilet; computer with prison intranet email; and each of their cells are single occupancy. No overcrowding, no gangs, no violence, and the guards deliver the meals on time. No abuse from the prison authorities, either. Richard and Alice's prison cell doors face each other across the hall, so they have company, if not potential physical contact.

They get to talking. Richard's a former soldier locked up on charges of desertion. Alice is a homemaker accused of murder. They both miss their children who are still on the outside. They would prefer to have their children with them. Inside the prison.

The outside world is a dangerous, depraved place. Anthropocentric global warming has polarized world climate patterns into extremes of hot and cold. In England, Richard and Alice's part of the world, every day is snowy, at the least, and some days it's a full on blizzard. Civil society has broken down due to shortages of fuel, food, electricity, medicine, and potable water. Violent bandits who call themselves the Polar Bears roam the snowy wastes, raping, murdering, and pillaging at will. The only place where there still seems to be law and order is within the prison, and even that may be starting to break down.

Richard and Alice is a point-and-click adventure/mystery game that functions primarily as a vehicle for narrative, similar in this respect to 2011's To the Moon. None of the puzzles are particularly difficult. Fetch quests for items are confined to relatively small locales. Everything is eminently logical (with a couple of exceptions, perhaps . . .), with none of the near-mystical puzzle design of a game like Myst, nor any of the harsh techno-logic of the hardest puzzles of 2012's Resonance. Hardcore gamers looking for extreme challenge and difficulty will not find it here. Richard and Alice is not an action or role-playing game. I would liken the experience of playing it to reading a short story, or maybe watching a movie. It reminded me of the 2008 movie version of Jose Saramago's novel Blindness. 

So if you want to experience a dark science fiction story told via the medium of retro 16-bit (maybe even 14-bit) overhead perspective graphics, effectively atmospheric music, and sharply composed dialogue, Richard and Alice delivers the goods for the most part. The story does stumble in a couple of places, and I wasn't crazy about the visuals. There is almost no character animation in terms of facial expressions or emotions, and this works against some moments and scenes. The dialogue and music mostly pick up the dramatic slack, but I think more expressive character portraits would've helped.  But the game doesn't compromise in the areas of tone, mood, and theme.

Oh, and there's no voice acting. It's all text, and you have to read it. This didn't bother me, since the dialogue is quite good (and authentically British I might add), and I like to read. If you don't like to read, well, that's your problem.

Richard and Alice is the first commercial offering from indie developers Denby Raze. It has narrative juice and thematic integrity, good music, not-so-spectacular graphics, sharp dialogue, and it's short. Some may feel they are not getting their money's worth paying to play such a brief game. I would rather play a short game that says all it needs to say then exits the stage, rather than dragging things out, and I do think Denby Raze has every right to make money from their creative efforts. But some may feel they've been shortchanged. Caveat emptor, all that.

I have done my level best to say as little about the actual story content of Richard and Alice as possible. It would be pointless to give anything away, as this game hinges on its turns of narrative more than anything. But if you do play through this game, ask yourself this: is the ending of Richard and Alice the absolute ending, all she wrote, the rest is silence, that's all folks? Or is it just the first act?

Personally, I'm kinda hoping it's just the first act. We only really get to know one of these two characters. I'd kinda like to learn about the other one, too. I'd come back for another installment even if the graphics were the same. These Denby Raze guys got a strong line on dialogue, theme, and story, so here's hoping we see more from them down the line.

Denby Raze website:
www.denbyraze.com

Trailer:





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