[16 June 2014]
PopMatters Multimedia Editor
Richard & Alice is a quiet game, a bleak game, and a generally well written game.
It is a point-and-click adventure game of the traditional sort with very basic RPGMaker-style graphics. It isn’t especially pretty, but the old school aesthetics work, and it does manage to create a moody and often morose tone.
Set in a dystopian near-future in which weather patterns have gone so haywire that the area of the world that the lead characters, Richard and Alice, occupy has become a frozen wasteland. The world is a mix of roving gangs and some kind of police state that is trying to step in to re-establish some kind of rule of law again.
Both Richard and Alice are prisoners of the state when the story begins. One is in for desertion, the other for murder. And the story largely revolves around their interactions in this purportedly “safest” of institutions now on earth.
This plotline serves as a frame-tale for most of the action of the game. Alice and Richard get to know one another from across a hallway in the two cells that they individually occupy, and much of the game concerns Alice telling Richard the story of how she arrived in the institution. Thus, most of the gameplay occurs in flashbacks as you replay Alice’s memories of trying to find a safe place for herself and her son in this dangerous world, following the death of her husband.
The game’s story unfolds nicely, dealing largely with issues involving how strangers treat one another (be that humanely or more often inhumanely) in both settings, in Richard and Alice’s present and in Alice’s past.
While Owl Cave can be commended for telling a mature story about ethics, grief, and loss, though, the gameplay leaves something to be desired. The point-and-click activities are extremely familiar ones, picking up objects, using them on other objects in the environment, or combining objects in your inventory to solve puzzles. The game is by no means trying to do something new with the genre. However, the basics are serviceable. Puzzles are fairly sensible and proceed in a reasonable manner.
The problems really come in largely in the sequences from Alice’s past in which environments are extremely large spaces and involve a lot of backtracking from one screen to the next or from one end of a screen to the next. Alice’s movement speed as she treks the frozen wasteland is very, very slow, making the constant backtracking a terrible chore (especially since there are not too many new things to look at in each location). The pacing of puzzle solving interferes with why a player is really here, which is to see how the story unfolds and what the connection is between these two seemingly very different individuals.
Put quite simply, if you want to follow a well told story about man’s inhumanity to man that asks questions about whether liberty or security is more valuable in human life, you may want to check out Richard & Alice. However, you will have to put up with the game itself as it sometimes struggles to push forward to get at the interesting themes that the game wishes to grapple with.