Richard & Alice Review
When I was younger, I remember my introduction to the point and click genre in the form of a title called Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars; a game where you played as protagonist George Stobbart, investigating different areas to solve various puzzles and learn new elements of the plot by interacting with various different NPCs. It was a game that, for all its great ideas, often felt a little flat and deflated – as though most of the puzzles and adventure clichés were there simply to conceal the fact that the plot really wasn’t that good.
Many years later, I found myself sitting down to play Owlcave Games‘ indie title Richard and Alice. Having not played a “true” point-and-click title in a long time, the issues I had raised in my younger years with Broken Sword came flooding back; would the game’s puzzles and dialogue sequences simply be a façade for a story that couldn’t really stand up based off its own merits? Would the typical monotony of point-and-click games quickly set in, where you’re forced to click everything and use one thing on all the other things until the solution inexplicably displays itself? Would the characters simply seem too paper-thin, lacking a certain depth or personality, causing the game to fall flat on its face?
For Owlcave Games, I’m sure many of these issues were probably valid and very real concerns at one point or another; being a relatively small indie studio, it would be all too easy to let rookie mistakes seep in and ruin the potential of the title. Far too often in the indie world, games try to be something they’re not in an attempt to be the next big thing, and consequently dig their own grave in the process. I’m here to tell you that Owlcave Games manage to avoid that particular pitfall entirely.
It should be noted that Richard and Alice is not a game for everyone; if you want action to be the over-riding theme of your gaming experience, you can close this review now with my assurance that you won’t find that here. While Richard and Alice does have moments that get the adrenaline pumping, its the storytelling and character development that happens in-between that make Richard and Alice what it truly is. We join our protagonists-of-sorts Richard and Alice (no prizes for guessing that one, folks) in a prison deep underground; the world above-ground has well and truly gone to hell in a handbasket, and Richard and Alice are “volunteers”, two of many that have been “signed up” as test subjects for a program that will eventually offer the richest people on earth luxury accommodation and safety underground, away from the never-ending snow that has driven the world above to the edge of existence. Richard and Alice get luxury leather sofas, a comfortable bed and brand-new computers with one caveat; they can never leave. Coined as the “safest place on Earth”, to Richard and Alice it is nothing but a luxury prison cell.
Throughout the course of the game, you relive the events that took place prior to the jail incident through the eyes of Richard and Alice to better understand how they wound up in this predicament. One of the things that struck me immediately is just how well the story is told through only two core characters; although there’s a small cast of “support” characters that intertwine the story, its Richard and Alice that really steal the show. Alice is a firecracker. quite pensive and withdrawn when she first arrives, she’s a fiery character who’s bark is seemingly worse than her bite. Richard, by comparison, is incredibly laid back and relaxed – having been in prison for quite a while before Alice, he acts almost institutionalized; as though he’s grown quite accustomed to the fact that he may never leave the four walls that surround him. The relationship that Richard and Alice build throughout the game is one of the best I’ve seen in a game in a very long time – from small talk through the bars of their cells to full-blown conversations about their past, ambitions, and even little quips and jokes about their surroundings (Richard remarking that they’re “even receiving spam mail in prison now” is one of my stand-out comical moments from the game) – the way Owlcave have designed the characters and the chemistry that builds between them is really something special; it isn’t falsified, and when the characters interact with each other, it feels real. There’s a whole lot of emotion conveyed through so little, and its really quite impressive.
The attention to detail is pretty astonishing in Richard and Alice, and it shines through in almost every element of the gameplay; from the design of the puzzles and the level of focus you have to pay to your surroundings, to the innocence of a Alice’s child Barney, who’s intent on living his life as a child despite what might be happening to the world around him – everything feels as though its been created with love and care. No particular area of the game feels like its been forced in or placed there simply to be used as a “stop-gate” for another upcoming locale. It really speaks to intelligent design that nothing in Richard and Alice makes you feel awkward – when you wind up in an abandoned house, its because you need to escape the cold; when you find yourself in a tool shed, its because you need the items contained within. Everything within the world has it’s place and its refreshing to play a game where the world feels so “right” all of the time. One good example is Richard’s cell; from the beginning of the game to the end, very little about his cell changes, and yet every time a new problem or issue arises that him and Alice need to solve, you’ll discover a new nook or cranny of it that you hadn’t noticed before; go back and play again, and you’ll see it was there all along, you just didn’t spot it then because it wasn’t relevant. There’s no need for lots of flair and large set pieces when you can pull something this inspiring off with so little.
One thing that Richard and Alice does exceptionally well is atmosphere; the feeling from one location to another really does change and when the mood becomes more tense, you feel it in the way the characters react to their surroundings. By passing back and forth between the prison and scenarios from the outside, it adds an interesting thematic to the game – where are Richard and Alice truly safest? For the majority of the game, Richard and Alice talk about escape; about what the world is like now outside the walls that imprison them, and what it would be like to get out and explore – but the more time you spend outside and live through their eyes, the more you begin to wonder if its really somewhere you want to be; the constant sound of the whirling wind, the tumbling tundras that you trek across, and the warm feeling you get when you finally manage to find a safe-haven all build an extraordinary atmosphere that is subtle, a background tone at best, but something that constantly keeps you thinking about the humanity of living on the outside and whether prison really is the worst place you could be.
I rate Richard and Alice 5/5. The title is extremely refreshing and everything the point and click genre needs; it never feels like it drags and the story will pull you in and refuse to let you go until the credits roll. My only major gripe with the game is somewhat of a double-edged sword – I only wish that it had been longer, but then maybe that’s just how long Richard and Alice’s tale was meant to last, and perhaps that’s enough. What there is, however, stands apart in its field; a game that does everything it should and goes above and beyond what’s expected of its genre to bring its players a story they will remember for a long time to come.
I fear Richard and Alice may be one of those indie titles that unfortunately slips under the radar because of its subtle beauty – but if you’ve made it this far and you’re reading this right now, do yourself a favour and go out and buy this game. If you’re a fan of point and click games, Richard and Alice has everything you could ever ask for and so much more; and if you’re not, there are worse places to begin falling in love.
A massive thanks to @ashtonryze for all her help with this review.