Developer: Denby Raze
Available From: GOG.com / Desura / IndieCity
“So wait, hang on, I combine this toaster, and this piece of string, and I can make a helicopter? Brilliant!”
There’s something very unique about most point and click adventure games. In amongst the blatant kleptomania, is the almost Macgyver–like ability to create something out of nothing to progress the story forward. It’s what gives the genre its charm, and also provides its biggest frustrations, when tenuous item combinations are the only way forward on a sometimes illogical path towards the game's end. So when Denby Raze (made up of two gaming enthusiasts who've spent much of their time on this critical side of the fence - Lewis Denby and Ashton Raze) developed Richard & Alice - an indie point and click title that promises to provide puzzles and item combinations that make sense - I was tickled-pink with intrigue at how they would balance the obvious solutions but provide enough interest for the player.
The game itself focuses on the two titular protagonists as they find themselves in an underground “prison” trapped in their own individual cells. A gander at the world outside the prison, and 'desolate' doesn’t do it justice. If you think the UK has had a lot of snow so far this year, you ain't seen nothing yet. Snow has ravaged the landscape for years in a manner that has led to widespread starvation, isolation and fear, with gangs forming to control what little supplies are available, and people gathering in safe zones to live together. Bleak? Well in a word, yes, and that sort of sets the tone for this adventure right from the off. This isn’t your usual charming, quirky and comic point and click adventure. The themes here are much darker from the get go, so you’d better be prepared for that as you dive in.
As the story progresses you alternate between control of Richard in his cell, and Alice in the time before she came to be in hers. It’s an interesting method of detailing narrative and back-story in a genre that is sometimes lacking in this area. Naturally the majority of action occurs in the Alice-controlled sections, given the freedom for different environments and characters. In these, our heroine must fight for survival against the elements and more with her 5 year old boy Barney in tow, who offers her emotional support and requires assistance in equal measures.
But don’t be fooled by the inclusion of a child in the story, this is very much an adult game, in both the language used as well as the action that takes place during the game, as Alice makes more and more discoveries. Where this game particularly excels is the way in which it portrays these parts of the game in a way that really does drive emotion in the player. Through no more than emotive text dialogue and some well-placed background music, I felt genuine shock, empathy and fear whilst playing this game, to the point where I actually felt safe and calm when the story would return to Richard in his cell. That’s not bad going for a game that has no voice acting and fairly modest production levels.
What I also enjoyed about the game was the fact that it also dared to discuss some very serious and thought-provoking issues. Concepts of morality, the drive for survival, and the lengths we would go to if it meant being alive are discussed throughout the game in the dialogue between characters, but in a way that is never preaching a particular train of thought. It’s a game that encourages you to think harder about your current situation and how you might behave if it were real, without ever telling you if you’re right or wrong for your views. What this succeeds in doing is not only challenging your perceptions of morality, but also adds an additional level of immersion into the game for the player.
So then, back to that initial promise of sensible item combinations and puzzle solutions. I have to admit that this game certainly keeps its promise in that department. The puzzles and item combinations all make a lot of sense and are fairly straightforward. The only time when I became stuck was when I had couldn’t see the obvious answer staring me in the face. Not once in this game did I give a heavy sigh and an exaggerated roll of the eyes when I solved a puzzle, as they all made sense – or certainly as much sense as they need to in a point and click game. Gone were the usual frustrations of blindly combining everything with everything in the vain hope you’re lucky enough to be on the same crazy page as the game designer. In essence the square pegs were very firmly placed in square holes – there’s even a tenuous clue to one of the puzzles for free right there for you.
However, where this apparent victory for the genre falls short from greatness is in that simplicity itself. Unfortunately by delivering on its promise of puzzles that make sense, the solutions become very instinctive and obvious. Normally this wouldn’t be too much of an issue but it becomes more exaggerated when you couple that with the natural restrictions of an indie title developed by just two people – in that there are only a few different locations, and the list of items you can pick up and interact with is naturally smaller too. What this adds up to is a title that feels a little bit light. This becomes very apparent in Richard’s scenes where you are in the same small location – his cell – again and again and the opportunity for items and puzzles become fewer and fewer as the story progresses. It is a shame because what Denby Raze have tried to do with the genre is commendable and should be applauded, but without a large inventory to solve these sensible puzzles with or a large variety of locations with which to acquire them and use them over, it forces the game to become linear and straightforward in places, something you want to try and avoid in the point and click genre.
Visually, this game is clean and well presented. Sure, the visuals don’t knock your socks off, but as an indie title of this type, they were arguably never going to. The good thing is though this takes nothing away from the game itself. You don’t need cutting edge graphics to make a good point and click adventure – that’s why plenty of people still play Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle nowadays. It’s one of few genres that doesn’t look dated or unplayable in today’s market by having more standard graphics, and that’s why they work well as indie games. Richard & Alice is no exception.
For me though, the deal clincher here for this game is the price. And to be perfectly honest, for just £3.99, Richard & Alice presents a really good case for your money. For little more than the price of a pint of beer, you’ll get a very modern point and click adventure. One that not only challenges the way you’d expect to go about a game such as this, but also the way you would normally feel whilst playing it. The dialogue in the game is engaging and emotive and you’ll find yourself becoming very attached to Alice during her backstory. It’ll be 5+ hours that you will enjoy, and more than likely want to re-play for the different dialogue options and to see how different choices pan out. Sure it’s not a perfect point and click adventure but it’s a very commendable effort from Denby Raze on their first project together.
- Very emotive storyline, plenty of atmosphere throughout
- Sensible puzzles and solutions
- Value for money
- Can become linear at times
- Number of items and locations is a little restrictive
The Short Version: Richard & Alice is not your normal point and click adventure, and that’s a good thing. It takes some very adult themes and situations and rolls it into an emotive and engaging experience. It replaces the usual random item combinations, with straightforward puzzles with varying success. But all in all at just £3.99, this first offering from Denby Raze is well worth your time and money.