Game Pile: Richard & Alice

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Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here.

Every single game thing I can say about Richard & Alice up front needs to come with a disclaimer: This is not a happy story. This is not a story you give to your friends when they’re down, not a game with blue sky and bright powerups and fun voices. That’s Freedom Planet and we’ll talk about that soon. Richard & Alice is not that game. Richard & Alice is a grim, post-apocalyptic narrative of confined spaces and limited opportunities.

What I’m saying is, to a certain kind of reader I have: You probably don’t want to read this review.

 You Start In A Cell

Richard & Alice is a point-and-click indie adventure game that starts in a jail cell and becomes more bleak as it progresses. You follow a narrative between three named characters, the Richard and Alice of the title, and Alice’s son, Barney.

Puzzles are, for the most part, simple and pleasantly straightforward – only at one point was I stuck, and it’s thanks to a poorly-signalled item. I feel like there was a deliberate intention on the part of the developers to make sure there were points of pointed helplessness, where you did nothing but stagger around, rummaging around in the dozens of familiar spaces you’d already been, trying to find that… that one thing? Maybe? I’m not sure. The spaces are limited with what you can pick up, carry around and interact with, and barring for one or two points, this forces the puzzles to be reasonably simple. It’s actually a nicely-woven piece of setting aesthetics, actually – the world is one where very few things work, or are reliable, which limits what you can pick up and stuff in your pockets, what lasts long enough to use it a second time.

The game also uses agency interestingly, in that there are numerous points where you lose control over the character you’re using. The story is all told in flashback – which means of course you, the player, couldn’t stop events happening that had to happen. This simple framing shift proves very useful for me; I no longer feel the story is something I’m shaping, but is instead something I’m revealing, and the loss of agency doesn’t sting.

 You End In A Field

Inevitably, in criticism, we compare our work to other works. I know I do this all the time. Routinely, I compare videogames to other videogames, in an attempt to show some framework, some interconnected mesh of other media that may help the reader decide if they do, or don’t like a piece. Sometimes a videogame can be the way to experience a story you wouldn’t otherwise try.

This game reminded me quite a lot of A Boy And His Dog. It’s a bleak, miserable world, it is explicitly cynical about almost every component of human nature we see, and the most idealistic, most hopeful character we see is one who indulges pure passivity in a tragic situation, an observer and an outsider who doesn’t even have a name or a face.

Names and faces matter in this work. There’s Alice, and Richard, and Barney – the only characters you see and name in the same space. You hear other names, you read other names, but for the most part, no other people are in the story. They are, almost always, off-screen. You read notes, you hear people in a different room, you piece together their actions based on things that have happened before you arrived… but as for people? The people you see, the people you meet?

Richard, and Alice, and Barney.

The game is called Richard & Alice.

Verdict

A bleak, cynical little story that speaks of fighting for control in situations where you have none, of the limitations of our own bodies, our minds, and the spaces around us, Richard & Alice is an intense narrative, and positively haunting. If you buy a videogame for a toybox experience, where you can play a dozen different takes on things, for high scores, for repeatable, emergent systems? Richard & Alice isn’t for you. If you buy videogames for narrative experience, Richard & Alice is an excellent one, a post-apocalyptic short story told using the videogame medium to reinforce its feelings of loneliness, isolation, and helplessness.

You can get Richard & Alice on Steam, Good Old Games, and the Humble Store. As of this writing it’s $1.50 on Steam, and if that influences you, you should grab it now. For that little, heck, grab it just to support people who want to make more, interesting, small games.

Verdict

Buy it if:

  • You enjoy post-apocalyptic, short story sci-fi.
  • You want to see what small production teams can do with a focused experience.

Avoid it if:

  • You’re sensitive to horror, gore, death, suicide, despair, sexual threat, parental neglect, parental loss, or cynical, depressing narrative end-points.

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