It’s not particularly surprising, but 1954: Alcatraz features one of the most famous prisons in the world as its backdrop. Filled with the least desirable elements of society – or maybe just the ones stupid enough to get caught – it’s an oft-romanticised setting, despite having only operated as a prison for 29 years.
It’s in the middle of this period that Joe is caught and incarcerated for his role in a bank heist gone wrong. However, he’s the only one who knows where all of the cash is stashed, and at the heart of the game is this one secret, which Joe has to ever-so-carefully manage as he tries to escape and make off with the swag.
In true form for the setting, he has to make uneasy alliances with other characters in order to facilitate his escape from prison in this point and click adventure. The main man initially seems to be Hank, a 99-year-old prisoner who has been planning for years and years. However, he and other members on the team need persuading to work together.
This is where the game can get increasingly complex, as you have to barter and convince him through dialogue. How much do you let on about about your riches on the outside? Do you reveal all and put your trust in these out-and-out criminals, who you really should be wary of trusting, or do you keep it all to yourself and try to convince them using other methods?
Whatever path you choose, the game will branch out based on your decisions. This branching is only amplified by Joe’s wife, Christine, who is a second playable character. The level of trust you have Joe place in her is even more paramount, because she’s the one who can actually go and act upon the information you give her, courtesy of Gaspipe causing a little distraction so you can talk openly without a guard listening in during a visit.
There’s bound to be a strain on that relationship, as Joe has to keep a hold of his secret, while Christine is being pressured and intimidated by the gang on the outside, who would also dearly love to get their hands on the money. What you choose to do will see you hurtling towards one of several endings, where you can go out of your way to see Christine screw Joe over, or work together to share the wealth and live happily ever after.
Their two worlds couldn’t be more different, as Joe makes do on the inside in a fashion which is reminiscent of the Shawshank Redemption. As a bit of a handy man, one scene sees him called in by the Warden’s wife to fix her TV via traditional point and click puzzling, and able to chat to her while waiting for the guard to get the spare parts Joe demands.
Doing favours and staying out of trouble in the day-to-day will be key in the run up to the big escape attempt. Christine, in contrast, has the freedom of the city, with a larger variety of locations to go to and people to interact with.
Her side of the story – you’ll be hopping between the two fairly regularly – will allow the game to really explore the period and San Francisco. All of the locations have wonderful hand drawn artwork in the background, married to 3D models, to really evoke the 1950s and a particular aesthetic; something which is pushed further by the jazz-based soundtrack accompanying the game.
One particularly interesting factor to the story and setting stood out to me, as Joe is an African American and Christine Caucasian. Speaking to Daedalic’s PR Director, Claas Wolter, as he demonstrated the game to us, it doesn’t sound like the racial discrimination of the period is something which the game will tackle head on, but rather deal with in a more subtle manner.
Just as players can see the story branch based off decisions made during the game, it could be that Christine is better able to handle a particular task than Joe. In addition to the gender divide, there would also be an element of a racial undertone where Joe might be flat out turned away from a nightclub, and Christine is able to sweet talk her way in.
It’s these kinds of things which could make this game quite special. A handful of developers are tackling stories which branch and flow towards distinct endings based on your decisions, but this is still something very much in the minority, and combining it with this setting and story genre will hopefully make 1954: Alcatraz stand out from the crowd.