It’s fair to say that Joe and Christine aren’t exactly the two most honest and respectable people, and 1954: Alcatraz’ point and click adventure leans on this theme throughout. This game’s twist, though, is how you can play with the truths and the lies that they tell.
It could be Joe’s adamant denials to his fellow inmates about having a stash of money hidden away or even the truths and lies he tell his beatnik wife. There’s a degree of flexibility in the dialogue at times, so that you can have Joe tell Christine about the money hidden away or lie to her.
Going hands on with this point and click adventure, compared with what I was shown a few months ago, it’s clear to see the choices and decisions crop up fairly regularly. Christine has to find a way to stay safe on the outside, as Joe’s former partners in crime are determined to find the cash. Confronted on the docks across from the island, you can pick from a handful of conversation paths, each with slightly different results.
The main thrust of the game will stay the same, with Christine piecing together the puzzle of where the money is, with or without Joe’s blessing, while Joe is busy on the inside trying to put together an escape plan and even surviving the odd violent encounter. It’s lovely to see the characters and their pasts gradually peeled back, such as some of Christine’s rebellious beatnik youth, but as you push into the game some of the finer details to the plot can change.
You could decide that Christine would commit adultery with her rather sleazy neighbour, which would be a step down the path to betraying Joe as the plot reaches its climax. Alternatively, stay faithful and it’s more likely that the pair will live happily ever after.
Along the way, you’ll find yourself hopping between these two characters, with their stories interlinked in several ways. It sometimes felt a little forced, but makes sense that it pushes you to switch at points, requiring the other to complete some task in order for the overall story to progress.
There’s a pleasing parallel in that both are hounded and pressured by the authorities. Joe roams the island, fixing up the everything from TVs to washing machines, but he is accompanied everywhere he goes by a guard, forcing him to be sneaky about everything he does to prepare for his escape.
Meanwhile, Christine is hounded by the detective that caught Joe and locked him up. She’s hardly all that innocent herself, with a bit of a criminal record of her own and a tendency to use bobby pins to pick locks and gain access to places, but he seems to have an unhealthy obsession with her.
I have to say that I sometimes found the number of directions in which the game and story was pulling me quite disorienting. Even with Joe’s restricted movement, it’s giving you several tasks to do at once, demanding that you grab all of the items you can from several areas and piece together what you need to do after that to solve a handful of puzzles.
Christine’s side of things is possibly even more bewildering, with more concurrent areas to visit, more tangents to follow and more of the world’s quirky characters to meet. Thankfully, there’s the standard Daedalic point and click device of letting you show all the interactive objects in a scene and the objectives are usually quite clear, but without a hints system it’s easy to get caught up on something that isn’t particularly obvious even though you know the end goal.
The art style also stands out, but this is bound to be more of an acquired taste. The backdrops are quite varied and often rather eye catching, working well in tandem with the background music to evoke the 50s vibe, but stand in contrast to the caricatured 3D character models. I personally found them enjoyably reminiscent of Telltale’s Sam & Max games from a few years ago, but some of the animations can be a bit odd in places and it won’t be to everyone’s tastes.
Alcatraz leans quite heavily on the traditional point and click mechanics, but brings with it a great setting and intriguing plot; everyone loves a good prison escape, after all. The build I played still wants to see a lot of polish applied before release, but there’s plenty of promise to the core ideas and I’m looking forward to seeing how this one turns out.