Richard & Alice Review

Just a dusting.

Nuclear war. Pandemic. Meteors. Zombies. With all the death and devastation in syndication these days it's become harder to discern the older, less ruinous meaning of the word apocalypse--that of simply "uncovering" or "revealing." But even as our media comes up with ever more creative ways to destroy civilization (wait, we're doing the monkey one again?), it's offered us simpler revelations. One post-apocalyptic priest in Richard & Alice offers a characteristically concise one: "We're all just trying to exist for another day. See the sun rise in the morning, then see it set once more."

That's a lot to ask for the eponymous duo, as it turns out. Richard & Alice occupy opposing prison cells, and though they're actually pretty cushy, as cells go, neither comes with a view. Not that there'd be much to see, what with the bulk of the outside world brought to its knees by crippling snowfall and cold. This point & click drama by Lewis Denby and Ashton Raze doesn't dwell on the particulars of that nasty bit of climate change, and that omission tells us a good bit about where its storytelling priorities lie. Richard is neurotic from his mostly solitary confinement, and preoccupied with the elaborate maintenance claims he files with his computer (they really are cushy cells). Alice is prone to bouts of dark sarcasm, and through a series of playable flashbacks we're shown that she's also a devoted mother of a five year old named Barney. As the stage shifts between Richard's point of view in the present and Alice's in the past, we're gradually brought up to speed on how each arrived at such bleak circumstance.

Well, it certainly doesn't feel like the end of the world.

Advancing the narrative requires solving rudimentary item-based puzzles of the "use rust remover on rusty ladder" ilk. It is the apocalypse, so crowbars and lighters fill the ad hoc roles that keycards and cryptexes play in less grimdark puzzle games. I'm all for the miracle of mundane things--anyone who's played The Last of Us can testify to the life-saving properties of a good pair of scissors--but sometimes their contrivance in Richard & Alice beggars belief.

But then, the end of the world itself feels a little suspect here, from the limited scope of devastation that Alice and Barney witness, right on down to the high school mascot-style name of the gang that waylays the survivors: the Polar Bears. Alice's game efforts to shield Barney from the horrors of their world seem to have proven too effective: the child doesn't seem to have the faintest comprehension of them. It's a dynamic that's played to good effect during a few tense early moments, as Alice struggles to convey a sense of urgency to her son without tipping him off to imminent dangers. But over the broader course of the game, Barney's saccharine naiveté pushes on past the point of plausibility.

As the stage shifts between Richard's point of view in the present and Alice's in the past, we're gradually brought up to speed on how each arrived at such bleak circumstance.

Both Richard and Alice are well written.

But it's the art that ultimately fails to sell this version of the apocalypse. Not the stubby, monochromatic trees, or the bizarre, bowlegged stance that makes Alice look like a Matryoshka doll in mom jeans. It's the snow--or rather, the lack thereof. The white, pixel-sized snowflakes don't register on the white field that covers the ground, so it's hard to even tell that it's snowing in the first place. It certainly doesn't bury anything, or even pile into drifts. It doesn't change the landscape or otherwise disrupt the hard horizontal lines of the man-made environment. This snow wouldn't get you out of a school day anywhere above the 35-degree latitude line. Ditto for the cold, which the characters seem to be selectively aware of. So when Alice and Barney rest for a spell near a frozen lake, the scene's so free of danger that you can imagine the Peanuts gang cutting figures in the ice to "Christmas Time is Here."

An apocalypse can't reveal something if it hasn't been covered over in the first place. There's some strong writing in Richard & Alice, and a little bit of intrigue in the way the story's various threads wind their way back together. But when the game fails to convince us of its own high stakes, its Cormac McCarthyism loses its gloomy appeal. People will do terrible things to others to survive. Innocence should be treasured. Surely we don't have to destroy the world one more time to find those things out?

The Good
A generally strong script buoys both Richard and Alice as characters
The Bad
Artwork doesn't sell the apocalyptic premise
Puzzles establish the importance of simple objects to survival, but feel contrived
5
Mediocre
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

It took Nick three hours to play through Richard & Alice's story. He’s more of a warm weather guy.

Discussion

21 comments
ubergusterfan
ubergusterfan

I'm curious how the gamespot editors choose which indie games to review.  Not that there is anything wrong with picking this game, I really am just curious.  They obviously can't and don't review every new indie game released, so I was wondering how they decide?  If there's certain criteria they use, or if it's just as simple as coming to work and saying, "So I just bought XXX on Steam and thought I'll review it."

CUDGEdave
CUDGEdave

What is it with games these days? They are nearly always a pile of dog cack.

iamllamapie
iamllamapie

This sudden flood of indie games seem to be getting mediocre reviews overall.

Almighty-mints
Almighty-mints

As somebody who appreciates good writing in a game and is willing to sacrifice gameplay and visual design for it, I definitely think I'll be giving this game a shot!  

tom_cat_01
tom_cat_01

That's a shame. I liked the premise. 

DinoBuster
DinoBuster

In the instance of this game it seems the two people who put it together managed to write a decent story and characters, but this isn't a novel, it's an interactive experience where the visual element plays an integral part or portraying the product. From now on, whenever you guys review one of these indie games and I feel the criticism is warranted, I'm just going to post "HIRE AN ARTIST".

lewisowlcave
lewisowlcave

@DinoBuster Thanks for the comment, and thanks to GameSpot for the review! It's true, we really do wish the art had been more of an investment. When we set out to make the game, we did so from the cash in our own personal bank accounts, and expected maybe a few hundred people might play it. So we were absolutely delighted when that number turned out to be tens of thousands. Obviously, though, had we predicted that, we might have mustered up the moolah for some more convincing visual design!


Thanks again!

leikeylosh
leikeylosh

@lewisowlcave @DinoBuster It's very cool when developers take the time to answer to comments. It shows humbleness and passion. I hadn't the opportunity to get the game, but I will soon. I wish the best of luck for you, guys! Don't give up, the gaming industry needs people like you!

oopomop
oopomop

@lewisowlcave @DinoBuster To go along with what Dino said, I have little doubt that you'd be able to go to the local college or community college and speak to some of the graphics professors and see if they would be willing to ask their 'best' students if they would be able to work on the project. When I was 3d animating, I would have loved the opportunity to animate and model for someone instead of the normal boring assignments that have grown dull.

Best of luck! :)

DinoBuster
DinoBuster

@lewisowlcave @DinoBuster Thanks for replying. When I say "hire an artist", I really mean get an artist involved. There are so many illustrators, concept designs, musicians, etc. that would love to go along for the ride and lend their talents to a game even if they can't be promised a lot of money. Regardless, I'm glad to hear you're game is doing well, and I wish you the best of luck with it.

slayerSS-3
slayerSS-3

@Gelugon_baat Doing such statement one would assume that you already played the game, right?

The walking dead strength is its writing but overall is an excellent GAME, same with this one, maybe the gameplay is not ground breaking but it is still enjoyable even more with an excellent story writing.

RogerioFM
RogerioFM

@Gelugon_baat @nick_capozzoli Gee, you're not one of those people who don't believe a game should have a good story, aren't you?


Although it shouldn't be the only strenght.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@slayerSS-3 

Why should I play a story-centric game when I can just watch someone else play it (which I had)?

With that said, I would say here that you are the kind of customer that game-makers such as Tell-Tale are looking for, and despite what you have said, I don't agree with you.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@RogerioFM 

I am a person who believes that a game should be satisfying in whatever it does in the eyes of those who play it - especially since it carries a price tag.

slayerSS-3
slayerSS-3

@Gelugon_baat same logic applies to every genre of games, or books or anything, why would you do something if someones else can tell you about it or you can watch it on a video?

Reading a book, playing a video game, rpg, fps, adventure game,etc you play it or read it because you immerse on the story, on the game itself, watching someone else doing it even if the game is linear (which is not the case because there are different endings, 5 of them) doing it yourself, experience it is not the same as watching other doing it..

But I guess everyone is different.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@slayerSS-3 

Indeed, everyone is different.

With that said, I would tell you that I am not that kind of person who "immerses" in a work of fiction anymore.

I am over that kind of activity - which I personally perceive as little more than deliberate day-dreaming.

slayerSS-3
slayerSS-3

@Gelugon_baat 

That's sad to hear, even if it sounds and it is a "silly" thing to do, day dreaming is not a bad thing, life is bad enough already, letting yourself go for a few hours is not something bad.

Richard & Alice More Info

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  • First Released
    • PC
    Richard & Alice is a darkly contemplative tale of morals and survival from Lewis Denby and Ashton Raze.
    5.4
    Average User RatingOut of 8 User Ratings
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    Developed by:
    Denby / Raze
    Published by:
    Denby / Raze, Mastertronic
    Genres:
    Adventure