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Richard & Alice review: Happy when skies are gray


I love games that are deeper, shockingly different than they first appear. Richard & Alice, for example, is a sprite-like, indie point-and-click adventure, a style generally reserved for quirky romps and fantastical stories – but Richard & Alice weaves a dark tale of death, loneliness, hopelessness and shattered relationships.

And climate change. Yeah, that's different.

Gallery: Richard and Alice | 8 Photos

Richard & Alice doesn't try to hide the fact that it deals with mature subjects, or that it's not necessarily a cheerful game. It follows a small set of characters in a world that is suddenly inundated with incessant snow, sheathing the earth in a frozen blanket, breaking down civilizations and festering violent, post-apocalyptic societies. Alice finds Richard when she's thrown in prison; he's in the cell directly across from hers and he's been there a long while. He has cushy amenities, like a TV and a couch, and they each have their own computers and bathrooms. They share stories of how they ended up behind bars, and Alice opens up about her journey through the tundra with her young son, Barney.

The game has two main, interactive layers: In the first, the player controls Richard as he maneuvers around the cell, manufacturing long poles and communication devices for Alice and himself. The second is Alice's story, told in flashbacks as she relays her journey to Richard. The player controls Alice in these, followed by Barney, her naive and joyful little boy.

As games like Telltale's The Walking Dead have conditioned our reactions, having an innocent ward in the player's direct care should immediately set off all of the alarm bells. This child, Barney, is a loquacious, happy kid who doesn't fully grasp his dire situation and faithfully obeys his mother. He exasperates Alice, but she obviously loves him dearly, appreciates his optimistic attitude and works tirelessly to keep him safe.

Are the alarm bells ringing yet?

With that comparison to The Walking Dead, a breakout hit from a large indie studio with a storied history crafting adventure games, it's relevant to note that Richard & Alice comes from Owl Cave, a studio of two people, and it's their first full-length game. At times this fact is distractingly obvious.

The dialogue between the adult characters can be oddly formal – and this isn't just because I'm a Yank and the game has a decidedly British tone. Richard & Alice relies on written speech, and it's broken up at times with awkward transitions, like "alas." Maybe if a voice actor could give that line a hint of playful sarcasm it would make sense, but written, any charm falls flat.

The UI is simple: Pick up something interesting and it goes to the right side of the screen in a vertical line; right click to learn more about it and left click to use or combine it with another object. Picking up items is easy, but walking to them is at times laborious, as the characters move just a tad too slowly for my taste. I hate being cold – I want to get Alice and Barney inside as quickly as possible.

Overall, the story is the star and it isn't badly tarnished by these nit-pickings. The transition is smooth between Alice and Richard's story in the prison, and Alice and Barney's journey through the remnants of a decaying society. Both plotlines have intrigue and move at a steady pace. This is partly because the tasks in each narrative are less challenging puzzles, and more inconvenient obstacles to the next story point. Putting the pieces together, however, is still fulfilling.

Perception of who Richard & Alice's main character is may be different for each person that plays it, and that character may switch before the story is finished. At the heart of the game, I think my main character, my driving force for playing, is Barney, even though Alice controls the entire situation in the end. At least, in my end – there are four possible endings, dependent upon a few choices made throughout the game.

For the first pixelated, point-and-click adventure game from a tiny, two-man studio, Richard & Alice is complex in ways that transcend its mechanics. The story is deep, thoughtful and not at all whitewashed – which is more than can be said for the snowy world in which it takes place.

This review is based on a Desura download of Richard & Alice, provided by Owl Cave. Richard & Alice is also available on

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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