Preview: 1954 Alcatraz
Ahhh 1954, a year where Marilyn Monroe married Joe Dimaggio, people were rocking around the clock and the Miss America pageant was broadcast live on television for the first time ever. I remember it all very well and it was a hoot of a year to live in. Not all great stories from that year have been told though. There’s the story of Alcatraz prisoner Joe and his wife Christine. A story of incarceration, love and gangsters!
Before I discuss the story, I have to give you full advance notice, the game’s opening cinematic is just wonderful. It’s so exceptional I’m struggling to think of an equal. Beautiful monochrome hand drawn images set to a beautiful rendition of a song called ‘Try and Forget Me’ performed by Pedro Macedo Camacho and sung by Maria Jose Leal. The song is haunting and sets the scene for the game so beautifully.
The opening cinematic introduces us to how Joe finds himself in one of the world’s most notorious prisons, Alcatraz. For Joe, the main puzzle of the game is to escape. You’ll need help though and it’s through his story that you have to negotiate with your cell mates to gain the tools and favours needed to escape. The game also puts you in control of Christine, Joe’s wife. Her story starts after visiting Joe one day to be threatened by a low life thug demanding the money from Joe’s robbery. The game’s separate stories of Joe’s escape attempt and Christine’s survival tests the marriage and this is an integral part of the story.
The world of 1954 Alcatraz is filled with some very interesting characters. Yes some are clichéd, but this is easily forgiven with the way you interact with them. The way the story progresses is really down to how you choose to deal with the inhabitants of San Francisco and this is where the game shines. Even while locked away Joe has such a variety of cast to deal with, each with their own stories and more importantly uses.
The hand drawn backgrounds of the game are another highlight. It’s a refreshing change to see them and I’ve yet to see one that hasn’t just made me go wow. There’s nothing sloppy to them, there’s great detail and skill gone into each one. Which is such a shame because the character models are so jarring. The combination of the two feels very out of place. Some of the characters are down right ugly. Now I imagine that some are supposed to be conveyed as ugly people, but the oddly shaped heads and doll like features really take away from the great work of the backgrounds.
As a point and click adventure the true test is in the puzzles and how you interact with the game. I can say this game is much nicer to play than Jack Keane 2 by a long shot. There’s a much greater dependence on items, and within an hour of play you’ll have built up a large inventory to use. Early in the game, playing as Christine you’re tasked with getting inside a nightclub to talk to a particularly crummy gangster. The game allows you to do this in a number of ways so the player doesn’t feel too stuck. Thankfully I’m something of a master of point and click adventures nowadays so managed to get myself in easily.
It’s really the dialogue options that are the star of this show though. The game allows you to be as open as you want regarding the truth but it’s also in this dialogue boxes that you can make the biggest choices though. Very early on from the start you’re allowed to forge your own path. There’s little hand holding and you’re thrust right into the thick of things. As the game continues you’re lead further down you will eventually be awarded with one of several endings allowing for maximum replayability.
The game allows you to swap between either playable character whenever you want by selecting their picture in your inventory. This is a great feature and while the transition isn’t too seamless such as in Grand Theft Auto it’s nice to be able to mix it up. Thankfully you don’t miss out on anything by switching out at the wrong time, which was my initial concern upon finding this feature.
With no release date 1954 Alcatraz sits waiting, tempting point and click fans to a fun new adventure you can journey on. The games art is both heaven and hell, with fantastic backgrounds depicting San Francisco you’ll be happy to explore new areas to see what awaits. As long as you can block out the character models whenever they get a close-up and you remember what a two year old playing with playdough looks like. Keep your eyes peeled in the future though as overall this is a game I had a fun time with.