With over two dozen releases and nearly as many awards notched along the way, Daedalic Entertainment has firmly established itself as a premiere developer of modern point-and-click adventure games. Picking up where Lucas Arts left off many years prior, the studio managed to carve their own niche in a genre that hasn’t changed much since the glory days of the SCUMM engine. The studio’s latest adventure, 1954 Alcatraz, is a noir drama set amid San Francisco’s mid-century beatnik culture.
In 1954 Alcatraz, players take control of a convict named Joe and his beat poet wife, Christine. The game doesn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to point-and-click adventures, but Daedalic is experimenting further within the genre. The developers introduced the concept of player choice, where certain dialogue decisions have a serious impact on the outcome of the game. This level of detail greatly adds to the game’s nuance and replay value.
Puzzles can be challenging, but not overwhelmingly so. There are times when coordination is required between Joe and Christine to further the story. The ability to go back and forth between characters is a nice feature and gives some added depth to certain puzzles. It also lets players advance certain plot points at their own pace in a refreshingly non-linear fashion.
1954 Alcatraz features wonderfully detailed 2D, hand-drawn backdrops populated with fully animated 3D characters. The artists did a great job of recreating 1950s San Francisco with faithfully rendered iconic landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge and, naturally, Alcatraz.
The characters are highly stylized and oddly disproportioned, which adds a little to the game’s charm and gives it a unique look.
You can’t have a proper noir game without jazz, and 1954 Alcatraz’s moody opening track “Try and Forget Me” sets the stage admirably. Additionally, composer Pedro Macedo Camacho’s instrumental pieces throughout the game help to add tension and atmosphere when needed. The score is skillfully handled by a small ensemble of adept musicians who manage to produce a full and well-rounded orchestral sound, which helps to breathe life into the dark and dreary world the game is set in.
The game is fully voice acted and, for the most part, the cast does an admirable job with the material they’re given. There’s a lack of the prototypical 1940s gangster/film noir timbre in some of the voices, which is a little bit of a disappointment. Overall, however, the cast manages to capture the spirit and emotions of the characters well enough to make up for it.
Considering all of the things 1954 Alcatraz has going for it, the story is a bit of a disappointment, especially in terms of dialogue. While the story itself is fairly generic, it could have been saved by better flowing dialogue and stronger character development. Dialogue feels a bit dark and adult (language, not maturity) and less lighthearted than it should be. This may have something to do with a loss in translation between the original German script and the English version.
The game also introduces a lot of secondary characters and drama without giving much context to their relationships with the main characters. One example of a strange relationship in the game is between Joe and his fellow inmate, Gaspipe. It starts with Joe already having an antagonistic attitude towards Gaspipe, even though he’s being offered much needed assistance–which is finally accepted later. The relationship eventually spirals out of control without much reason aside from adding to the gameplay.
With the point-and-click adventure genre alive and well once again, it’s nice to see companies like Daedalic pushing the boundaries of gameplay. The addition of meaningful dialogue choices is refreshing and adds a lot of replay value. Though not without its faults, 1954 Alcatraz is quirky, challenging and just downright fun to play. It won’t likely make converts out of non-adventure gamers but fans of the genre should definitely check it out.