Alter Ego Review
The adventure genre isn't in the peak of health. It seems most gamers aren't interested in pre-rendered backgrounds, item combinations, and puzzles. If Alter Ego is anything to go by, perhaps few games in the genre are of a high enough quality to attract those unfamiliar with point-and-click adventures.
Alter Ego sells itself as an atmospheric murder mystery, told from two perspectives: those of thief Timothy Moor and the new Detective Sergeant Briscol. One Sir William Arthur Lewis, a strange young man accused of more than fifty murders, has been found dead. Briscol is assigned to the case, and Tim, on the run from the law for stowing away on a ship, gets pulled into the plot as he tries to raise the money to move to America. Add some supernatural goings-on, and the scene is set.
The point-and-click interface tends to vary little between adventure games. Alter Ego is no exception, though it attempts to shake things up with the dual character perspective. Since both characters play virtually the same, it's completely moot. Adventure games typically rely on the three pillars of story, characters, and puzzles to elevate themselves. Alter Ego, unfortunately, fails on all three fronts.
The world of 1890s Plymouth is brought to life with gorgeous rendered areas, which drip with gothic atmosphere. You couldn't ask for a better setting for a murder mystery, leaving the overall lack of immersion entirely the fault of the story and characters.
The story progresses at a snail's pace. Often, a slow pace can be a strength, where a player (or viewer or reader, depending on the medium) can soak in the atmosphere, picking up world, story and character details that give the whole experience more color. Here is the overwhelming sense that this is a story that has nowhere to go. Entire scenes and puzzles feel like padding, and it's incredibly tiresome.
Worse than the pace is the abrupt ending, which almost defies belief. It's a slap in the face to any gamers who have managed to stick with the game to the end. Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise. After all, it follows an entire game's worth of questionable dialogue, a lot of which defies any kind of logic. Tim, for example, frequently says lines that express what he's thinking. His opinions are likely to change in a heartbeat for no reason. It breaks the immersion and makes the character hard to identify with.
The voice acting does little to elevate the dialogue. The voice artists here have a thankless task, trying to flesh out their barely sketched characters, though the two main characters don't do an awful job. It's the same story with all of the NPCs, as well as the sound effects and music; while the quality fluctuates, the soundscape does little to bring the world to life in a way that matches the pre-rendered backgrounds.
The backgrounds are gorgeous, but the 3D characters that inhabit them aren't nearly as nice. The models themselves are well-rendered and textured for a small budget game, but they are failed by the poor animations, which make all of the characters look like uncomfortable robots. These animations also spoil any possible immersion.
The puzzles in Alter Ego aren't particularly inspiring. Many puzzles simply involve clicking certain elements in the right order, favoring a frustrating trial-and-error approach over rational thinking. Pressing F1 highlights all hot points that haven't been “used up,” and that's occasionally helpful, but it doesn't help when all you need is to do things in the right order. There are no genuinely complex, brain-teasing puzzles here--only frustrating ones.
Alter Ego is, technically speaking, an utterly standard adventure game, with puzzles that regularly defy logic and seem to reward just clicking on everything. Where an adventure game might be elevated by a compulsive story and interesting characters, Alter Ego squanders its excellent setting and the possibilities that surround its supernatural murder mystery. A genuine missed opportunity.