Reviewed: May 2014
Where to start with this joke of a game, well, I thought I’d just copy and paste the official background from the Czech developer ‘Centauri Production’ website, since the game is lazy enough itself that it copies most of it’s own ideas from a number of other Sci-Fi films, and somehow manages to produce the tripe that we have here today for reviewing. The official site talks up the game a lot, but do not believe it, as it is simply propaganda, so in a way, in-keeping with the theme of the dystopian world that it takes place in.
Oh, and one more little snippet from their website before we continue.
Okaaaay then, excuse me while I burst out laughing. Just what kind of players are they expecting?
Alternativa is the first point and click adventure game I’ve played in quite a long time, with the last game being the excellent Gray Matter by Jane Jensen. I very rarely play adventure games, and indeed, out of the ones I’ve played, the best ones have come pre-recommended to me by our very own Valkyr Death, and the others have been ones that vaguely interested me, but turned out to be a load of clap-trap instead. This, unfortunately, is the latter. Okay, that’s a little bit harsh, since the game isn’t completely terrible, but it is put together in such an amateurish way for a game from 2010, that it really doesn’t deserve any slack when it comes to criticism.
The game takes place in the year of 2045, and the main character you play as is called Richard Rocek, a recently laid-off construction worker who wants to join a sort of resistance against the oppressive corporations that run the world. At a few stages you’ll also be able to control two other characters that Richard will encounter, Andy, and Andrea, but for the majority of the game, the story revolves around Richard and his history.
The story does touch upon the dystopian nature of the world, as characters will tell you how harsh and suppressing the ruling government is, and some quests deal with very adult topics (in the ‘grown-up’ sense). Unfortunately, most of the voice acting is quite poorly done, with lines delivered as though the voice actor had no idea of the context at some points. There are times when things sound alright, and some voice actors were at least trying, but at other times, the dull rolling of one line to the next is very unprofessional, and takes away any effect the words might have had on the atmosphere.
While the websites’ boasting that the game isn’t linear is true in some respects (since you can miss out a whole area with Richard’s flat-mate, Andy, near the end of the game), the central plot of the game keeps things firmly in one direction, and one that is quite muddled, and without any real substance. Conversations have options, but in most cases there is no real choice here either, just a list of lines to say. The only variation I did notice was if you chose the wrong option, it would result in a short scene where robotic guards are called, and you are either taken away, or terminated.
Some of the dialogue is often quite bizarre, most likely due to poor translation, than by design. At times Richard will completely contradict what he has said earlier, like when you click on a cup of coffee, the first time he says “Mmm, fresh coffee”, the next time you click on it he says “I’m not a coffee person”. Perhaps that is the game developers attempt at humour, either way, it made me laugh, and looks more like a careless oversight. There are also numerous times where things are repeated, too. For example, Richard will click on something, describe it, then you’ll click on an NPC, and he’ll say the exact same thing to them, when they probably would have overheard you the first time while you were talking to yourself. Late on, the game assumes you must have fallen asleep, as it describes the workings of a teleportation device four times as you speak to different people. It’s like it thinks we couldn’t grasp the concept the first time (no electronics can go through, and it is a one-way ticket), although I honestly think it was just trying to highlight the fact it has borrowed the idea from the Terminator films.
The main antagonist of the game is also likely to make you laugh, as he is lazily called No-Name. Perhaps this is another attempt at humour, or perhaps they really couldn’t be bothered thinking of a name, we shall never know.
Game-play involves a lot of travelling back and forth between areas, sometimes to the point of driving you mad, since there is often no real reason except to just extend the play-time of the game, which lasts a relatively short 9 hours. A lot of that time will be spent working out the solution to poorly designed puzzles, with some of them involving the guessing of passwords for terminals. After looking at a walkthrough guide to progress through those areas, I did see that the passwords themselves did fit in and were logical in a way, but trying to get it exactly right when there are many potential options is going to take time, and require a lot of trial and error, as well as patience.
Other tasks involved the well-used chore of combining objects together, to make a useful tool, for example. It’s simple stuff, really, with the only difficult part being the pixel-hunting that you’ll need to do to find items, as well as the continuing tediousness of going back and forth. It’s a shame, though, that some item combinations just don’t make any real sense, like when you have to use a paperweight to bend some wire, so that you can reach a button to open a window. Firstly, you could probably bend the thin wire anyway, and secondly, why not try throwing the paperweight at the window to break the glass? I know it wouldn’t be the most elegant solution, but for a game that promises choice, you don’t really get that much.
What spoils things further are the occasions where things don’t action until triggered by certain events. There were a couple of times where I knew exactly what I had to do, but because I hadn’t bothered to read about it in Richards electronic PDA, I couldn’t use an item.
As a side note, and something that seems to be a problem in a lot of adventure games, but particularly so here, is the laughable collection of huge objects that Richard manages to fit inside his coat pocket. At one stage, nearing the end of the game, he manages to fit a whole jet-pack in his pocket, without so much as a slight bulge appearing.
Sound quality in general is rather weak, with background ambience disappearing entirely in the latter stages of the game, and some of the sound-effects not matching up to what is happening on screen. For example, when I was moving a heavy block of concrete with an accomplice, all I could hear was the creaking of wood. As I mentioned earlier, voice acting is not great, although Richard’s voice actor is at least passable, thankfully.
Graphically, I was very disappointed in the game, since the 2D scenes were stuck in 1024x768 resolution, and looked quite bad when stretched over my widescreen monitor. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the game could be run in a windowed mode, but unfortunately, even using command-line options to reach advanced settings, I still couldn’t get it to work.
I know adventure games often don’t have cutting edge graphics, but I have seen plenty of other games in the genre produce high quality 2D backgrounds, and it really wouldn’t take much, beyond hiring a skilled artist, to create something that looks good for a modern audience. The character models are all 3D, and are generally ok, but again look a bit low-res, and there were a few occasions where the background 2D scene started showing through parts of the 3D model. Whenever objects are picked up and used, you get the same basic animations, which don’t really show much, and Richard even appears to use magic in the final part of the game when he is supposed to be using a blow-torch; all you see are the flames coming from his hands.
Cut-scenes are pre-rendered in 3D, and do look okay when used at certain stages of the game, but early on they feel a bit pointless since whenever you travel on the trains, you get one of two possible scenes playing over and over.
On the whole, the story in AlternativA is quite average, and borrows its ideas off well known dystopian Sci-Fi clichés and plots, like naming a room where you are detained ‘Room 101’, probably in a vague attempt to highlight the core topic of the game, in case you hadn’t already noticed (which is quite possible, since by the end of the game you’ll probably be comatose). The core game-play is rather dull, and tedious. Voice acting is very average, and often delivered without any soul; not helped by the fact that a lot of the dialogue is poor to start with. The graphics are dated considering the year it came out, and the animations are poorly done. To top it off, the game also crashed a few times, and because I had forgotten to save, I had to redo a fair few monotonous chunks of the game.
Overall, I don’t see any real reason to recommend the game, since you won’t be missing anything by avoiding it entirely. It does sound like a cool topic in theory, and if it had been used better, it could have been a half decent game, but unfortunately, it falls flat on its face from the get-go, and never picks up.
Arbitrary Final Score:
Did you also struggle to alter the native resolution? Is there a much better Alternative to this game? Let us know in the forum!