Review: Alter Ego (PC)


Alter Ego
Developer: Future Games
Publisher: Viva Media
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 8/3/2010

Viva Media is set to release its newest title, Alter Ego, at the beginning of August. What awaits us is a mystery so strange and complex, two people of very different backgrounds must work together to form a complete picture. We also have quite the series of brain teasers waiting for us as well in the form of various little puzzles while we, too, sort through the big case. How groundbreaking is this game, though? Let’s go through the list and see for ourselves.

Story/Modes

In the year 1894, the town of Plymouth, England becomes stricken with a powerful sense of unease in the wake of the funeral of Sir William Lewis. The man himself has left behind a horrid mark upon the town, and word of his grave being robbed and of a murder on the same night have done nothing but terrify an already frightened public. As it happens, Irish immigrant Timothy Moor and British detective Briscol each arrive in town at this tumultuous time… and both of them stumble right into two different sides of the great mystery. If they’re to survive the incidents, they’re going to have to solve this case.

Who has robbed Sir William’s grave? Did he break out himself? Who committed the murder? Is the supernatural really involved in all this? You’ll have to piece together the clues by alternating between the perspectives of Tim, who works outside of the law, and Briscol, who works with it. As they say in Sherlock Holmes, “The game’s afoot.” How does everything fit together, given all I’ve said thus far? I’ll let you discover that for yourself.

Needless to say, you’ll enjoy this if you like adventure games, like mystery stories, or both.

Rating: Very Good

Graphics

The entire game consists of 3D character models juxtaposed on pre-rendered, high-resolution backgrounds. Much like the Resident Evil titles that appeared on the Nintendo GameCube, the characters blend in with their environments very well. Said environments all carry a particular mood even when the sun’s out, adding to that sense of unease I mentioned earlier. Any scene that takes place at night makes this shine; at one point while Tim is sneaking around a manor, the dim lighting, the camera angle, the narrow space, and the sheer height of the shelves in the room gives off a strong claustrophobic vibe.

Gameplay-wise, any items that you set out to use to help you solve the puzzles will shine once you hover them over a part of the scenery or another item. This is a good visual cue as the items can blend in with the backgrounds as well as the characters do. Along these lines, should you press F1 at any time during the gameplay portions, little icons will appear over everything with which you can interact in a given scene. This is especially handy once you find yourself wondering what you’re supposed to do next.

All this said, the graphics seem somewhat dated in that their quality reminds me more of Septerra Core than the aforementioned Resident Evil titles. The movements of the characters, particularly those of Tim and Briscol, are stiff, but they do their job. Not that an adventure game needs top-of-the-line, full 3D graphics to function, of course; Alter Ego proves that just fine.

Rating: Very Good

Sound

The game’s audio is usually pretty crisp, but it’s also uneven. I don’t mean that in the sense that Tim sounds monotone or that Briscol sounds more suspicious than he should. I mean that you can always hear what Tim’s saying or thinking quite clearly while Briscol’s voice tends to become less audible as he goes through a line; meanwhile, I haven’t adjusted the volume one way or another. They aren’t the only ones afflicted by this, of course, but they’re also the ones you’ll be hearing most of the time. The only other time the audio becomes unintelligible is when, for example, Briscol goes into Saint Patrick’s Church, and the echo effect kicks in too well. That’s one case where a volume adjustment wouldn’t have helped that much.

Thankfully, subtitles are on by default so you can still read what they’re saying even if you can’t hear them as well as you would like to. A pity the audio quality isn’t a bit more smoothed out, though.

Rating: Good

Control/Gameplay

Like any adventure game, Alter Ego has simple controls–so simple, in fact, that they can fit on one page. A left click lets you inspect or interact with an object, item, or person; a right click lets you examine them. You’ll be using both functions regularly, often in a right-click-left-click pattern, in order to progress. A double-click allows you to transition from one scene to the next faster than if you do a single-click; you can also use the double-click to have Tim or Briscol run from one location to another if they can. To use an item, you select it with a left click, and then you click again on either another item or an object in the scene; right-clicking at this point cancels the selection. To see everything in a scene with which you can interact, press and hold F1; to see only the exit points, press and hold the E key. Finally, if you ever forget how to perform a certain action, you can press the Escape key to bring up the main menu and select the Controls option.

You’ll have plenty of objects with which to interact, but only so many times. Once Tim or Briscol are done with an object, you’ll be unable to click on it ever again. This helps you narrow down what you can and can’t do in a given scene or sequence of events so that the amount of time you spend stuck stays to a minimum, but in truth, how soon you discover what to do will vary from one individual to the next. For instance, I was surprised by how fast my options limited themselves as I played through, and even more so with how an expansive-looking scene could oftentimes have very few objects which I could examine.

What this amounts to is that, should you ever find yourself stuck–and you will, at a potentially frustrating rate–a little trial and error or process-of-elimination will see you through where everything else has not.

Rating: Very Good

Replayability

Ah, replayability–a story-driven game’s one weakness. Even when I backtracked to make sure I didn’t miss anything along the way, I found myself taking the same actions I’d made the first time since there was no other path to take. This means that, no matter how many new games you start, you’ll be going from point A to point B the same way you did before. Watching the story unfold multiple times will be no different than rereading your favorite book or re-watching your favorite movie from beginning to end.

Alter Ego might be able to hold you once or twice through, but more than that? I’m not so sure.

Rating: Poor

Balance

As I mentioned before, trial and error or process of elimination will see you through where everything else might not. The rate at which this occurs is hard for me to gauge since this depends on the individual, but there’s nothing you can’t figure out based on what you’ve found. That said, the basic method by which you progress is the same regardless of whether or not you’re stuck, and the general difficulty curve doesn’t shoot up or down so drastically as to be completely uneven. If anything, the difficulty is more on the static side, and so you might find that your ability to figure out what to do next improves over time, thus making your journey through the game easier as you go.

Thus, I wouldn’t say we’re looking at lopsided balance so much as that it stays more or less the same from beginning to end. This is great if you play more for the story, though this same factor may disappoint those who are more into the gameplay.

Rating: Enjoyable

Originality

Alter Ego‘s story is an interesting tale of mystery that leaves you wondering if the supernatural is involved somehow in a traditionally European Gothic way. Tim leans more towards intuition and street smarts; Briscol leans more towards logic and reason. Certainly, a story out there has given us such characters before–Scully and Mulder, anyone? How Tim and Briscol’s roles are handled here in Alter Ego is done in such a way that you don’t really notice this similarity to the X-Files duo, though, if only because they spend a good chunk of the story not knowing the other man exists. Each character has his strengths and flaws, and they’re compelling enough to lead you through the tale.

So in an odd way, Alter Ego blends in vague elements from The X-Files with those of a European Gothic horror story. The fact this is presented in a way as to not be too obvious says quite a bit–and chiefly, that any clichés present won’t barge into your face.

Rating: Good

Addictiveness

At first, I wasn’t sure how well Alter Ego would hold my attention. Adventure games are slow-paced by nature and aren’t very exciting without the right puzzle or story there to spice things up. I wasn’t apprehensive about playing this, of course; I just knew about the snags this game could fall into before I loaded it up.

Then I found myself thinking, “Hmm, maybe I should try this. What would happen if I did this? Can I actually– yes, I can!” Even when I wasn’t playing, I’d catch myself wondering how I might bypass another trouble spot; solutions I hadn’t thought of while playing would suddenly come to mind, and I’d go back to the game to find out if I’d thought right. After all, the worse that would happen is my being stuck at square one again. The bottom line? I wanted to keep going.

Based on this, I can say this game definitely has enough to it to hold people’s attention. What exactly draws you to it depends on the individual, of course, but something will catch your eye if you give it the chance.

Rating: Good

Appeal Factor

Based on the gameplay mechanics alone, Alter Ego isn’t anything special. Adventure games, as I said before, are slow-paced, and the greater majority of video game players are drawn much more readily to action. Thus, I don’t see Alter Ego appealing to more than those who like adventure games, those who like mystery stories, or both. If you are part of that camp, of course, then by all means, try this out. If you’re worried about spending large blocks of time on this game, don’t worry; you can save whenever you want, so your play sessions can be as long or as short as you’d like.

Alter Ego may not be groundbreaking enough to appeal to a mainstream audience, but it most certainly has something that will hold the attention of its niche, I think.

Rating: Below Average

Miscellaneous

I’ll be touching upon several points I made earlier here, the first of which is the general flow of the story’s narrative. The transitions between times of day and the points of view of the two main characters are done in a voice-over that’s accompanied by an old-style still-image, and these appear at appropriate points, like cliffhangers. In short, the story flows well between Tim and Briscol. However, as you’re introduced to Tim first–and that Briscol’s general attitude can be a bit off-putting–you may find yourself wondering how much longer you have to go before you go back to Tim’s part.

The next point I want to address relates to the game’s audio, but this isn’t about the audio itself. More so, this is about the subtitles that allow you to read what’s going on if you can’t hear the characters too clearly. They don’t always match up with what’s spoken, and the number of minor typos lead to a large amount of run-on sentences. Whoever wrote the subtitles must not have heard of a semicolon before or believes they aren’t useful when, in fact, they are. While this is admittedly a small factor, it nonetheless runs the risk of ruining a player’s suspension of disbelief. You can turn off the subtitles if you wish, but then you’ll run into issues about hearing the characters well thanks to the uneven volume of the voices.

Lastly, the puzzles themselves have logical answers to them; you just might not see the solution right away. The rate at which you run into a location that requires you to go through an inane number of steps to, say, find the code for a vault is on the low end. In other words, this won’t be like in Resident Evil 2 where you have to push two statues onto the right pressure plates to make a third statue release a ruby that you’d use elsewhere–all of which is in a police station because we all know that’s how police stations work. At least when Alter Ego sends you through a few different scenes for you to solve a puzzle, it actually makes an eerie amount of sense why you’d have to go through such lengths. And before you ask, let’s just say that Sir William isn’t the only person in Plymouth who has a reputation for being odd in the head.

All in all, any case of strangeness comes from the narrative rather than being forced in–a definite positive point.

Rating: Above Average

The Scores
Story/Modes: Very Good
Graphics: Very Good
Sound: Good
Control/Gameplay: Very Good
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Enjoyable
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Below Average
Miscellaneous: Above Average
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME

Short-Attention Span Summary

Alter Ego is a dark adventure game set in 1894 with a mystery so strange and complex, the perspectives of two vastly different people are needed to paint the whole picture. As you play as Irish thief Timothy Moor and British detective Briscol, you’ll run into a myriad of people and plenty of odd circumstances that help add to the air of unease that has gripped Plymouth, England. Though this title doesn’t do anything particularly groundbreaking with its genre, adventure game fans and mystery lovers should definitely try their hand at this.

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