I enjoyed the time I spent playing 1954 Alcatraz, which according to Steam is 6 hours. I'm glad that I bought it after pining over it for so long, and that I played it to completion. I'm even going back for a second playthrough at some point. However, I'm unable to recommend this game to anyone. By no means am I a seasoned veteran of point-and-clicks with a higher sence of nuance, but I have played enough of them over the years to explicate my feelings for this title.
First, the positive: the atmosphere. It's incredible. The background artists used their skillsets well and created a vibrant but noir-themed world that I wanted to come back to. The music and the sound were top notch.
However, the 3D models are low-grade. It's almost insulting how untextured they are. It feels like they were taken from a late Dreamcast title, and not a great one. Oddly enough, it's the female characters that seem detailed and stylized. Each one has depth in their design, but the males look bland and lack any imaginative design. The animations of all models are rigid and stiff though. They barely react appropriately with the world around them, and never show the items they're using. If you're using object A on thing B, you never see any object being used and rarely any change to the thing. At several points the characters react quickly - they either fall or start running. The loading times for the models either don't kick in or they show everything halfway through sometimes. I watched some playthroughs online to see if it was simply my computer, but it wasn't.
The biggest frustration is the writing. There are multiple aspects to the overall concept of the writing
, but it's the linking motif among them. The design of the female characters is again, alright. They had personae. The males are one-dimensionally insulting and are almost entirely insufferable tropes and archetypes. For instance, a detective you encounter has an obvious scar over his bad eye. Gee, I wonder if he's a bad guy.
I don't even have to write "spoiler alert!" right there because this poor design spoils it.
No other character experiences growth or change. Not really. The characters are just expanded upon over time, and yeah, you learn new information about them occasionally, but never something that makes you go back and appreciate them. It's just information you don't need. I'd rather they twist it to where you either feel it changes things or you feel it's important. You never do, and characters remain painfully static.
Worse, it ties into the gameplay. Everything can be interacted with by left or right-clicking. Right clicks make your character react. Left clicks make them interact. Most items cannot be interacted with, so the button is redundant 95% of the time - which makes the right-clicking redundant 100% of the time in these instances. It's just more dialogue to listen to. And unfortunately, the dialogue cannot be skipped. They sometimes say three lines when one isn't even necessary. A lot of the time, their responses don't make sense. They'll even talk about things that can't be ("X is going to kill me!" Well, X died. So, no he won't.)
To top it off, many of the dialogue options and points where the plot progresses do so for no reason. The dialogue jumps around and the characters sound like they missed four or five lines leading up to what happens - all in an attempt to move things along. Either the sound files play too quickly or they cut out a lot of content. You can hear clear changes in characters' pitches for no reason. I wonder why they didn't work on the dialogue more and tone down your time spent interacting with useless objects.
I do have to say that the best thing the writers did was not shy away from some of the harsher realities of the setting. You hear occasional racist terms thrown around, but never just because. You can tell no one's happy to use some of the pejorative terms, but it wouldn't be true to the setting if they didn't. A lot of titles might try to pompously throw them in your face, but this title doesn't do that. The inclusion of and depiction of two homosexuals is just fantastic, and it's wonderful that the main characters are a black and white couple. It makes sense why there's such an emphasis on the Beat culture of the 1950's: they were more accepting of such things. Plenty of others weren't. Even the instances of violence aren't toned down. The game has a rawness to it that's refreshing. They discuss sex and relationships without the need to titilize the player or as an excuse to appeal in a basic way (when does sex never
sell?) I just wish this had all been packaged in a better game.
Overall, this world is nice to visit. Daedalic knows their stuff. It's for this very reason that it's almost difficult to play - because you do expect better. It's an okay game to play when you have a week and nothing else to do. But if you're going to spend money on this title, don't spend more than $10. Even then, only if you're committed to enjoying this title from the get-go, because if not, you'll drop it quickly.