In truth, Richard and Alice aren’t unique within this reality as everyone within the game’s world has been through hell recently. The world’s weather system decided to go on a tantrum and still rages on, killing off life as it does so. If your surroundings aren’t deathly hot, then it’s likely that you’re dwelling in snow – the game concerns those trying to exist within the latter. And so it’s a story of extremes, and that encompasses not only the weather, but human emotions and people’s lives. While the government has been unhelpful, a military rule has naturally risen, but only in certain safety zones, and everyone is fighting for a space within these, but that kind of hope doesn’t exist. Outside of the Zones, it’s survival of the fittest as people scrap over food and medicine, and so they inevitably end up being pushed to their darker sides. One notorious gang, the Polar Bears, supply an element of fear and danger in the game as they exist as the bodiless ‘Other’ – those that seem to be beyond basic human rule and have long since resorted to violence to ensure their survival at the cost of other lives.
“…if I’m naturally annoyed by curious kids and a game brought that emotion up, then in fact it’s actually a testament to its writing”
Given that the two eponymous characters are locked up and more concerned with discussing their present and future, you only really get a sense of this darker world when Alice recounts what she went through with Barney prior to being put behind bars. The intermittent nature of the narrative is one that offers variety and keeps you on your toes. Naturally, curiosity lingers within you every time you’re taken away from the more emotionally charged story of Alice and Barney, and their journey between human cruelty and, ultimately, despair. It may be the case that you can half-guess where the story is leading up to, but even if you do, there’s a slow-burning sense of dread that will keep you eager to press on, rather than experiencing the shock that may strike other players when the narrative comes to its conclusions.
Until that point, what’s going to keep you entertained is the character study you engage in. And I think this is where Richard & Alice really comes into its own, at least for me. Of course, the writing is the most important element of the game, and fortunately, it’s strong; it’s very strong. Here’s what’s interesting, though: I’ve played the game through twice and found that my perception of, and interest in, each of the characters was quite radically different. First time through, I identified with Alice, and much preferred her when she was behind bars, where she seemed to be a more learned and just generally stronger person. When she’s with Barney, her son, she constantly worries after him, as you would. And I felt I didn’t really feel any emotional connection with Barney, but I did worry for him when Alice did – I empathized with her. So Barney was a character I thought went from naive to almost wise a little too often, and most of his dialogue with its toddler quips and questions, as well as his overstated belief that everything would be resolved eventually, slightly grated on me. Looking back, I think that probably says more about myself and my fondness of children, rather than the game’s portrayal of one through Barney. Hell, if I’m naturally annoyed by curious kids and a game brought that emotion up, then in fact, it’s actually a testament to its writing and accurate depiction of a kid. On my second run-through, I found myself actually caring for Barney a bit more and smiling at his silly remarks – the brave boy. I think that’s because I knew what he represented this time and wasn’t just thinking of him as a tag along; now he was a symbol of hope within the game.
Then you have Richard. That…guy. The first time through, Richard seemed bland as hell to me, and I wasn’t all that interested in any of his personality at all. He seemed to serve mostly as a way to tell Alice’s tale and just provide some comic relief when something rather harrowing had been recounted by Alice. I thought that was the only purpose he served, and the first time through, I think that’s all he is for. However, the game’s ending twists all of that. And then you feel compelled to go back through and pay very close attention to every thing he says and connect it to other events that occur throughout the game so you can get a fuller grasp of his character. In this way, the game is one of two parts – first Alice, and then Richard – which, I think, attests to the game’s strength in writing. There are also multiple endings to chase, should your dedication to the study of these characters and their paths through the game press on you enough.
“I found food for thought, and the more I think about the themes, events and characters in Richard & Alice, the more I appreciate it.”
Going back through the game feels good and doesn’t feel like a chore either, mostly because it’s a fairly short game, but also because there aren’t any moments that really stick out as obtuse. Most point-and-click adventures will have arbitrary puzzle sections that involve juggling your inventory and travelling between multiple locations to do the most rudimentary of tasks. It usually feels like a way of making the game longer, and it’s unnecessary. Richard & Alice cusps on this just once, but it’s nothing worth moaning about, really. The game is dialogue-heavy, so any puzzles in the game don’t last very long and are usually solved with common sense. My one slight gripe is that some of the items you need to advance are absolutely tiny in the environment, so it’s possible to miss them. Again, this is rare, but it may have you feeling like you’ve tried everything in an area or two and seeing no way forward. If this happens, then you have missed something and will need to trace over the game’s various cupboards and cabinets to find what it is you need. Just so you know.
Others may complain about the art, and certainly it’s worse in some places than others; that can be admitted. I do wish that the character animations were less crude, but I wasn’t bothered about the game’s look, really, and would even argue that it reflects the game’s ugly themes if pushed to defend it. Speaking of which, the game’s discussion of life and the nature of humanity deserve bravado. I was hoping for an emotional ending, and some may find that, but instead I found food for thought, and the more I think about the themes, events and characters in Richard & Alice, the more I appreciate it. More games need to aim in this direction, and it’s a shame that Richard & Alice is an exception, rather than being something closer to norm. It’s mature in the sense that it considers the greater questions and discusses life, death, hope and despair, as opposed to being mature with bare skin and excessive gore for sake of appealing to a demographic. So yeah, Richard & Alice is pretty good and will likely grow on you as it fuels your thoughts. Definitely play it twice.