Alter Ego

Posted by Gustavo Calvo-Simmons.
First posted on 04 November 2010. Last updated on 04 November 2010.
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Alter Ego
Timothy finds himself handcuffed after being caught as a stowaway.
Alter Ego
Timothy makes his escape to the underground sewers.
Alter Ego
Perhaps a makeover with some warm and clean clothing is in order!
Alter Ego
Without money, the waitress has no interest in talking to Timothy.
Alter Ego
Timothy cannot climb over the gate with the dog guarding over it.

Alter Ego is an example of a point-and-click adventure game that nearly hits the mark of perfection from beginning to end as a game for novice gamers. The game tells of a murder story à la Jack the Ripper from the perspectives of a duo of very different characters—a petty thief named Timothy Moor and a police detective named Detective Sergeant Briscol. The game takes place in the town of Plymouth in England around the late 1800s. The rich imagery portrayed of the time period is truly spectacular, and the sharp narrative reveals a pair of seemingly disconnected tales converging to a surprise twist in the end.

At the outset, the game's third-person 3D fixed perspective serves up enough details of the strange town to create a constant chilling air of suspense around it. Further, the game's dull and dark color palette enhances the general gloomy atmosphere of the era, which also suits to gruesome nature of the many murders that take place in the story. As the game progresses, the story takes on more and more the narrative of a police drama. The moody environments then lend a feeling of classic noire without the cheesy visual style typically associated with the film genre.

The game uses hotkeys to assist novice players who are afraid of getting stuck in the gameplay. Pressing the F1 key immediately highlights all the objects in the scene with which the player needs to interact using the playable character. However, this does not give hints to the player as to whether interacting with a selected object will trigger an important effect or just a silly commentary from the character. Pressing the E key immediately highlights all the exits in the scene. Again, this does not give hints to the player as to which path the character needs to take next.

As a fan of adventure games as well as a fanatic of mystery novels, I have found the story in this game to be extremely interesting. This is because it parallels in many ways to the stories in many novels I enjoy reading as well as old school games I enjoy playing, wherein the main protagonists must use their wits to uncover some elaborate conspiracy against them. The story in this game also reminds me of the legend of Jack the Ripper, perhaps because of the period settings and because of the similarities in the gruesome murders and the police investigations that follow afterward.

For fans of the genre, this game also brings back fond memories of classic point-and-click adventure games because of its solid storyline and memorable characters. Unlike the classics, however, this game is actually quite short and can be solved rather quickly. In fact, the puzzles in this game are so easy that the game can sometimes give the impression that it is more of an interactive novel than a video game. This can be off-putting to experienced adventure gamers who are looking for more challenges.

A flaw in the narrative in this game is that the main characters rarely have any screen time together, mostly because their stories do not intersect until late in the game. This is problematic because Timothy, who is supposed to be a foil to Briscol, is frequently unaware that there is a crime ongoing where he accidentally finds himself to be in. It is also unclear why he is motivated to pursue certain actions, such as getting the clothes of the supposed murderer from the laundry, when he cares little of the murders that are occurring around him.

The ambient sounds and background music are a little bit too calm and quiet for a mystery thriller. When they are present, they often do not fit well in the situations at hand. By contrast, the voice acting is excellent throughout. All the actors speak with authentic sounding accents and lend a lot of humanity into the roles they are tasked to portray.

Gameplay is easy to catch on and grasp, even just after playing the game for the first few moments. All the primary controls can be done by using only the mouse, though some supplemental controls (such as the hotkeys) are done by using the keyboard.

Some scenes are meant to be explored more than once in order to trigger key events that are occurring elsewhere. For example, speaking to the laundress to convince her that Timothy is not a criminal (even though Timothy admits later that he is just manipulating her) leads to her scolding away the police so that the sailor can confront Timothy when Timothy escapes to the outside later on. A drawback to adopting these chains of events as a mechanic, however, is that this is possible to push the story forward by triggering an event without ever realizing that there is a connection between a certain action taken earlier and the event that has just happened. Other times, an action taken earlier finds no consequence for the rest of the game. For example, Briscol finds a safe in the manor and opens it to find a pistol inside. He retrieves the pistol but never finds a use for it afterward.

In the end, Alter Ego is a decent adventure game, particularly for fans of murder mystery who wants to experience the romanticism of a time period centuries ago. However, the murder cases explored in this game may not feel as satisfying as the cases explored in other games such as those from Microids' Still Life or Frogwares' Sherlock Holmes series. This is also a game aimed for novice rather than experienced adventure gamers. Still, Future Games is to be congratulated for crafting such a fine adventure that can be enjoyed by gamers regardless of their previous experiences with the genre.

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