Point and click adventure games have been around for about as long as computers, or at least computers with graphics cards, and have become a staple in the industry. And while they are much loved because the format offers awesome storytelling options and the ability for players of all skill levels to have fun, it also makes the genre a bit tired. I can’t even hope to count the number of point and clicks I’ve played, so I was expecting more of the same with Alter Ego. And then the game goes and throws a pretty cool twist at me.
It’s not a huge genre-defying twist or anything, but a pretty cool little addition that adds some punch to the old point and click. When you begin the game, you play as Timothy Moor, a con-man, pickpocket and general streetwise petty criminal. He’s a lot smarter than most of the rabble he deals with, and mostly sticks to "safe" crimes that will neither get him noticed by the police or the various gangs that control the underworld. It’s nice to see that he doesn’t really have the "heart of gold" that most main characters do. In fact, he often thinks ill of the people he’s talking with, trying to figure out their weakness or how they can be exploited. That said, he will go out of his way to help others in need, at least if there’s something in it for him, so he’s a bit of a complicated character.
The twist comes when you suddenly step into the shoes of Detective Briscol, a brand new police inspector recently promoted from the backwoods of the British countryside to bustling city of Plymouth. Briscol is a very straight-laced law and order type, but has almost zero street smarts. In fact, he’s almost totally naive when it comes to interacting with the criminal element. He even has his transfer papers stolen before he can report for duty, which ends up starting a somewhat comical side mission just to become a detective.
But Briscol has some great skills too. He is able to use basic 1890’s forensic tools to investigate crime scenes. So he can pick up small clues with tweezers and catch things not immediately obvious using a magnifying glass. He writes down everything he finds in a journal which makes solving the mystery set before him a lot easier.
In a way this dynamic duo represents two different types of point and click adventures. With Briscol you have the detective-based solve-the-crime type of gameplay found in many games like the Sherlock Homes series. With Moor, you get the survival type where you are just trying to make your way in the world by solving puzzles, stealing items from other characters and putting together things in your inventory to make something else more useful for the current situation.
The neat thing about Alter Ego is that both characters end up more or less pursuing the same goal. In fact something that one of them does in a previous scene often comes into play for the other character. You as the player know this, but the characters don’t. This kind of puts the player on the inside of a joke, which is a pretty cool feeling.
The main plot of the game involves a series of gruesome murders taking place around town. These coincide with the grave robbery of an aristocrat named Sir William. The body of William is actually found to be missing. But he was not a nice guy. In fact, he is rumored to have killed over fifty people at the time of his death in bizarre occult rituals. Of course people begin to think that the White Beast (as he is known to have been called) has somehow resurrected and come back from the grave to kill again.
Briscol is investigating the case directly, both the grave robbing and the murders, while Moor gets kind of caught up in the entire thing. They are so different that Alter Ego is almost like two different games that just kind of "fit" together as the same title. And that’s pretty cool.
Graphically, Alter Ego looks really good, with realistic architecture and fire effects. This is kind of standard fare for point and click titles, but is worth mentioning. Had it not looked really good it would have been notable. Thankfully, that’s not the case here.
I was surprised with the sound quality. The music all seems period specific, and is in fact mostly unnoticeable. That is a good thing. If the music in an adventure game becomes part of the natural background of the game, it’s really doing its job. And there is no music score that plays all the time, which I liked. Instead, you are treated to ambient sounds that are appropriate to the scene you are in.
The voice acting is all very good, with Moor having his roguish tone and Briscol with his highbrow way of talking. The one negative is that some of the things the characters say, mostly as filler text, don’t make a lot of sense. Like when Moor is asked to repeat an action, he might say "I can’t allow this!" when he really should be commenting on the need to fix an object. My guess is that some of these sayings were added in from voice tapes left on the cutting room floor, and don’t quite match the situation. Thankfully they don’t happen often. The actual scripted dialogue is quite good. I love those British accents everyone has in the game.
The puzzles are thankfully grounded in logic for the most part, this being a more realistic setting. As with any point and click game, there are some head scratching ones that don’t make a lot of sense. You will likely run into places where you have clicked on all the hot spots in a scene and talked to everyone, only to find that you have to visit some other location to grab something else or reexamine an object again to trigger an action. These are frustrating, but par for the course with these puzzle adventures. Thankfully it’s fairly rare here, and you can push a button to see all the hotspots and exits to a scene, which sometimes helps.
The plot of the game is probably the greatest strength. The story is one that you won’t forget anytime soon. And how it unfolds is also quite cool, with bits and pieces being revealed to each character. Also, it’s nice to see a dark and scary murder mystery with a T rating. Sure there is blood and bad stuff, but it’s all tastefully presented and never strays into Mature territory, or dials it down so much that its practically a kids game. Like everything else, Alter Ego strikes a great balance to become a true classic in the point and click adventure game arena.
Alter Ego earns a very impressive 4 Â½ GiN Gems for being a great adventure game that somehow manages to add a bit of punch to point and click.