Despite my familiarity with Richard & Alice, having previewed the game some months ago, it didn’t take long for the unsettling undercurrent of the world to once again establish itself and for the quality of the writing to once again impress. There is a confidence to it, a subtlety that makes this story and character driven indie adventure game from Denby Raze (or Lewis Denby and Ashton Raze as they are usually known) almost as incredible as the unrelenting snow that has thrown its world into chaos.
That isn’t to say that the puzzles aren’t an important part of the experience, but they provide far more in terms of pacing than they do challenge. Sure, rust removal spray near a rusted ladder may stretch credibility a little but at least the solution isn’t painfully contrived. Similarly, extraneous items are rarely used but handled undeniably well – you can’t pick them up, which avoids the usual frustration associated with them, and items like saws too rusted to use reflect the decay of the world perfectly.
Richard & Alice is functional if somewhat underwhelming in terms of its aesthetics, but as the least important aspect of the game the effect of this mild disappointment is minimal. It is an understandable concession, given that development was on a part time basis and the team doesn’t extend much past the Denby Raze duo, and it is a limitation that appears to have lead to an effective use of audio only ‘cutscenes’ that punctuate certain moments perfectly. Crossing a precarious frozen lake to nothing but the sound of the ice cracking underneath is tense, far more so than anything the game could have mustered visually.
Post-apocalyptia may not be the most original of premises but Richard & Alice manages to continuously engage and ultimately surprise. Your time within the prison will revolve around the developing relationship between the two titular characters, as Richard’s isolation driven need for conversation slowly wears down the apathy of Alice’s moral relativism, but their is very much a third character… the prison itself. Its mere presence in this chaotic world is confusing and its relative luxury doubly so. The spam emails, the ticket submission system that Richard has such unquestioning faith in, the fact Alice doesn’t have a TV and Richard’s only ever plays outdated nature documentaries. Everything about it is that little bit off, but the game doesn’t draw undue focus to any of these little absurdities making them all the more affecting.
And then we have what I’d consider the focal point of the tale, the flashbacks of Alice’s struggle for survival with her son Barney. Her desperate attempts to maintain Barney’s childish innocence no matter how bleak the situation adds a certain poignancy to every opening of a door or exploration of a new environment. In less capable hands his occasional mispronunciation of words would read as insincere, but Barney is deftly written. He may be a burden at times, but he is the motivating force throughout and the occasional hero. So much of the story rests upon his characterisation, more so than Richard and Alice themselves I would argue, and he has been crafted with an immediately evident care.
Richard & Alice touches upon many themes relating to the central concept of morality through scenes ranging from heart-warming to harrowing, making for a rather memorable tale. There may only be several different locations and even fewer characters, but this creates an appropriately isolated and intimate atmosphere. There are signs of life (and death) everywhere you go, be it in the bloodstains on the walls or the numerous notes you can collect (which once read are thankfully removed from your inventory and catalogued on a corkboard), making you feel both entirely alone and completely exposed at the same time.
Available on GOG, Desura and IndieCity for £3.99, Richard & Alice may only lasts a few hours but it doesn’t need to be a moment longer. Its story may often tread rather familiar ground, but the subtle crumpling of snow underneath each of its narrative footsteps proves more than enough to make it something rather special.