so wanted to love this game. By
the time Alida was released
for the PC, the Mac version had been out for months and the reviews were
almost universally glowing. The
screenshots and hype about the game had all led me to believe that it
was the best thing since Riven.
(Remember, I am an unabashed Myst
I discovered that while it was an interesting and original game, Alida
failed in several key ways to live up to the frequent Myst
comparisons. While not all
of the hype was overblown, Alida
certainly isn’t “all that and a bag of chips.”
story is reasonably intriguing, if insufficient for a game as long as Alida.
It seems that there was this Australian rock band (named Alida)
whose debut album sold a billion copies, making the band members the
richest men in the world. (Don’t
bother doing the math—it doesn’t work out.
Take it as literary license.)
The band, rather than concentrating on a follow-up album, decides
to take their newfound wealth and blow it by reshaping a South Pacific
island into a giant working
guitar and turning it into a theme park (also
named Alida). Work on the
project grinds to a halt when the blasting crew stumbles across a
chamber full of impossible futuristic technology.
While band-member Arin becomes intrigued with exploring this
technology, the rest of the band loses interest in the project and
drifts away. Then Kivas,
the band’s manager, summons the band back to Alida for an important
meeting. When Arin never
returns home from this meeting, his wife Julia sends you, the player, a
message, asking you to go to Alida, find your friend Arin and bring him
of this happens, of course, before the game ever starts.
The story is revealed, in true Myst
fashion, through Arin’s journal and some letters you find during your
exploration of the island. Thankfully,
the reading material isn’t as voluminous as in Myst,
with only a single bit than could be called lengthy.
However, this plus is outweighed by the fact that when a certain
fact is revealed about Kivas and Arin early in the game, the whole
“twist” in the plot is made glaringly obvious, cliché and
predictable, leaving the player to proceed along through the majority of
the game toward what they know will be a trite and unsatisfying ending.
main reasons for the frequent comparisons between Alida
and the Myst games will be
obvious from the word go. Alida
uses the same photo-realistic ray-traced graphic style, the same
node-based movement, the same 1st-person slideshow
presentation. In fact, they
even share the same Macromedia Flash-style hand cursor.
comes off much the worse in any actual comparison.
While the detail work is quite good in close-up views, much of
that detail is lost in longer shots.
This was particularly noticeable when one is looking at distant
trees; many of the shots made it appear as if some of the tree limbs
were floating in mid-air. The
water effect also bothered my eye.
There are several shots of vast expanses of ocean.
However, the effect tended to look like sandwiched blue and white
sheets of cellophane being minutely slid against each other.
recognizing the weakness of some of their outdoor effects, the designers
at Dejavu Worlds kept them to a minimum.
The great majority of the game is played in dimly lit underground
caverns. And when the
player does make it to fresh air, it is frequently to find himself
surrounded by cliffs and high rocks that severely limit his view.
Although this means that much of Alida
is presented with a fairly muted palette of grays and browns, it is
these areas that truly showcase the artistic talent of the game’s
creators. The detail work
is generally superb, lending a sense of realism to the frankly fantastic
story and surroundings. There
are a few cutscenes in which one soars around the island in a
“T-flyer” which are quite stunning.
The graphical quality is all the more impressive when you
remember that Dejavu is a small independent developer.
that the game deals with a rock band, you might expect its sound to be
important—and you wouldn’t be wrong.
The sound work is uniformly excellent through the game.
This is critical since, predictably, there are several sound
puzzles. The game’s
setting doesn’t allow for much ambient sound, but when it’s there,
it’s good. I particularly
liked the sound of the ocean gently lapping against the shore in those
few spots where you could hear it.
Ironically for a game about music and musicians, there is
virtually no background music. However,
this worked quite well to further the sense of solitary exploration of
an empty complex, as well as drawing attention to those sounds one needs
big graphical difference between Alida
and Myst is that Alida
plays in almost the monitor’s full screen (though in 640x480
resolution), rather than the little window we remember from Myst.
While this allows for a prettier, fuller look at the world, this
larger screen also works to Alida’s
detriment. There are
numerous places (and many of them not very intuitive) where one must
look up or down for vital clues or mechanisms.
Because the player is using a tiny Flash hand icon against a
comparatively large screen, it can be easy to miss these key spots.
And while it is easy to sit back and say, “Just make sure you
check up and down at every node and from every angle,” the fact is
that the player eventually gets lulled into not making this critical
check at every single step, inevitably leading to missing something
critical. A larger icon or
larger hotspots for such up/down views would have saved a lot of
Breaking the Rules
given that Alida is a lovely
game full of the solitary exploration and puzzling that I so enjoyed in
the Myst games, why isn’t
this review more enthusiastic? Easy.
Many of the puzzles sucked or were downright unfair, thus
leeching the “fun factor” out of the game.
spoilers ahead. Those who
wish to avoid them should skip to the next section.)
is often the case in the best of this style of adventure game, solving
the puzzles depends on paying close attention to the environment.
I have no problem with this.
Timelapse, which is
one of my favorite games, required such environmental observation in
spades. But in Alida’s
case, this requirement is not only carried to extremes, but the
designers then made the puzzles unfair even if one “followed the
rules” and paid strict attention.
I will look at three such puzzles, as they were the most glaring
examples of this trend.
of the game’s sound puzzles require the player to notice ambient bird
and insect sounds in a particular area and be able to relate them to an
apparatus. No problem.
Except that the bird sounds don’t always appear where they are
supposed to. You may have
to be turned one direction or approach one of the key spots from a
certain angle to hear them one time, and then have to face a completely
different direction to hear them the next time.
If one merely walks through the key spots without trying every
possible approach and angle, it is completely possible to never hear the
bird calls at all, or certainly not enough times to identify the
different sounds and commit them to memory.
Assuming that one manages to solve the bird call puzzle, one then
knows how to do the related insect puzzle, right?
WRONG! Because when
the player traipses back and forth through the area listening for the
four requisite insect sounds, he hears nothing but the same faint drone
no matter where he is standing. “I
don’t get it,” says the puzzled player.
“I know what I’m supposed to be doing here and I can’t hear
anything.” The reason for
the player’s confusion: rather than needing to identify four different
sounds at four precise locations as the hint for the puzzle, the machine
where you enter the solution and the earlier bird call puzzle all
indicate, you instead have to use the same sound (the faint droning you
can hear everywhere in that area) all
other prime example of observational mania involves a flickering table
lamp. You notice that the
lamp has a short circuit when you first encounter it, then dismiss it.
It turns out that it is actually a vital clue.
The lamp is flickering in a pattern of long and short bursts,
which is related to another puzzle.
However, there is no way
in Hell that you would ever recognize that there is a repeating
pattern to the flickering unless you decided for no particular reason to
stand looking at the lamp for five minutes straight.
be fair, the majority of the puzzles in Alida
were exactly the type I like, requiring taking notes, translating
symbols, and collecting hints from various locations to operate
fantastic machinery. There
is no inventory, and thus no bizarre combining of a rubber band with a
fireplace poker to create a mousetrap.
What dialogue exists is all in FMV cutscenes, therefore
eliminating dialogue “puzzles.”
But the several “unfair” puzzles were exasperating enough to
really detract from my overall enjoyment of the game.
there is much to like and admire in Alida,
particularly if one is a fan of solitary-exploration-and-puzzle
adventure games. The
graphics and sound are superior, particularly given its humble origins.
The story is reasonably interesting if a tad farfetched… at
least until the insultingly cliché “twist.”
It is obvious that a lot of intelligence, talent, love and
dedication went into the game’s design and creation.
But I came away feeling let down and disappointed.
Perhaps it was all the hype declaring Alida
the best thing since sliced bread.
Maybe it was my continual feeling that it kept building up to
being something great, only to throw another unfair puzzle or
illogical/impossible story component in my path.
I only know that I came away feeling that Alida
could have been something phenomenal but ended up just missing over and
over. I somehow feel that a
game with as much quality as this one should have been more fun,
I almost forgot. Remember
that futuristic chamber that the blasting crew discovered?
It doesn’t figure into the story at all.
Arin tells us at the end of the game that we’ll learn about it
in our next adventure. *wink*
Score: 7 (out of 10)
Mystery Manor Home