Alida: The Enigmatic Giant

Review by Orb
February 2003

Where do I begin? I have found myself, for the past several weeks, consumed by Alida, a refreshingly complex and well-designed first-person, point-and-click adventure game from independent Australian developer Dejavu Worlds. Really consumed. Bad. But it's now over, and I'm here to tell you the tale. First let me say I haven't had a game eat away at me like this for a long time.

It's really been a great season for point-and-click fans, with the recent independent releases of the soon-to-be-published Rhem and the critically acclaimed Dark Fall, both fine examples of the burgeoning independent adventure game movement. Add Alida to this lineup, and it becomes apparent that the market for adventure games is evolving, with some really exciting, quality titles making their way out to the public on their own.

Alida is the story of four musicians who have achieved worldwide fame and accolades for their craft and have made a potful of money as a result. They decide to take their earnings and build a monumental theme park in the shape of a monster guitar on an island ten miles out to sea. The island has lain deserted for fifteen years, and one of the musicians goes back to Alida for reasons unknown. You are contacted by his wife—she has become suspicious and concerned as she has not heard from her husband in a while. It is your job to go to Alida, locate Arin, her husband, and find out what has happened. In the process you uncover a dark story of jealousy and greed.

The graphics are a stunning accomplishment, especially for an indie developer. Textures are really well-defined and amazingly detailed. The minutiae in such things as wallpaper really add to the degree of immersion in the game. The cutscenes rival in quality any of the bigger, more well-known adventure game titles.

People that love these sort of games will adore Alida. Myst detractors will not. So if you don't like Myst-style games, don't even open your trap to yap—just move on to the next sideshow booth, fella. It seems that with Alida, the intention was not to try and win those sorts over, but rather to do a fabulous job crafting a game in this popular niche style.

The game interface is very simple. Controls are found by running the cursor along the top of the screen to access the drop-down menus. The cursor is the classic white hand, which changes based on the directions available for travel or to show that items may be picked up or moved. There are some transitional lags that can be handled by adjusting the speed of transitions, and the motion of the sea water can also be switched off in the interest of transition speed. There is also a rocket mode that lets you jump directly to the end of previously traversed paths.

I really want to not forget to mention something about the soundtrack. There is no constant looping of music throughout the game, but rather music is included in specific spots to heighten the dramatic effect, and indeed it does. Quite often I found myself with goosebumps when I would access an area and music would begin. And I must say, the music is of incredible quality. It fits amazingly well with each environment and adds much to the gameplay. It's also really beautiful in its own right—it is reminiscent of the style created by the Rand brothers for the Myst series. Certainly it is at least as evocative, giving the feeling of something deep and mysterious in front of you. This is some of the best adventure game music I've heard, and that's after playing hundreds of adventure games. I can think of only a handful I have enjoyed as much.

There's a small bit of FMV, and the acting is certainly in keeping with the rest of the game. The first time one of these segments appeared, it was so unexpected that I just about went through the roof. And it's also done in such a way that it looks natural in the environment, not like some little box on the screen as is the case with some FMV sequences in games.

As for the puzzles, let me just stop and whine for a bit. They made me think. I had to really reason some of these suckers out. The game definitely is not designed to be played on autopilot, let me tell you. The puzzles are in some instances devilish, fiendish. The clues to solve them are all presented to the player in the environment, however. There is a fair amount of thought needed to marry up all of the clues with their respective puzzles; thus, the pace of the game becomes quite languid. There is no inventory, but note-taking is a necessity. The puzzles mostly are of the mechanical variety, and they are built into the game so as not to be incongruous with the environments, a complaint many have had with other point-and-click games.

This is a designer that grasps the concepts involved in making a complex, entertaining first-person point-and-click adventure. Honestly, there were times where I was very frustrated by Alida because the puzzles were so clever and subtle. Finally I realized that this was not some fly-by-night game that I could just flip through in a sitting or two, as many of the bigger published titles seem to have become, but rather I needed to step back and take my time to look at the environment, exactly what I was doing and why, and just how everything went together in the bigger picture. With my game-playing viewpoint shifted, I was able to dig in, taking what ended up being weeks exploring the environment and solving puzzles.

Interestingly enough, I've realized that this sort of gameplay has become uncommon in recent years, at least from a purist adventure gamer's perspective. With the exception of the quality indie titles I mentioned earlier, the luxury of taking one's time puzzling out a good, old-fashioned adventure seems to be becoming an increasingly rare experience.

The monolithic (or is that monosyllabic) publisher Dreamcatcher has made a business of publishing a high volume of repetitive adventure games at cut-rate prices. This has acclimated the market to these low prices, and lesser games, cutting off at the knees other, lower volume, higher quality publishers that are required to sell their products at prices more common to games outside the adventure genre. Those same common market rates do not allow smaller publishers that may bring something fresh to the public to turn a profit. So I say any independent developer with a quality title should be supported, in part to break down this onerous climate that is causing the market to be glutted with poorly conceived and executed drivel that further lessens interest in adventure games by the public at large. Fight the man, baby!

Alida currently is for sale at the developer's website. For the amount of gameplay in the game, and the breadth of it, I would definitely say that it is worth every cent of the purchase price. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Dejavu Worlds
Publisher: Dejavu Worlds (originally self-published for Mac only); Got Game Entertainment
Release Date: February 2003 (Dejavu Worlds); May 2004 (Got Game Mac release); August 2004 (Got Game PC release)

Available for: Macintosh Windows

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System Requirements

G3 233 or faster
4X CD-ROM drive
QuickTime 4 or 5
Mac OS 8/9/X
21 MB RAM free
185 MB free hard disk space
640x480 screen, 16-bit color

Pentium 3 700 MHz
Windows 98/00/XP
QuickTime 5 or 6 (Quicktime 6.5 recommended; included on disk)
128 MB RAM
285 MB free hard disk space
640×480 screen resolution
16-bit color (24-bit or 32-bit recommended)
Sound Card

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