Genre: Independently Developed Adventure
Release Date: April 2003
This review was originally published August 11, 2003
Alida was created entirely by one person. This, in itself, is a spectacular accomplishment, and worthy of support. And while I am in total awe of the developer, it would be too easy - and unfair - to review the game entirely from that standpoint. So please feel free to tag on at the end of every paragraph "And wow, it was made by one person!"
Alida is a Riven-like adventure game for Mac OS9 and OSX, developed by Dejavu Worlds in Australia. It is available online from the developer's page, and is packaged on five CD-ROMs. It has relatively low system requirements, and will run beautifully on older machines. I encountered absolutely no technical problems whatsoever, a very refreshing change. Gameplay is much the same as in other graphical adventure games, with the user clicking through locations and objects, encountering challenging puzzles and spectacular vistas.
Dejavu Worlds has really done a great job with the visuals in Alida, with some quality work rivaling that of Cyan and the like. The modeling, texturing and lighting were all first-class, and the FMV was well done. Most of the environments are really reminiscent of Riven, but not in a derivative way. More like an amazing and honest homage.
The audio in Alida is really wonderful - one of my favorite parts of the game. The soundscapes are evocative and well recorded, and make the environments feel alive. Birds, frogs, and bugs, oh my! But beware - you'll need to really pay attention to sound throughout the game.
And the puzzles - there are quite a lot of puzzles in Alida, with a good mixture of recurring areas and objects. The puzzles range quite drastically, with some of the most difficult appearing very early on in the game. The developer has recently added a "Hints" section to the Alida website, and it is truly welcome. I had to resort to independent online walkthroughs (there is also a partial official walkthrough available at the site), and was often surprised by the solution. I consider this a bit of a drawback - the difference between "Oh I should have seen that!" and "What the! I'm supposed to do what?" is often a matter of good game design. Extensive note taking is a must withAlida, but even then some of the puzzles are beyond note taking (see audio, above).
The main issues I had with Alida were with the game design and the plot. I really could not get around the fact that the island is a gigantic guitar, which is actually playable in the game. The creators of the island are a band that created an entirely new sound, broke all sorts of sales records, and secluded themselves on a remote island to build their dream amusement park. That's all fine – except when the game suddenly switches to mystical lost civilizations and members of the rock band writing diaries expounding on sci-fi level physics. I really enjoyed most of the puzzles, but once the plot surfaced again, it totally destroyed any suspension of disbelief. Plot elements are gathered from newspaper clippings, diaries, and. holographic projectors, but it sometimes feel like it isn't enough - especially when the game becomes life threatening. This vagueness is compounded by the way the two principal actors resemble each other far too much, and it is often difficult to know who is who.
The only other issue I have with the game is the sales method. It currently is only available by online ordering through an Australian distributor, and is rather expensive at US $46 before international shipping. It would be great if Cos Russo - the developer could land a North American and European distribution channel, as this game is definitely worthy of more exposure.
All told, Alida is a pretty good game. It suffers from an unbelievable plotline, but the visuals and puzzles do a good job in overcoming any problems. I really hope that Dejavu Worlds continue making adventure games, as the potential is fantastic - but I also hope that it becomes a more-than-one person operation. Alida is a phenomenal achievement, but it could have been a much better game had it been really thought through more thoroughly.