The Macintosh platform used to be a citadel of independent game production, and while the capacity for computer games to be produced first on the Mac has dwindled over the last ten years, certain games have still kept the torch aflame. Not only that, but a few games are even making the fateful leap into the PC realm after being besieged with requests from fans.
Alida is the most-recent Macintosh game to get the Windows treatment. After being almost fanatically well-reviewed on most Macintosh gaming websites, it is really no surprise that it is being released on the PC by Got Game Entertainment. The only question that we really need to ask ourselves is this: does Alida have what it takes to enjoy success with a larger audience of PC-users?
To begin, let's take a look at the type of adventure we are looking at. For an overly-general summary, think of Alida as Myst if it was created in 2002. From the visual look to its emphasis on puzzles, Alida just screams "Myst-clone." Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you enjoy first-person puzzle adventures. Alida, by sheer virtue of its publishing date, improves in almost every area compared to the original Myst. Unfortunately, improving on an old classic does not a new classic make, especially when there are a wealth of other Myst clones for the PC to spend your money on. While Alida is a respectable-enough adventure to deserve being ported from the Mac, it necessitates a highly specific audience: those that gravitate towards first-person puzzle adventures. If you even passingly wince at the thought of playing through this sort of game, stay far, far away from Alida. While people devoted to this sub-genre may be willing to overlook Alida's deficiencies, virtually all other types of gamers will be alienated by them.
The basic storyline of Alida is simple. According to the introduction, you are sent to the theme park island of Alida which is famous for having the world's largest playable guitar. Your goal is to discover the fate of one of the rock star musicians that built it. If you can accept this alternate reality as a suitable storyline, my congratulations go to you. For me, the island of Alida is one of those game settings where you would be hard-pressed to understand why a millionaire would build so many puzzles into every little door and walkway. Although it is an admittedly hokey setting, however, the story is still a lot easier to understand than many other first-person adventures, especially compared to the original Myst which Alida clearly resembles. It's nice to have some semblance of a plot, even with a gaping hole or two. My biggest nitpick with the plot of Alida is apparent in the first scene, which starts you off on a railing hundreds of feet above the water with no explanation of how you arrived there. No boat is in sight, and there appears to be no possible way to return to the mainland. While this kind of introduction worked for the fantasy world of Myst, Alida suffers for it.
Overlooking the plot, the visuals in Alida are easily its best asset. Some of the textures are simply mind-boggling in their complexity, as well as the amount of detail in various elements of the world architecture. If you're like me, you'll probably be craning your neck more than once just to figure out how the developers crammed so much detail into something like a chair. Unfortunately, this detail comes at a price. You'll also be craning your neck forward to squint at the frustrating maximum resolution of 800 x 600. While you can adjust your desktop to 800 x 600 and experience the game in full screen, those with LCD monitors or non-standard screens (such as laptops with 1280 x 800 resolution) will probably have to run the game with a large black border around the game window. This is a pity, as Alida's visual production is excellent. It improves on the original Myst in leaps and bounds, and is only hairs away from the devastatingly beautiful environments of Riven. Having a choice in resolutions for the game would have gone a long way towards making the visuals stand out on any monitor, regardless of size.
Alida, like Myst and other first-person adventures that followed it, also incorporates FMV and CGI sequences. I particularly enjoyed the short FMV scenes and elaborate CGI animations. While similar scenes in Myst and even Riven stood out as pixellated, blocky additions, the FMV scenes in Alida are crisp and blend well with the scenery, and the CGI animations are seamlessly embedded into the background screens. Both rendering and digital film technology have clearly conquered mountains over the last few years. After Alida, if I find poor FMV in any new adventure game, I'm apt to tear my hair out.
Moving on to more functional things, the interface of Alida is very much derivative of its predecessors, although again this is not a bad thing. Control is entirely mouse-based, with a cursor that changes to a hand over "hotspots" or to a magnifying glass on areas that you can magnify. These conventions are tried and true and work quite well for the game. In addition, there is no pixel-hunting whatsoever in Alida. There is only one item to pick up and it is easily utilized. However, without any apparent inventory interface, a few gamers might not explicitly remember that they picked it up.
Before I continue on to evaluating the actual gameplay of Alida, it is important for a section of this review devoted to the installation process. Most games nowadays are trivial to install (just double-click on setup.exe), but setting up Alida is much more involved. The game manual carefully instructs you to copy the Alida game folder onto your desktop or chosen folder to play. This flashback to 1993 seemed a little out of a place for a game released in 2004. This is not the optimum install scenario, however, as you will realize when you first run the game. Transitions between scenes will be slow, as each and every image is accessed from the CD-ROM. The manual (in an entirely separate section) explains that to reduce this lag, you need to copy the contents of the 5 CD-ROMs into the Alida game folder. This takes an unbearably long time as you individually insert the CDs and drag their folders into your install directory. Considering that Alida is a modern game charged at a modern price, I expected more out of the installation process than an exercise in Windows file management. A simple setup.exe with options for a Minimum or Complete install would have gone a long way towards improving my initial impressions.Continued on the next page...