"Are you Beat?"
Daedalic, known for their beautifully designed point and click adventure games has tried their hands in 3-D character models. Although not perfect, the artistic styling of 3-D characters on beautifully painted 2-D landscapes just simply works aesthetically. If nothing else, 1954: Alcatraz does a remarkable job of bringing San Francisco's 1950s North Beach and Alcatraz, an American Heritage site, to life.
From the very beginning, the scene is set by plunging you into a world where the Beatnik scene is thriving, cops are crooked and organized crime is on the rise. You play as a husband and wife trying to work through the complexities of their married life and the semi-criminal scene they are in. You're first introduced to prisoner 1229, aka Joe, a black man and model prisoner. Joe is well liked mainly because of his ability to fix almost anything, but he also doesn't cause trouble, which allows him a certain amount of latitude and freedom in Alcatraz. The game nimbly transitions you into the life of Christine, Joe's wife, who's a Beat (as in Beatnik) that is into poetry, jazz and bad boys. She has her vices but will do anything for Joe including risking her life to help him escape.
The plot takes some turns but generally follows a somewhat predictable path. The interesting thing about this game is that it introduces issues of the era, such as interracial marriage laws and even broaches gay marriage in a deliberate manner. Unlike many of their other adventure games, there are no mini-game puzzles so the story just naturally flows as you solve the story driven puzzles; none are too taxing or complicated. Overall, the best part of this game is escaping from Alcatraz and having your decisions affect the outcome.
Bottom line: I am naturally biased towards the noir feel of the game, I anxiously anticipated this game's release, and once it was over I felt like something was missing. The story is strong enough to make you want to play straight through to the end but the price tag is quite a bit for such a short game. It's worth playing but I'd wait until it's on sale.
This review is based on a digital copy of 1954: Alcatraz for the PC.