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1954 Alcatraz Review

When I previewed 1954 Alcatraz back in February, I said that it had the potential to match Daedalic Entertainment’s impressive past efforts. Well, I’ve since played the game to completion, and unfortunately the game squanders most of this potential, resulting in a disappointingly average point-and-click adventure.

As you might have surmised from the title, the game is set in 1954 and revolves around San Francisco’s famous federal prison. In the game you take control of two characters: Joe, a small-time crook who is transferred to the maximum security Alcatraz Island after a failed escape attempt from his first lockup, and Christine, a beatnik writer and Joe’s loving wife. While Joe sets about escaping from Alcatraz, Christine is under pressure from a mobster to find the cash that went missing from the heist that got Joe locked up.


A part of what makes the point-and-click genre so great is its ability to support stories and settings that wouldn’t necessarily work in a shooter or other action-based genres. The developers have used this unique facet to their advantage to deliver a story that feels quite cinematic in style. This is helped in no small part by the ability to freely switch between the two protagonists (apart from when the plot prevents you from doing so). Having the two perspectives available is a nice idea, and adds a bit of variety to the game, but I usually found myself playing as one character until I hit a roadblock before switching to the other, which resulted in a more linear experience than I initially hoped for.

An interesting world is key to a memorable point-and-click game and for the most part 1954 Alcatraz succeeds in this area. The setting is beautifully illustrated with exquisite hand-drawn backgrounds and a jazzy soundtrack that evokes the artistic mood of the period. Unfortunately, these are let down by some rather blocky 3D character models; the cartoony individuals are stiffly animated and don’t fit in well with the detailed 2D environments.


However, a compelling world is nothing without strong characters to populate it, and this is where the game falls a bit flat. Alcatraz’s cast of characters are an eclectic mix of small-time criminals, aspiring artists, mafia bosses and crooked cops. Varied though they may be, most of the San Franciscans don’t go any deeper than basic stereotypes. There’s the sneaky, cowardly mobster and his serious, intimidating boss; the brutish prisoner out to get the protagonist for no real reason; the slimeball who always hits on women. The game’s writer, Gene Mocsy, has also included many LGBT characters in the game, which might be considered commendable given the lack of such characters in the gaming world, but they ultimately just come off as bad stereotypes too (Gone Home provided a much more subtle approach to the subject). The cast consists of characters we’ve seen countless times before and the game feels more forgettable as a result.

It’s understandable that not all the characters are complex and well realised, but even the protagonists are lacking in this regard. Joe’s character is usually pretty stoic and the story doesn’t delve into his past beyond the fact he used to be a mechanic so he’s good at fixing things. Joe is a black man, and this is referenced a few times in the story, but I believe the game would have benefitted from exploring the issue of race, especially since the Civil Rights Movement began around this time. Christine fares better, as her past is discussed several times and she simply shows more emotion in the story, making her more believable. Christine is also very well acted, as is the rest of the cast, it’s just a shame they don’t have much to actually say.


The story itself is your standard escape movie fare. The developers have attempted to implement a non-linear plot to the game, à la The Walking Dead, with mixed results. On the one hand, it’s encouraging to see more developers attempt this narrative approach, but the times where the player is forced to make decisions are few and far between, and the options are usually black and white. The relationship between Joe and Christine is the main factor behind these decisions (e.g. will Joe decide to lie to his wife about something, or come clean?), and the decisions do become seemingly bigger as the game progresses, but ultimately the only important decision is the final one which makes the rest seem pointless.

From a gameplay perspective, point-and-click fans won’t find much innovation in Alcatraz. You’ll go about selecting replies in conversation trees and finding, combining and using items. Joe, being the more practical one, spends most of his time performing mechanical tasks like fixing machinery and creating tools for his escape, while Christine is more of a ‘people person’ and solves problems for people in order to get what she needs. To avoid players getting stuck and frustrated, Daedalic have included an overlay that shows all the interactive objects in a room when the player presses the spacebar. They’ve also designed some of their puzzles to have multiple solutions, but often these are as simple as finding something in one location instead of another, and the game is already quite easy - I was able to complete it in around five hours.


Your enjoyment of 1954 Alcatraz will depend almost entirely on how much you like the point-and-click genre. It offers no real innovation in the gameplay department (not that it needs to, Broken Age proved that), but it lacks in the story department too. Hardcore fans of the genre and Daedalic Entertainment will find enough to like here with the developer’s trademark stunning art, believable voice acting and interesting setting, but an underwhelming story prevents 1954 Alcatraz from matching their stellar previous efforts.

6.00/10 6

1954 Alcatraz (Reviewed on Windows)

Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.

Hardcore fans of the genre and Daedalic Entertainment will find enough to like here with the developer’s trademark stunning art, believable voice acting and interesting setting, but an underwhelming story prevents 1954 Alcatraz from matching their stellar previous efforts.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Matt Girdler

Matt Girdler

Staff Writer

When he's not hunched over a computer programming, Matt can be found hunched over a computer playing and writing about video games.

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