Genre:   Adventure

Developer:   Centauri Productions

Publisher:    Idea Games

Released:  November 2010

PC Requirements:   Windows XP/Vista™, Pentium IV 2 GHz Single Core or 100 % compatible CPU, 512 MB of RAM, 2.0 GB or more of hard drive space, DirectX compatible sound card, DVD-ROM drive, mouse



by Becky


It's the year 2045 -- Prague is a city in ruins. A worldwide government and two international corporations have taken over. War has wiped out all traces of freedom, graciousness and culture -- at least among the masses. In the future of Alternativa, people are either employed or they starve to death. The time has arrived when one large corporation is laying off many of its employees, greatly expanding the ranks of the desperate.

You assume the role of Richard Rocek, a young man who has just lost his job at a construction site and is trying to cope. Refusing to go gently into that bleak night, he decides to do something, strike out at someone -- and to join anyone else who talks of doing the same.

"If you are going through hell, keep going." Winston Churchill

The background graphics in Alternativa are one of its strengths, containing lots of detail, intriguing angles and unusual light sources. Still, I can't describe them as enticing, since Prague is littered with refuse and the abandoned hulks of vehicles. Androids compromise the security service, but they don't clean up after themselves -- malfunctioning androids can be seen lying everywhere, twitching as they expire. The parts of Prague that aren't a decomposing mess are composed of sleek, minimalist factory and office interiors. Oddly, even the exterior facades of the spiffy offices reflect decay, as though their owners want to compound the atmosphere of despair. In order to exit the game, you select a button marked: "Forgo all hope."

The game's tone shifts somewhat when the story moves from Prague to Brazil. In the future world of Alternativa, Brazil may be impoverished, but at least trees still grow there, and the buildings retain a shadow of their quaint former character.

The futuristic background music has odd beats, buzzing sounds, echoes, rumbles and reverberations. The jukebox in the bar features a song called "Somewhere in the Dark" that's worth listening to via an interlink with Richard's Personal Digital Assistant (PDA).

"Man is the cruelest animal." Friedrich Nietzsche

When the game begins you can select a difficulty level. The "Low" difficulty setting lets you reveal hotspots by pressing the "Tab" key (the in-game instructions don't tell you this -- you have to read the manual very carefully to glean this information).

Selecting the wrong dialog choices sometimes results in death. On the "Low" difficulty setting, the game is then restored to the point before death. On the "High" difficulty setting, the game is restored to the point before death two times -- after that you have to go back to a previously saved game. The game also contains a couple of timed challenges that lead to death until you figure out what you're supposed to be doing.

Even on the "Low" setting, Alternativa's challenges are similar to those in older games with core adventure gameplay. What exactly do I mean by this? Well, here's a representative sample of what you'll encounter: invisible triggers (you have all the information necessary to solve a puzzle, but must visit a different location and click on a tangential hotspot before the game lets you access the puzzle); trial and error puzzles (you randomly figure out which 2 -- or possibly 3 -- of 6 hotspots must be clicked on in the correct order); and guessing the form for log-in names and passwords (both names? all caps? is that an "I" or a "1,"? an "S" or a "5"?).

Sometimes locations are grayed-out while you are attempting to solve these challenges. But more often a handful of locations are open, so you go back and forth endlessly, trying to figure out what you missed.

I know there are gamers out there who cherish this style, because I've heard complaints about recent trends in "dumbing down" adventure games. So if you are a gamer who laments the passing of invisible triggers, trial and error, and non-hint-assisted puzzling (you know who you are) this game is for you.

"They stumble that run fast." William Shakespeare

Alternativa uses a point-and-click interface and is viewed from a third person perspective. Clicking on hotspots reveals a circular menu that lets you interact by selecting an icon for examining, using and (for androids and humans) talking. The inventory bar appears at the top of the screen and is easy to use. Double-clicking causes Richard to run and double-clicking on an exit also should cause a fade-to-black that brings up the next location. Sometimes double-clicking twice is required -- enough to cause the navigation to feel laborious in certain locations.

"Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company." Mark Twain

This game contains memorable characters, some of which grow and develop as the story progresses. Richard, for instance, starts as someone who doesn't question his lot in life as long as he has a steady job. He eventually is transformed into a resourceful individual who risks everything on the advice of virtual strangers. The transformation is believable, given the obstacles he encounters and the paucity of his options.

Other characters include Andrea, a mystery woman who seems fated to come to Richard's rescue (at least at first), and Andy, Richard's roommate, an amiable slacker. There's a significant amount of back story, which is mostly contained in data files in Richard's PDA. More files are added as the story progresses.

Character interaction is a prominent feature in the game. Character animations are a bit stiff. Dialogs, especially those early in the game, are sometimes stilted, but conventions of speech will undoubtedly be different by 2045. Voiceovers are competent and aid the story and the game. Dialogs can be clicked through; they contain occasional casual vulgarities.

Cut scenes have a 3D, slow-motion quality to them, viewed as though through a brightly lit haze. This suits the surreal quality of the setting and the story.

There isn't much comic relief in the game, so when it does occur it's welcome -- the amusing conversation with a telephone, for instance, and the tongue-in-cheek pest repellent advertisement.

Alternativa attempts to tell a compelling story and to comment upon the human condition: it partly attains these goals. One theme is how the strictures of a dystopian society -- forcing people to commit crimes in order to survive -- is similar to the strictures of a computer game, where you (via the player character) can be forced to commit virtual crimes in order to complete the game. In some ways, the game reminds me of The Experiment, in that it is ambitious, creates a believable alternate reality, strives for some overarching social commentary, and beats up on the protagonist in every way possible.

"If you come to a fork in the road, take it." Yogi Berra

Although you play as Richard for the bulk of Alternativa, you can also play as one of two other characters. The story hits a branching path, where you choose whether or not Andrea and Richard should trust Andy. If you decide to trust him, you play one sequence as Andy. If you choose not to trust him, you play the sequence as Andrea. (If you want to see both branches, save your game right after Richard arrives in Brazil.)

The puzzles are different for each branch. Each of these two branches is rather short and, afterwards, the story resumes with you assuming the role of Richard once again. At that point (as far as I could tell) the different branches have no affect on gameplay or on the story.

Controversies Lie Ahead! "The ceremony of innocence is drowned ...." William Butler Yeats

(Plot Detail Spoilers)

One particularly memorable subquest in Prague forces you to steal something from a girl in her early teens who has lost both her parents. You then discover that this young girl has been allowing herself to be repeatedly raped in order to have the money to buy food. This part of the game goes from heart-wrenching to revolting and back again.

A later sequence brings more implied violence -- a flashback involving the murder of a young family. It's a timed sequence, and if you don't figure out what to do fast enough, you repeated the events leading up to the murder of a child.

(End of Spoilers)

Had I not been playing this game for review, I would have abandoned it. Though I'm aware that such horrors exist, they are not what I would choose to dwell upon in a game. However, by game's end I had begun again to be caught up in Richard's quest. I was rooting for him to succeed and cared about him as a character. Under the circumstances, this can be considered something of an achievement for the latter part of the game.

"An eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind." Mahatma Gandhi

 (Ending Spoiler)

The final cut scene is unexpected. Given the first two thirds of the game, I anticipated a "nothing will change and life is completely pointless" ending -- or perhaps a brutally violent ending (both would have made sense with the way the story was trending). That's not what happened.

(End of the Ending Spoiler)

The ending of this game is perplexing. It appears to be setting itself up for a sequel. The conclusion surprised me because much of what has been going on in the story simply isn't explained -- including the true motivations of many of the characters. The identity of a pivotal character is never established. The reason one character is targeted for death is never touched on.

Quick List for Alternativa

A mystery/conspiracy theory game involving a future dystopian society, set in Europe and South America. A likeable protagonist, fighting against extraordinary odds. An atmosphere of brutality, degradation and despair. The ending leaves a lot of unanswered questions.

Detailed naturalistic graphics, third person perspective, point-and-click interface. Satisfying amounts of character interaction. Good voiceovers. You can click through the dialogs.

One crash to desktop, one voiceover at the beginning that cuts in and out. No problems with installation. Two difficulty settings. The "Low" setting enables a "show all hotspots" feature. 21 save game slots.

The game is not appropriate for those under age 18. I would recommend it only for adults who can handle realistic descriptions of violence aimed at innocents, including children.

Inventory challenges, lock puzzles, dialog choice puzzles, guessing passwords. A couple of timed challenges. You can die, but are brought back to the moment before death. No sliders, no mazes, no color or sound based puzzles. Lots of invisible triggers and back-and-forthing; some pixel hunting and puzzles that require trial and error. Difficulty is on the high side. The most difficult puzzles -- the trial and error pin lock and figuring out how to trigger the safe puzzle in the professor's apartment. About ten hours of gameplay.

Aimed at experienced adventure gamers who enjoy games with serious themes and dark, surreal environments -- and who aren't put off by a journey through a futuristic version of Hell.

Final Grade: B-

What I played it on: 

Dell Studio XPS 8000

Windows 7 Home Premium

Intel Core i5-750 processor


1024MB NVIDIA GeForce GT 220

Soundblaster X-Fi 

* Quotations are drawn from

Alternativa can be purchased via download on Steam.

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