Alias ‘The Magpie’

cover (9)

Overhearing the Earl of Hamcester (I’m assuming, pronounced ‘Hamster’..tee hee) summoning a noted psychiatrist down to his pad, you, as the notorious ‘Magpie’, gentleman burglar, manage to take his place, in order to try and steal a priceless Egyptian scarab. But it’s not quite that simple. Cue a plot that takes in stolen scarabs, prize winning cucumbers and rattlesnakes.

A note on the blurb, as this deserves mentioning. I’ve managed to give my own games really bad blurbs in the past, but Alias’ blurb, to me, is an example of how to write a really good couple of lines that sets the scene, sets the player’s expectations and gives a tonal flavor. I’ve learnt from it.

On to the game – a longer puzzly parser game that, right from the outset has me hooked. I’ve played for 2 hours now, and am, I think, close to an ending.

“…you’ll more than likely find the Major in the grounds on a day like this, decimating my hollyhocks with a machete.”

It’s all about the text, which absolutely sparkles. It reminds me of a parody and mash-up of a lot of different elements – farces, gentile detective stories, Raffles, Jeeves and Wooster, and, oddly, Wallace and Grommit. And it is very, very funny.

There are so many delicious little quotes and one-liners in this game, that I could fill this review with them – but I don’t want to spoil anything. I don’t think I’ve played a game before as consistently voiced and amusing as this one.

It is quite early in the game that you discover the scarab has already been stolen by someone else. Or so it seems. There are many more layers to this story – the aforementioned cucumber being one of them, and through the course of the narrative, you end up being much more than just a thief.

This puts you in a bit of a spot, an introduction being, for you, a multiple-choice question.

A gentleman thief pretending to be a psychologist, pretending to be a detective. And, occasionally, others. It’s inventive and clever and each character you play has a role to play in the plot and a plot line to resolve.

There are so many thoughtful and well implemented aspects here, I’m struggling to mention them all. The integrated hint system, the inventory that has been bespoked to fit within the voice of the game. The strength of implementation of conversation.

The puzzles are quite linear – one leads to the next. Much of the game revolves around the stage management of all the NPC’s – which is superbly done. If there are issues with scenes, I didn’t find them. All the characters are where they need to be and each person’s movement and actions has a reason – one that is linked in with the current puzzle and/or solution. The whole game comes across almost as a play – I see from the ‘about’ within the game that a staging was produced. I would have liked to have seen that.

There are a few minor issues. A few I found (so I’m of some use for once!) are :  ask hives about me; give banana to bull; examine panelling in landing; I thought I was on the wrong track as jnir gnoyrpybgu ng ohyy didn’t return a valid response. pyvzo qbja qenvacvcr really needs to be accepted as a command. When you gryy yrtubea nobhg sregvyvmre, you get a very odd response halfway between taking something and conversation. Going north from the park when carrying the ladder doesn’t return a room description. But all these are super small things you’d expect a game of this size to throw up in the competition and easily fixed.

Beautifully, professionally done – superbly implemented. Funny, clever and delicious. I doubt it can be completed in 2 hours, but this is currently the standard bearer in the competition for me. 10/10.

p.s. I couldn’t resist it. I completed the game with a little help from the walkthrough. I am happy to say that the ending is both unexpected and as beautifully done as the rest of the game. Bravo.

 

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