A second ice age has descended upon us. The world has frozen over, obliterating civilization and government, leaving anyone but the highest up to fend for themselves in a world that has gone completely to hell. But deep underground, Richard lives out his life in a well outfitted prison, away from the horror that humanity has become, watching nature documentaries and contacting the guards through his personal computer when something breaks or he’s in need of assistance. If it wasn’t for the iron bars confining him, it would almost seem a rather pleasant place to wait out the cold. The only thing possibly missing, is someone, anyone to talk to, and as if summoned by a support ticket Alice appears in the cell opposite him. If only things were as simple as they appear.
Richard and Alice isn’t the story it first appears to me. Behind the easygoing life the inmates of this peculiar prison seem to live, incredible amounts of despair and heartbreak are pressing at the gate, eating away at the humanity of those who have to bear with the insanity that has brought the world to the brink of almost complete desertion. There are no heroes or villains in this tale; there are simply people, trying their hardest to survive in the midst of impossible odds, doing whatever it takes to live another day despite how meaningless it may seem.
Parallels can be drawn between Richard and Alice and literary masterpieces such as The Road, and certainly it isn’t a premise that we haven’t seen done before (to varying degrees of effect). What makes Owl Caves’s take on it unique, especially in a medium that rarely attempts (let alone succeed at), is the unprecedented level of humanity in its characters and the skill at which they so eloquently explore the darkest side of us in a way that’s neither heavy-handed or moralizing. This isn’t a story that is trying to make you believe in something; to show what’s right and wrong, with infallible characters that ultimately make the right choice.
On the contrary, Richard and Alice is fascinating because it never chooses a side or try to make you see some presumed moral truth. Its characters are flawed individuals, doing terrible things that from the outside seem almost inhuman. But can we truly say that when forced into a corner with no alternatives, we too wouldn’t shed our morality and do whatever it takes to survive, rationalizing it however we must to keep from tearing ourselves apart from the inside? Richard and Alice is a shameless look at the animals we all become when forced under pressure, and it’s shocking not because of incredible amounts of violence or grotesque situations, but because we know deep down that we are all capable of such atrocities.
It’s hard to say if I actually “enjoyed” Richard and Alice. It’s an incredibly bleak adventure that at times is hard to stomach from how emotionally taxing just being such a hopeless world is, let alone what occurs within it. It’s not a “fun” game (or really much of a game at all in many ways), but it is an immensely well crafted experience that does more with less than a handful of characters in just a few hours, than most games ever manage. It’s a captivating character study, that absorbed me from the second I set foot inside Richard’s extravagantcell up until its undecided ending, which leaves just enough unanswered to keep you wondering and filling in the gaps yourself. Some might say its lazy storytelling, but to me it was the only possible way to end a story that was never going to have a happy or finite conclusion. After all, the world is still turning, and humanity along with it, through the best and worst of times.