Alcatraz: Prison Escape begins with an intriguing premise. As Nate Derek, a professor wrongly convicted of murdering two students, you are trapped in the famous Bay-area prison and have to rely on bartering, stealth, and occasional violence to escape and clear your name. Sadly, any interest this synopsis may elicit disappears almost immediately after actual play begins. The designers have utterly failed to grasp the elements that draw gamers to the "first-person sneaker" concept the game attempts to employ, and overstating how un-enjoyable the game is would be difficult. Unlike the Thief series, one of the most popular in the genre, you get no sense of secrecy, stealth, or joy in skulking around where you don't belong.
The graphics are the first noticeable problem, though not the worst. Where are the moody streetlights, or the fat, inviting pools of darkness they project from nearby buildings? Shadows do play a role, since they offer a place to hide, but they don't make you feel safe or hidden. The only indication that you're not visible is a "stealth-o-meter" shown at the bottom of the screen. But by far the bigger problems concern the artificial intelligence of the guards and the deadly dull puzzles.
Upon reflection, using the term AI may actually be a misnomer based on the ridiculous behavior of your jailers. For example, when you're spotted, you hear shouting and a loud alarm, but, if you duck around a corner and hide, the guards lose interest in a matter of seconds, saying "Oh well. I guess it was nothing." Bear in mind, now, they've actually seen you, and aren't simply reacting to a strange noise. It gets worse. If you knock a guard unconscious, his co-workers will walk by him without even noticing his limp body.
If further proof of guard ignorance is required, at times they get caught on something and simply walk in place. Even if you stand in front of one of them under a bright light, he won't move, but will begin to run in place. Being powerless to defend himself, you can brazenly stroll up from behind and knock him unconscious. Indeed, "artificial incompetence" is a more apt description of the AI in Alcatraz: Prison Escape.
Bartering, one of the major forms the puzzles take, is a huge disappointment, due largely to the game's structure. Small groups of rooms contain the action with obvious solutions usually in plain sight. For instance, a fellow inmate wants to sell useful information in exchange for cigarettes, which are visible on the other side of the room in which you're sitting. Or, at one point, you come upon a security kiosk with wire-reinforced windows. In an adjacent room of cells (where an unconvincing riot is taking place), a man has a baton capable of breaking glass he'll give you for a pack of cigarettes, which are only twenty feet away next to an unconscious body. It's painfully uninventive, and you get the feeling you're there simply to reinforce the blatant laziness.
These flaws, along with dubious dialogue and hackneyed jokes about prison homosexuality, make the unflattering picture complete. The background graphics are the only redeeming feature, but, unfortunately, the crudely drawn humans spoil the effect. Details found in the rooms don't extend to the faces and clothing of the inmates and guards, which contributes to a total lack of immersion and results in a very tedious experience. In Alcatraz: Prison Escape, the best way to escape is to not go at all.
Graphics: Excellent background designs are offset by extremely poor character art.
Sound: Bad dialogue and voices are made even worse by bad sound effects.
Enjoyment: Puzzles are uninventive and the game fails to establish any sort of immersive mood or atmosphere. The AI is woefully inept and, at times, laughable.
Replay Value: There's barely enough to keep you interested the first time. Absolutely no redeeming features or reasons to warrant any replay.
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