"Alter Ego" is a point-and-click adventure played in third-person perspective. Set in an English town in the late Victorian era, the player alternately plays a petty thief and a police officer, and tries to unravel the mystery of a chain of gruesome murders.
Gameplay is typical for this genre: You usually have several inventory items, and access to a couple of locations with some hotspots on each one, and you need to find the correct items and/or hotspots to be used together in order to progress the story. You also spend a lot of time watching conversations between characters, each of whom is fully voice-acted, you engage in conversations yourself with a list of replies to choose from, and you have a notebook (when you're playing the detective) that automatically updates itself with relevant developments in the murder case.
The game successfully recreates the drab atmosphere of a Victorian harbor town, and it pays a lot of attention to details like the Irish accent of the thief character, or the distinguished mannerisms of the detective. The main characters and NPCs are believable and well-designed - unfortunately the rest of the cast is sometimes rather cliché, and sometimes inconsistent. Some characters seem to be outright obnoxious for no other reason than to draw the game out a bit more, and turn even simple and matter-of-course tasks (like getting the detective's warrant card) into long-winded puzzles.
The puzzles are mostly quite easy, and even the more difficult ones can usually be solved through trial and error, since there aren't many options available. Not all puzzles are logical, e.g. at one point you have to return to a location you don't really have any plot-based reason to go to at this time, and retrieve an item that's only available at this particular moment. There is no logical reason why you couldn't pick that item up the previous time you've been at that location, but the game simply doesn't make it available until the story has progressed further. This also illustrates the game's strict linearity: There is only one way to solve the puzzles, and they must be solved strictly in the order envisioned by the game's developers, even if they don't make a lot of sense. This can lead to unnecessarily frustrating moments: sometimes a perfectly logical solution to a problem simply isn't available yet, and the player can't know why - and then, when some completely unrelated other puzzle has been solved, the very same action that previously didn't work will now become the required solution. Therefore, players often need to repeat identical attempts to solve a puzzle, because an unrelated other event may have progressed the story to a point where the previously "blocked" solution suddenly becomes "unlocked". However, due to the small number of available options at any given time, this continuous repetition of formerly denied solutions doesn't take a lot of time.
The game's story, which the advertising praises as "a story you will NEVER FORGET!", is unfortunately one of its weakest points. It can be divided into three parts: In the beginning, the characters are introduced, and you spend a lot of time completing very minor tasks that mostly have no relevance to the murder mystery at all. This part can be a bit boring (since the murder mystery that is supposed to capture your attention hasn't really started yet), though the well-designed atmosphere may prevent that to a degree. The middle part, when the detective tries to solve the murder, and the thief and his friend attempt a burglary, is the most interesting: the atmosphere of the burglary is very suspenseful, and the murder mystery with several suspects and possible explanations is very engaging. And then follows the third part, where the story was probably supposed to come together, but instead it just falls apart. The plot becomes increasingly disoriented and confused. Important parts of the plot, like the retrieval of a crucial part of evidence, are simply cut out, and narrated in a short paragraph of text. The "solution" presented for the mystery is an insult to the thinking player, and makes use of one of the worst (and most amateurish) mechanisms of storytelling. You also learn that about 80% of what you've done so far in the game had absolutely no relevance. And then the game ends in a way that makes you wonder why you even bothered playing it at all. Out of hundreds, perhaps more than a thousand computer games I've played, I can't remember many that had a less satisfying ending. I've seen people asking whether there is "real" ending and if they had just hit the "wrong" one, but there really is only one ending to the game, and it (sorry) stinks. Personally, I suspect that several endings were planned for the game, but that only one of the intended "lesser" endings was completed. The fact that parts of the story are simply missing towards the end of the game supports that idea, apparently the game was rushed in the end, and not all intended parts could be completed. There are also puzzles that never get solved (like the chest in the detective's office). However, all this is of course just speculation.
The background scenery is beautifully drawn, if a bit lifeless due to the lack of animations. There is rarely more than one part of animated background graphics, like a leaf falling from a tree, in any scene, and many scenes have no animation at all. Nevertheless the graphics capture the atmosphere very well. The predominant colors being brown and gray, as befitting the setting, it's impressive how aesthetically pleasing the scenery has still become.
The same goes for the characters and their clothing. The animations are very smooth and sufficiently natural, however, their timing and their interaction with the environment is often odd. Running characters seem to move in slow motion, and taking a keychain involves hovering the hand a foot over the desk, whereupon the key on the desk vanishes with a "stuff-in-pocket" sound. Talking animations are often out of sync with the spoken dialogue, up to the point where person A's lips are moving when person B speaks his lines, which sometimes makes it difficult to follow the dialogue. Basically, the animations themselves are well done, but their integration into the game and its environment often isn't.
The cinematics for the game's intro and ending are (technically) well done.
The game uses sound effects very sparsely, and only to accompany an action, like picking up an item. The environment sounds, like a howling dog or the pouring rain, are rather repetitive and contribute to the impression of a lifeless scenery. The game does not have any background music, though the tune played in the main menu is very atmospheric.
The voice acting is excellent throughout the game. The actors manage to perform their characters' accent while still keeping their lines easy to understand, and in most occasions they sound very natural - a bit distanced perhaps, but that again befits the general setting and atmosphere of the game. My only point of criticism with the voice acting is that some actors sounded too similar (or too few actors were used for too many roles), this - together with the fact that spoken dialogue and lip movements are often unsynchronized - made it sometimes hard to follow a conversation.
The game's interface is rather plain, but very efficient. It never gets in the way, but displays all the information you need. The only inefficient part of the interface is the list of savegames, which keeps jumping to the top, so you need to click it all the way down eac