“Strange things lurking underfoot” is the basic idea behind this sequel to last year’s Into the Odd, by the same two-author team. ItO was a rambling masterpiece and a punch to the face difficulty-wise; Alcazar is more player-friendly, and its constraints give it a more precise focus. Staying at a local tavern, you notice something interesting in plain sight beneath a courtyard grating, and set out to find a way to grab whatever may be resting there, almost within reach... This task proves to be surprisingly complicated.
The mission’s greatest trick is colonising every spare bit of space available within the contest boundaries for gameplay purposes. With clever twists and turns, Alcazar packs about three missions’ worth of content into the framework of one. A complicated network of passageways, secret access points, and conduits lead ever deeper into the Underworld, and it all gets weirder as you progress. Every corner yields some new detail or site to explore, or at least marvel at. (The level of detail is confounding, and relies heavily on creative resource use, including some really fine-scale brushwork to “build” mundane items.) At the same time, the mission never gets contrived or needlessly punishing: you will find a way forward; it is just that three players might find five or six completely different ones. The flow is excellent in this one, with nary a dull moment or wasted location.
The atmosphere of weirdness and menace is pitch perfect. The readables are limited in quantity and written in some strange never-ever idiom, but it works, and it is all just as mysterious as THE ABYSM OF TYME. The lighting is great – as much as you need and no more – and the sounds atmospheric. The custom monsters – no spoilers here – are creepy. The mission draws you in and lets you wonder, or make your conclusions about what you have just seen mainly based on the environmental storytelling. It is a genuine mystery, and that’s great.
The gameplay is polished, with a few glitches (like a guard who got stuck on geometry each time I played, ruining ghosting). It is not as savagely hard as ItO could be; it is just a decent challenge. Some of the complex scenery is not well suited for AI patrols, so a lot of the mission passes without much in the way of AI encounters. This is fine for pacing, alternating between exploratory and sneaking sections. There are a few unfair gotchas, and a few ledges which seems just barely possible, but aren’t.
All in all, very well made, and magical – it rarely gets any better than this.