Are you still there?
A lot of debate sparks over what constitutes a “game.” Many people aren’t keen on things like walking simulators because they bear little resemblance to more classic experiences. Some people love them for their ability to weave interesting narratives along with some light interaction.
I’m usually in the middle. I really don’t love or hate interactive dramas. While I prefer to have more gameplay, getting a really cool story within the confines of a game is neat. It fosters a deeper connection to the characters than a film since the player inhabits one of the protagonists.
Alone With You may not change the mind of any dissenters to less gameplay-focused titles, but it definitely is worth a playthrough (or two).
Alone With You (PS4 [reviewed], PS Vita)
Developer: Benjamin Rivers Inc.
Publisher: Benjamin Rivers Inc.
Alone With You starts in a manner very reminiscent of Another World. The visuals are surreal, the opening credits blend in with the game world, and load times are masked with limited input (like in Transistor). Your character is allowed to walk around until you stumble into a space station.
This is where the narrative kicks off. Some disaster has demolished a settlement built on a distant planet and you are the only remaining human. You aren’t alone, in an emotional sense, as an AI program left unscathed from the disaster accompanies you.
The space station has a device known as a Holo-sim Chamber, which allows the AI to replicate some of the more important members from the settlement for you to interact with. It constructs these people based on data collected throughout various experiments and gives them a chance to help you escape the planet.
What follows are various little missions in which you explore different sections of the settlement to collect data and discover a way to escape whatever disaster is coming your way. It’s basically like an old-school point-and-click adventure game.
Benjamin Rivers previously made Home, which was a 2D version of something like Dear Esther. It was neat, but it was hardly what one would call a traditional video game. You could just hold left on the d-pad and finish the game in 15 minutes.
Alone With You is not the same. It feels that way, at first, but it slowly develops over the course of the game’s three weeks. Right after the opening mission, you’re given a choice of which areas you want to explore and those areas have small puzzles that impede your progress.
Each puzzle is based on careful observation of your environment. No answer is so obtuse as to be frustrating to stumble into. While I did get stuck on one solution, it was mostly due to me being tired and not thinking clearly.
After going to sleep and re-evaluating all of the information, I was able to figure out my roadblock and proceed. Maybe the game was being a bit too picky with its input (the password required spaces), but I wasn’t lost on what I should be doing, just the how.
Apart from puzzles, the gameplay mostly consists of exploring desolate areas and scanning items. I can’t say the game is a fully fleshed-out adventure title, but Alone With You’s main focus is the story, which is very well written.
If you couldn’t gather from the title, the main characters in the game are you and the AI you are “alone” with. The reconstituted crewmates you meet in the Holo-sim Chamber are also pretty talkative, especially for not being technically real.
The story deals with a lot of those concerns, too. Your companions will lament how they are lost in a state of confusion over whether their experiences are genuine or if they interactions are truly human.
The AI also grows to act more human over the course of the narrative. There is a really great twist towards the end that does a lot to shed light on the behaviors the AI has and how its laser focus may be too extreme.
During the conversations with your crewmates, you are given multiple choices for conversation. Some are insubstantial, but others can shift the tone of a scene dramatically. Failure to collect some data during the exploration parts can also lead to less fruitful interactions, which may hamper the success of your mission.
While this isn’t a new feature to gaming, you get to enter a name for your character at the intro. This small little layer of customization allows you to get sucked into the story and feel a small layer of responsibility to your crew members.
It also makes the conclusion very touching. There are two endings and both come off as entirely realized and reasonable decisions. I didn’t regret picking one over the other, even if I aligned more with a particular choice.
Maybe all of the story beats and concepts aren’t new to sci-fi or even gaming, but I felt my heart-strings being pulled at the finale. I didn’t want the experience to be over; I had grown accustomed to my surroundings and the tasks I was given.
I suppose the execution can grow a bit repetitive, as returning to your main base has you walking down the same hallways and constantly visiting the Holo-sim Chamber each night, but I loved learning about all of the decisions that lead to the downfall of this settlement.
It certainly helps that the atmosphere is incredibly well realized. The visuals are gorgeous, especially on a nice big HDTV screen. I was surprised to hear that the audio had full 5.1 support, too.
The music is truly wonderful. Most of it can be dire (and the game does grow depressing towards the end), but the sequences in the Holo-sim Chamber feel almost dreamlike because of the presentation.
You can tell some corners were cut due to cost. Entering your ship to travel to and from each area is basically the scene in reverse (to which I questioned whether I was looking at the protagonist’s thumb or pinky finger), but it evokes a feeling of singularity and claustrophobia that makes me think of Metroid.
The length is also pretty substantial for a game like this. I didn’t exactly clock all of my time (as I got really sucked in at one point), but I spent around seven hours working through the story the first time.
Then at the end, I just wanted to keep going. I wasn’t ready to leave behind the experience that Alone With You captures so well. Yeah, it can drag a little in the middle, but the characters are so well developed that I just wanted more time with them.
I suppose that may be the ultimate message to take away from this game; time is limited, but your experiences stick with you forever. We, as humans, may make mistakes, but we usually have good reasons. We should never forget that we’re always together in life, even if we don’t see eye to eye.
Regret is also a central theme. It can be easy to sit around all day and think of what you should have done, but to take the action to correct a mistake requires courage. Most people are stuck in the past, but that isn’t the only realm we inhabit.
Alone With You truly is special. The unassuming nature of its visuals didn’t prepare me for how impactful the narrative was going to be. It may not be the most involved of games, but it latches onto your heart and doesn’t let go. The game sticks with you well after the credits.
I’ll gladly be replaying this to see the different conversation trees. It’s really cool how no two people will have the exact same playthrough, yet the game will still cover the same themes and motifs. This should provide for a lot of conversation in the coming months.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Alone With You reviewed by Peter Glagowski
Impressive effort with a few noticeable problems holding it back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth most people's time and cash.
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