Exploring difficult and challenging themes in the medium of gaming has become less and less of an anomaly. It seems like every week, there’s a game out there that wants to challenge your way of thinking. In comparison, the tale of love and loss found in Alone With You seems quaint at times. However, the more time you spend exploring the world Benjamin Rivers created, the more the story begins to morph into a tale beyond expectations.
In Alone With You, you are the lone survivor of a doomed colony on a new planet. After spending a good amount of time alone, you and the A.I. program stationed with you begin to plot a way for you to escape the planet before it blows. In order to do so, you’ll need to investigate various sections of the ruined colony during the day. At night, you’ll get the opportunity to speak with four different A.I. holograms of former co-workers that worked at the section you explored during the day. Finding artifacts in these locations, and then speaking with the men and women behind them is critical to survival.
As much as escaping the planet is your main goal, the game is really about forging relationships with the four companions in the Holo-Sim Chamber. Winnie, Jean, Pierre and Leslie all have their own unique personalities and quirks, and it’s important that you really get to know them. Normally, coming together as a team in order to survive wouldn’t be that exciting, but creator Benjamin Rivers does something interesting with the A.I. constructs. The four of them are very much aware that they have passed, but they have forgotten their final chapters. So, while they’re designed to help you, you also need to help them learn how they passed, and how they can come to terms with it. Even the A.I. assigned to your ship, has trouble dealing with the bleak situation. There’s a real emotional hook here that you wouldn’t normally expect to find based off the premise.
Despite the tragic backstory, I’m not sure I would call Alone With You a sad game. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of upsetting moments, particularly those involving crew members, but it never feels too depressing. I would classify the story as more melancholy than anything else. For every tragic subplot, there are hints of hope underneath. It could be telling one of the holograms about a love interest, or helping another realize they’re final experiment worked. There’s always something to remind you about the strength of the human spirit, which is great, because this story could have been really dark given the circumstances.
Like Rivers’ last game, Home, Alone With You is a game where story takes prominence over gameplay. Outside of your main living area, you’ll travel to five different locations during a three week in-game period. Four of them, which were the locations of your hologram friends before they passed, are returned to three different times. Each time you go back, you’ll be scanning different objects in order to learn more about how the colony was destroyed, and how you can escape. There’s also some rudimentary puzzle solving, mostly based around reading and memorizing notes, in each area.
There’s nothing wrong with creating a game where the story is the driving force. We’ve seen it with titles such as Gone Home or Firewatch, and they’ve turned out well enough. The problem here, though, is that you are pretty much doing the same thing over and over again. Enter a building, scan some objects, read some notes, wash, rinse, repeat. By the time you go out on the third week, it all begins to feel pretty boring. What Alone With You could have used was a few more complicated puzzles. Or really something, anything, to offset the monotonous pattern the game falls into. Ultimately, the game isn’t long enough for my feelings of boredom to turn into outright frustration, but I do wish there was just more to do.
Evolving from the pixelated look of Home, Alone With You looks old-school, but more Sega CD than NES. Mr. Rivers manages to create eerie and haunting locations by using a full color palette and cutting down on the details. The character designs are equally memorable, and are reminiscent of the iconic Snatcher. There is some type of filter over the graphics, though, that looked really off to me. I also would like to recognize the excellent score created by Ivor Stines for the title. Whether you’re exploring an abandoned facility or having a heart to heart with an ally, Stines perfectly sets the mood with gorgeous synths.
With multiple endings and branching dialogue paths, Alone With You is a memorable experience. I’ll remember the in-depth conversations with the crew, and ominous moments exploring for quite some time. As engaging as the stoyline is, though, I can’t entirely look past the tedious and repetitive gameplay that accompanies it. Benjamin Rivers clearly has a knack for creating interesting stories and fantastic characters. I just wish the game mechanics could at least come close to matching them.
This review was based on the PlayStation 4 version of the title, which we were provided with.
The tale of love and loss in Alone With You is certainly memorable, but the tedious and simple gameplay begins to grate before you reach the end.