Although I wouldn’t consider myself a true devotee or science fiction, I’m admittedly a sucker for a good sci-fi story. That’s why the short blurb announcing the release of Benjamin Rivers‘ Alone With You on Sony’s weekly “The Drop” section was all it took to pique my interest. Now it’s time to find out if my curiosity was rewarded.
There’s basically no action to be found in Alone With You, which alternates between exploration and rudimentary puzzle solving during the day and one-on-one dialogue sessions at night. Scanning and contextual interaction with objects covers your daytime activities, and talks allow for multiple choices on how to guide the conversation. It all functions well.
What ends up holding the game back from perfect marks, despite its simplicity, is the tendency to get hung up on objects or even stuck in the environment. There’s no obvious distinction between objects you can step over and those you can’t, which becomes annoying the longer you play. Issues with your character reaching areas it shouldn’t — such as walking along walls — is clearly a technical glitch.
Retro graphics are a popular tool on the Indie scene for obvious reasons, and Alone With You looks to tap into that same ’90s pixilated style. It’s not nearly as successful in this as other recent titles, however, thanks in large to a hazy smudge that lingers over everything. I’m assuming it’s there to represent the deteriorating quality of the planet’s atmosphere, but it ends just making things ugly.
There are some odd decisions in the color palette as well, including the fact that the human protagonist appears to be blue — yes, you’re always wearing a helmet, but the dead bodies you discover all have that same look. Transition screens, such as getting into your shuttle or talking with holograms, are reused liberally and grow stale before the end.
Musically, the game fares considerably better with a healthy selection of tracks consistently doing a good job of selling the isolation of exploring a dead world. As it becomes clear that nothing is going to jump out at you the music is less effective in building tension, but it’s always pleasant to listen to. Sound effects are solid as well.
You are the last survivor of a mining colony, and it’s up to you and the A.I. to fortify the only remaining ship for a safe return to Earth. To do this you’ll not only need to explore the various areas of the ruined operation but also consult with four experts in their respective fields. The catch is, they’re all dead, and the only way to talk to them is via a holographic program.
With the planet’s condition worsening by the day under the constant bombardment of acid rain you have only a few weeks left before escape becomes impossible, which means each day must be spent looking for resources and then discussing your findings with the corresponding expert in that area. Of course, as you get to know them, it becomes harder to accept their true fate.
Although the game refers to itself as a “sci-fi romance adventure,” the romantic angle is pretty subtle, even if you focus your few optional meetings on the same character. There’s a secondary emotional connection that’s introduced as well, but I don’t want to spoil that here. Suffice to say, I never felt the kind of personal bond with anyone the way I did in something like Mass Effect.
To be fair, however, the writing is quite good, and it’s the most important element of the game since the gameplay loses its steam before the end. As noted, the tension you feel initially is gone by the time you revisit the same hubs — albeit different areas — for a second and third time. What compels you to keep going and keep searching for things to scan is the story.
While it’s the strongest part, there are still some weaknesses in the narrative. Interactions do frequently offer three possible responses, but they’re typically slight variations of one another, and it doesn’t feel like there’s much wiggle room in how the story plays out. That hurts the replay value in a game where the trophy list is aimed squarely at multiple playthroughs.
Alone With You tells a compelling story that should maintain your interest level up until the end, though both the development of personal relationships and variety of gameplay could’ve been better.