Platforms: PS Vita (reviewed), PS4
When it comes to my consumption of fiction, I tend to lean more toward horror than sci-fi. Interestingly, though, I found myself engrossed in the story of Benjamin Rivers' Alone With You, dubbed a sci-fi romance, much more than I was with his previous horror adventure game, Home. Whereas Home felt like a nice little concept with room for growth and a sign of things to come, Alone With You is a much more complete experience, filled with solid writing and good characters.
It doesn't always flow as freely as it could, but Alone With You still manages to offer up a weird sci-fi tale that's interesting enough to see through to the end.
Stuck in Space
You're the last survivor of a crew sent to space on a terraforming mission. Though you're technically alone — because everyone else is, well, dead — a talking computer A.I. keeps you company as you try to figure out how to get back home. But the A.I. does more than just keep you company, as you quickly find out. It actually creates artificial versions of four of your crew's members to help you do research and perform the necessary repairs on your ship so you can escape.
You engage in frequent conversations with these not-quite-real individuals and not only learn more about them, but end up befriending them. These “people”, with whom you interact inside a room called the holo-sim chamber, still have all of the memories of their once-real counterparts to a certain point, and this is where Alone With You really thrives on the whole weird sci-fi thing. Because they behave more like actual human characters and not like robotic A.I. beings, it's actually easy to empathize with them.
For me, some of the stranger moments in Alone With You occurred when I chatted with the characters and they'd say things along the lines of, “I don't think I could do what he — or the real me, I guess — did.” It created this surreal experience where the character I was talking to was essentially saying that he or she was different from the actual person they where when alive. This is true for all four of the crew members — every time I interacted with them, they'd talk about their past selves as if they were different people.
At first, these interactions could be a bit jarring given the circumstances, but the writing works well and makes the story easy to take in. I won't spoil any big plot or character points, but suffice it to say that things get a little odd the further into the story you get. This is especially true with the main computer A.I. that's helping you. At a certain point, it sounds as if it actually cares about your character, which, again, is pretty weird in a delightful sort of way.
Alone With You is split into two parts: the character interactions and actual exploration. The latter requires you to visit specific posts on a map where the real-life crewmembers were previously stationed. Each location is tied to one of the four characters, so whenever you visit a certain station you'll then follow that up by visiting the A.I.-created avatar that was working in that area back when he or she was still alive.
Exploration is simple but enjoyable. Each building has multiple rooms for you to investigate. A lot of the time, you'll find notes or journal entries that give you a deeper look at the characters and their relationships with one another. Piecing together the characters' history is compelling because you then get to interact with them in the holo-sim chamber and see how they react to certain discoveries you've made while on your quest.
Unfortunately, this is also where Alone With You stumbles a bit. While discovering more about the characters is definitely interesting, it can feel a little too drawn-out. At certain points, it felt like I was making a cool character discovery, but then when I visited that character he or she would just repeat the information I already knew from reading journals while out exploring. I don't usually have a problem with chatty characters, but because of the repetitive nature of the dialogue it sometimes felt like the story was stuck in place rather than moving forward.
That's why, as weird and entertaining as the character conversations could be, I was glad to be exploring the different stations. It was more engaging to be out there gathering information for myself by collecting notes and solving simple puzzles. Speaking of which, none of the puzzles are especially grueling, but a few of them did require me to either make a mental note of specific key codes or actually write down a note on my phone to reference later when trying to input a password while accessing terminals and trying to open doors.
Despite enjoying the story of Alone With You for the most part, there are a few issues. Where Home was over almost as soon as it started, Alone With You seems to drag on a bit. I could've done without a few of the later scenarios, especially once the characters were no longer evolving or becoming any more complex. At about six hours, the game's not terribly long, but I would've much preferred a more concise four-hour experience. In addition, the ending — or at least the ending I got — is kind of abrupt.
A Bizarre, Stylish Sci-Fi Tale
Pixel art is nothing new for indie adventure games, but Alone With You actually employs a more unique graphical style. The game doesn't try to emulate NES or SNES graphics. Instead, it has a more classic adventure game look while featuring a beautiful pastel color palette. It's a style that works for the game, but it's also just nice to see something a little different. Some of the locales suffer from a lack of diversity, but this is still a very pretty game nonetheless.
Playing Alone With You is a lot like reading a book. There was a sense of relaxation as I sat back on my recliner with my Vita that I don't get from too many games. This is a piece of interactive fiction that messes with your head just a little bit, but it tells an intriguing story and features some great characters. That story and those characters are far from perfect, but even then Alone With You is well written and provides a solid, unique sci-fi journey.