HIGH Well-written sci-fi is always welcome!
LOW The experience didn’t need gamey elements.
WTF The late-game passcodes. Come on.
I adore sci-fi stories in games, and frankly, we don’t get enough. That may seem an odd thing to say considering how many titles come chock-full of lasers and aliens, but I’m referring to the kind of Science Fiction that looks past obvious trappings and examines the human condition in relation to technological advancements or extraterrestrial influence. Alone With You from Benjamin Rivers certainly qualifies.
Best described as a hybrid between a Point-And-Click adventure and a Japanese-style Visual Novel, Alone With You puts the player in the role of a colonist an alien world. The plan was to terraform the planet to make it habitable for humans, but unforeseen factors arise and the entire project ends up in disaster. With everyone else dead, the AI running the base formulates a plan to help the player escape in the last spaceworthy vessel.
Of course, it’s not as simple as getting in the craft and hitting the ‘launch’ button. In order to survive the journey home, various systems on the ship need to be patched up or upgraded. Since the player’s character does not have the expertise, the AI re-creates four key technicians and scientists (now deceased) and lets the player interact with them in its own version of the holodeck. Talking to them and learning about who they were (and perhaps still are?) is an interesting way of giving the player some ‘human’ interaction on an otherwise barren world.
Despite these holodeck meetings being one of the game’s largest aspects, what I enjoyed most about Alone With You is the mood away from them – every minute is drenched in the melancholy loneliness of being the only person left alive, and who knows for how long? This solitude is reinforced by a total lack of enemies and combat. It’s just the player digging through the remnants of ruined buildings and decrepit labs, frequently finding evidence of colonists who weren’t able to survive. Their fates weren’t happy ones.
While I generally don’t care for ‘walking simulators’ about winding through deserted places and learning past events, Alone With You clicked with me. Part of the reason is that its scale is quite small and its resources weren’t put towards photorealistic visuals, so there’s no time spent aimlessly wandering or gawping at textures. Rivers gets the player to where they need to be, there are only a few items to interact with, there may be a puzzle or two, and then the narrative keeps rolling.
In fact, Alone With You follows a strictly controlled schedule of talking to the AI, going to a remote part of the installation, returning, and then talking with one of the re-creations. While it never varies, I found a kind of solace and stoic determination in going through this daily routine — it was easy to imagine my character putting one foot in front of the other and doing the grind of what needed to be done, only to collapse into a cold bed and have to do it again the next day.
Interestingly, Alone With You is billed as a “sci-fi romance adventure” but I find this to be a little misleading. While the player will get to know the four re-creations along with the AI, I didn’t find it to be romantic, and honestly, I didn’t want it to be. It’s a survival situation, and while getting to know these people was compelling, there were only the faintest hints of ardor — and that was fine. I’m a bit baffled as to why the romance was played up.
Otherwise, while I loved the plot, atmosphere, and interactions between the characters, I did think Alone With You went on just a bit longer than I wanted it to. Partly, this is because the player goes to all of the various locations three times each. The adventure isn’t long by any means, but it felt like some of these sequences could have been eliminated or combined.
A bigger issue is when the game tries to incorporate puzzles. In some instances it’s fine –being asked to collect samples of edible plants in the agricultural dome makes sense, and tasks related to survival build on the idea that the player is doing what needs to be done. However, the game eventually falls back on some incredibly contrived obstacles that detract from the experience.
The prime offenders are locked doors that require passcodes with multiple clues. Not only is it easy to overlook a clue and be stuck for a while, these hokey codes don’t fit the setting. Simply going to a place and investigating was fine, and Rivers’ writing is strong enough to alleviate cravings for such transparently gamey content.
At the end of the adventure there are a few big choices to be made. While I was happy with my outcome, it would’ve been nice to fast-forward through conversations and puzzles in service of speedy replay. I was curious about how things would have changed if I had made different decisions, but I didn’t want to repeat hours just for a few minutes of new content. Most visual novels let players blow through parts they’ve already seen to get to different story branches or new twists, and Alone With You missed a trick by not doing the same.
Despite a few minor missteps, Alone With You is an excellent example of a genuine sci-fi title, and spending time getting to know artificial people while quietly struggling to survive the aftermath of a colony’s collapse kept me wholly interested from start to finish. More cerebral and moody than most, I would strongly recommend it to anyone who doesn’t mind leaving their laser rifle at home in favor of having an experience about an experience.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Benjamin Rivers. It is currently available on PS4 and Vita. This copy of the game was obtained via paid download and reviewed on the Vita. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Violence, Blood and Drug References.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: No problems here. There are no audio cues and all dialogue is subtitled. It’s fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody's looking, and his favorite game of all time is a toss-up between the first Mass Effect and The Witcher 3. You can catch his written work here at GameCritics and you can hear him weekly on the @SoVideogames Podcast. Follow Brad on Twitter and Instagram at @BradGallaway, or contact him via email:
bradgallaway a t gmail dot com