I’ve always loved a good yarn. In fact, when it comes to gaming, narrative has always been at the top of my list of considerations. Spin me a tale with an engaging central premise and memorable characters, and I will overlook many a technical foible as I hang on your every word. I almost couldn’t do that with Alone With You though.
This retro point-and-click game describes itself as a “sci-fi narrative-driven existential adventure game”. If those particular words in that specific configuration doesn’t elicit an immediate kindling of intrigue, then this is probably not the game for you. In fact, if you’re looking for a gaming experience that relies on kinetic excitement and edge of your seat thrills, then this is probably not the game for you either.
Alone With You sees you play the last survivor of a doomed exploratory colony on the distant planet of Epsilon Eridani V. A great calamity – referred to only as the “Rift Event” – has struck, cutting off many bases of operations in the colony. As far as your character knows, you’re all that left. Well, you and the AI that runs things on the planet. Based on the AI’s projections of planetary instability, you have 21 days to get the lone intact ship working to blast yourself off this crumbling rock, while also trying to figure what happened to the other colonists. To achieve this, the AI resurrects holographic versions of the colonies’ various section heads, and loads them up with the last stored memories of their human counterparts from before when things went wrong.
Gameplay consists of the AI sending you on daily excursions to a different hub of the colony to uncover what happened there and also scavenge what you need to make it off-planet. At night you return to the home base to spend some time with the holographic version of that particular hub’s head of staff, and then head to your private chambers for sleep… And that’s it.
Most of the holographic characters you interact with boast intriguing personal journeys, and getting to unpack their stories every night through some philosophical conversation makes for great character development and serves as the meat of this game. So too, uncovering their final actions in the run-up to the Rift Event provides the primary mystery thrust of the game’s narrative, and which for the most part is an engaging one. But the gameplay you have to shoulder through to get to these bright moments is stuck on an uninventive loop. You will repeat the same needless conversations with the AI before setting off for yet another round of the same pixel-hunting for clues, interspersed with the very same transitional cutscenes over and over again.
This is especially grating in the early part of the game, when you haven’t yet established a rapport with any of the holograms, nor been drawn into the mystery of Espilon Eridani V – just going through the motions to simply get things going. Also not helping is that the puzzles involved in exploring the various ruined hubs are not particularly challenging; in fact, I would go as far to say that they’re quite easy, never giving me any reason to really break out the cerebral gymnastics required by other adventure games. And with that lack of challenge or diversity, the result is an early game that is a bit of a menial slog with no major sense of achievement.
Things do pick up substantially though around the one-third mark with an increasing sense of dramatic urgency which starts to take hold as you see the days count down, taking you ever closer to your impending doom. And while your character – a faceless spacesuit with a scarf and a paradoxically jolly gait – offers very little to sink your emotional hooks into, you do get drawn deeper into the story by establishing intriguing relationships with the individual holograms who are all striving to achieve your survival while knowing that it’s too late for theirs.
And all of this strong character work in the face of unavoidable destruction is bolstered by the visual representation of the colony slowly falling apart in front of your eyes, day by day. And this destruction certainly looks good. Using an art style harking back to the heyday of its genre, this retro approach to Alone With You’s visuals is a treat. It’s not quite 8-bit pixel art, possessing an almost watercolour effect to it as well, which gives it an unique spin. While I preferred a little bit more graphical diversity in environments, I can’t deny its charms. And the same goes for the game’s retro-flavoured soundtrack, which boasts some choice, mood-setting earworms, especially near the game’s end.
It is an end though that comes a bit too abruptly though – an ironic fumble as Alone With You’s shaky beginnings feels like it drags out too long – not giving quite enough time to delve as deeply into the relationships as I would have liked. However, it does leave you with a choice of two different endings, both highly intriguing choices which, much like the story that played out to get you there, will have you contemplating some meaty dramatic questions.