Alone with You is the everyday tale of romance, workplace stress, and being stranded on another planet.
There has been resurgence in high-concept games set in space in recent years. Many titles — such as No Man’s Sky, Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen — revel in exploring the endless expanse of the final frontier. But there’s a growing number of games focusing on smaller, more personal stories, from Lifeless Planet and Adr1ft to the forthcoming Tacoma.
Space is a place where no one can hear you scream – or moan, as in the case of No Man Sky — and it’s this sense of solitude that provides the core motifs of Benjamin River’s new title, Alone with You.
Alone with You casts the player as the last survivor of a human colony decimated by a disaster known as the Rift Event. Stranded, with just the habitat’s computer AI for company, your task is to locate the resources required to repair and power your escape ship.
Against this backdrop the game furrows a path that combines the domestic and the epic, contrasting the everyday woes of human working relationships with the fact you are trapped on a acid-rain soaked hell hole, light-years from home. These two strands are represented by the game’s two main mechanics of exploration and conversation.
The exploration and resource gathering element of the game is comprised of a series of fetch missions. Each mission is located in one of the various habitats scattered across the planet. By investigating bio-domes, communication towers and industrial plants, the components you need to make good your escape are gradually collected. While doing so fragments of information retrieved from data pads and notebooks also reveal more about events leading up to the Rift Event, and the various ‘it’s complicated’ relationships between the colony’s inhabitants.
The other aspect of game sees you meet with members of the colony’s deceased staff in an AI-created holographic simulation. During these encounters it’s possible to forge strong and – in a surprise to no one, considering its billing as a Sci-Fi romance adventure – potentially romantic relationships.
The game quickly settles into an alternating routine of exploration and conversation. Gradually, each strand informs the other, building a picture of life on the doomed colony.
Of the two elements it’s the exploratory busy work that needs refinement. Hunting around, exploring every nook and cranny, and solving puzzles is engaging to begin with but it eventually becomes tiresome. The locations are varied enough — and well rendered — but repeatedly walking from one end of a habitat to the other to fetch a solution, or trigger a progression gate becomes exhausting. By the end of the game you’ll be sick to the back teeth of the door animation and accompanying sound effect.
It’s partly because when you reach, for example, Day 10 of your adventure you have no idea where you are in the context of the whole game. Is it a two-week adventure or a two month one? The result is that progress can sometimes feel slow going. An ever-approaching deadline or countdown would have helped the game’s pacing no end, providing much-needed momentum.
In contrast, you won’t want to rush through the conversation elements of that game at all. They give Alone with You its domestic but emotional core. Each character you meet is well drawn and memorable and the dialogue is nicely understated. The conversations are peppered with nice touches, focusing the little things that make day-to-day life interesting whether you’re working in an office in Staines, or a colony in another galaxy.
Each piece of the narrative jigsaw is clearly but not too explicitly presented, and considering the complexities of the game’s plot — and its many tangled relationships — Rivers has done a remarkable job of making things simple and easy to follow.
It’s here that the game has its most successful and memorable moments — such as the delightful scene where the space-suited protagonist sips tea with a colleague as they discuss escape plans. These moments compensate for the occasional drudge found elsewhere.
Just as the game’s repeating pattern threatens to become monotonous the story kicks into another gear and events coalesce into a climactic final act. It would be wrong to say that Alone with You ends with a twist but it does conclude with a thought-provoking decision point that provides two satisfying but completely different payoffs.
The melancholic and sometimes spooky atmosphere of Alone with You is in large part down to the game’s impressive sound design. The combination of synthesised and organic gurgles evokes the Metroid series, whilst Ivor Stines’ score provides a suitably electronic backdrop that isn’t obviously ‘retro’. The uneasy tone is only broken by some occasional, up-tempo pieces that punctuate the mood of some conversations.
The game’s pixel-based aesthetic is also impressive, It probably works better on the small confines of a PS Vita than a 40” HDTV screen but it manages to avoid the pitfall of looking like a 16-bit era cast-off. If you have the choice of platform, Sony’s handheld would be the recommended option.
Ultimately, Alone with You is a satisfying, if occasionally hard-going, experience. It loses a mark for its saggy middle but it redeems itself with a cast of nuanced characters and a well-earned conclusion.
With this title — and horror game, Home — under his belt, it’s evident that Benjamin Rivers is a talent to watch and his next game should be anticipated.