Always Sometimes Monsters + Soundtrack

$73.29

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Description

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Complete Review & Description

Life can be something of a mixed blessing. It varies from mundane to exciting, from depressing to uplifting, from funny to serious.

It should come as no surprise, then, that a game seeking to emulate life – and not in a lighthearted, Sim-esque way – should run that same gamut of responses. This true-to-life approach is both Always Sometimes Monsters’ strength, and its downfall. Like life itself, the game varies from being captivating to utterly dull.

In Always Sometimes Monsters, you play a down-and-out writer, struggling to make ends meet, and unable to get over a lost relationship a year on from the break up. Not long into the game, you find out that your ex is getting married on the other side of the country, and for some reason, they invited you. Despite your lack of finances and prospects, you decide to make the trip. Why? Well that’s for you to decide.

You see, Always Sometimes Monsters is a game about choice and consequence Though it’s billed as a role-playing game, and has the distinct look of an RPG Maker game, it plays like a graphical adventure game. You’ll walk around, talk to people, and pick up odd jobs, but everywhere you look, you’re faced with choices. Some of these are negligible, like what kind of soda to buy; while others are critical, but without easy answers. How do you keep a friend and recovering addict from relapsing when his ex-girlfriend shows up with a bag of heroin?

The game is littered with such options, though like I said earlier, this is both a blessing and a curse. The serious dilemmas can be incredibly impactful, with some unexpected and absolutely distressing or uplifting consequences, and they’re only made more meaningful by the day-to-day living that takes place in between. However, poor pacing means that the dull – and I mean dull – everyday life makes up much of the game, particularly early on, which can be more than a little disengaging. Had I not been playing it for review, I’d likely have given up on the game an hour or so in, because it had done little to pull me in and was showing no signs of changing.

To make things worse, the script is underwhelming, in contrast to the moving and incredibly human narrative. The main characters aren’t affected too badly, because they build an impressive amount of depth outside of dialogue, through the situations they face. But as for the many minor characters you’ll interact with, a few lines of speech is all you get, and clunky and unconvincing writing rapidly cuts any sense of immersion.

There is one thing that Always Sometimes Monsters does excellently though, and that’s giving a voice to a diverse cast in a meaningful way. A rather clever opening scene lets you pick a character to play and the person who will soon break their heart, and you have an impressive range of options for each. These are largely cosmetic, with the main plot playing out the same regardless of your character, but it does colour some of your interactions in rather sobering and enlightening ways.

For example, one can’t help but notice, when playing as a gay or lesbian person, the otherwise lovely elderly lady next door making a point of referring to your ex as a “friend” or “roommate,” or being profiled as a “gangbanger” when your character is a person of colour. What makes these interactions so powerful is that they’re not front and centre. Such themes of social justice aren’t really the core of the main narrative, and so the characters get a chance to be more than just a token criticism of heteronormativity. They’re whole, complete people, but people for whom such obstacles are a part of life.

In terms of presentation, Always Sometimes Monsters is left wanting. There is a lot of attention to detail in the otherwise simple visuals, but the game is ultimately held back by the its 544 x 416 resolution. You can opt for a full-screen display, but the stretched image doesn’t look great, particularly on a widescreen monitor.

Despite the low resolution, I encountered a surprising amount of slowdown, particularly in some of the game’s larger areas, and at one point, I had to restart because I got stuck in a minigame. With no way to exit the sub-game manually, I was left with only the option of losing – only, it was an endlessly repeating game that seemed impossible to actually fail at.

Always Sometimes Monsters, like many of its indie brethren, makes up for its low budget with lofty goals that would be too risky for a big time studio. In some ways, it nails these absolutely spot on; when it’s pushing forward, the story is captivating and the choices players are forced to make are complex and lifelike – a rarity in games. Despite this, though, poor pacing, clumsy scriptwriting, and an overall lack of polish (even by indie standards) make it all to easy to bow out before this monster can sink its claws into you.

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