In Alone With You, you play as a faceless space explorer attempting to make sense of a dying colony on an unstable planet. Since you only have enough resources for one month, you must obtain artifacts left behind by the deceased scientists, using the information and speaking to their holograms in order to survive. The interstellar narrative works on many levels, and is both accessible and substantial enough to appeal to anyone.
However, developer Benjamin Rivers’ story-first approach results in some unfortunate sacrifices. The game is a glorified walking-simulator that disposes of many common video game tropes, unnecessarily blurring what is expected of the medium. Ultimately, the lack of content and uninspired gameplay make Alone With You a concept that exceeds the final product.
The gameplay in Alone With You falls into a familiar routine. You wake up, visit an outpost to look for something that will help fix your escape pod, and then return home to talk with the holo-sim that once ran the outpost you just visited. You’ll end up going to each outpost once per week, and each trip adds a little more information to your understanding of the situation.
The lore is both the game’s biggest strength and its weakness. Alone With You places you on a stylized planet with intriguing characters, yet it rarely gives you the freedom to explore as much as you’d like, ripping you away as soon as a new conversation or environment starts to get interesting. The game only briefly touches on the motivations that allow the secondary characters to flourish in their astronomical roles. The compelling personnel are usually unavailable for discussion, and exist mostly as relics of the past, which is heartbreaking considering the potential for extensive backstories and other exchanges of information.
Similarly, the game never offers opportunities to explore the peculiar planet at your own leisure. The linear progression enforces a set path, and the illusion of choice is misleading. For instance, when travelling between your docked ship and a search area, players can walk around, but there is rarely anything to examine. An open world would change the game’s flow and structure, but more areas might have made the experience feel more immersive.
The game feels more like a proof-of-concept than a fleshed out adventure. What’s offered is gripping, but there isn’t enough to fully satisfy. The unanswered questions are not the result of inadequate story and environment design, but rather a shortage of content.
There’s bleak gameplay between the narrative-based moments, though gameplay might be too strong of a word. Most of Alone With You is spent strolling through space stations, laboratories, and caves at what feels like a relaxed pace. Aside from the occasional puzzle, the missions all involve rummaging for scattered objects and then returning to your shuttle. While the fetch system is initially rewarding, it becomes tiresome by the second excursion. Knowing that there’s little to no variety within each mission makes the overall experience feel daunting, with brief moments of brilliance scattered amongst a series of more monotonous tasks.
The repetition is an issue in the sense that it feels deliberate. New gameplay objectives for each area could have cured the game of some of its repetitive nature, or at least added some variety. Some kind of platforming elements – or even just more puzzle variety – would have made the game less wearisome, and the challenge would have made the planet itself feel more dangerous and unpredictable.
Similarly, it would have been nice to have full control of the shuttle to and from each landmark. It would have mixed up the gameplay and given a better visualization of the planet’s various environments. Adding obstacles and enemies would be gimmicky, but the fundamental task of transporting the character would force players to become more invested in their wellbeing and their surroundings. Though the narrative revolves around survival, the uniform and safe gameplay (there are no mechanical threats to your character) undercut that message. It’s important to make a player feel the same urgency, and Alone With You fails in doing so.
It’s great to see a game that tackles raw themes such as isolation and self-worth, and the game has an overwhelming sense of maturity and sophistication. Sadly, the themes are only grazed over and never fully examined, leading to an experience that still feels shallow. Alone With You reaches toward something profound, but can’t quite grasp it, and the game’s missed opportunities make it difficult to enjoy. The expansive lore is teased at in the dialogue and environments, but never gets fleshed out before the quick conclusion.
Alone With You has a lasting effect for both good and bad reasons. It’s a unique video game that makes you care about the story, but its worth is buried underneath humdrum gameplay and very little content. Alone With You’s positive qualities still make it a decent play, albeit a short and sometimes frustrating one.
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