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Always Sometimes Monsters Review

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Always Sometimes Monsters

PC

Developer: Vagabond Dog

Publisher: Devolver Digital

It’s half-past ten on a Friday evening and you’ve wound up at a party you had no idea about when you were putting your shoes on. There’s a lot of hipster douches there, but one or two reasonable people too and you get chatting to a dude with a scruffy beard who knows a surprising amount about physics. You’ve got a lot on your mind lately, life’s been up and down, all things are possible – both great success and dramatic failure. When a guy steps up to you and suggests you play this new game, Always Sometimes Monsters, and makes out it will change your life, you feel in your gut that this is the right decision for you right now. Swallowing your last mouthful of Stella Artois 4%, you pull out your phone and find the Steam app, purchasing the game on the spot, ready to play in the morning.

You arrive home about 2.30ish after the party ends; a little late since you unusually decided to walk home rather than take a taxi. Still slightly drunk, you decide that this life changing game cannot wait so you hit install and flick through your twitter feed. As your computer goes through its cycle your hand catches your pocket and you feel the packet of cigarettes in there, a half-remembered sensation with an almost pleasant familiarity. Although it’s been a while since you quit smoking, you auto-pilot to your back door, stand in the half-light and light up one of your party-cigarettes. Technically, technically, these still don’t count since they’re a one-night only deal, that’s for sure. Right now however, these feel good.

Back at the computer you notice a notification on your phone. A flashing light. At this point, it’s Schrödinger’s message. Until you access it, it exists in a million states concurrently. A potential lover, an emergency call from a loved one, a job offer from a different time-zone; all of these things at once and none of them at all. You pause, savouring the anticipation, enjoying the rush of adrenaline from all these new worlds stretching out in front of you.

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You flick your phone into life.

A message from Adam. Your closest friend for so many years before a poor choice of girlfriend landed in him trouble with drugs and, ultimately, the police. You’d heard the relationship was long since dead and that he’d cleaned himself up, yet you hadn’t had it in you to make the call. Half afraid there’d be no friendship left, half terrified that you’d have to hold his hand again while he cried and explained that he was unable to control his thirst for the powder that had destroyed the person you loved like a brother. The message reads:

Help me. I’m lost.

You have no idea what this means but are in no position to help anyone right now. You turn off your phone as the alcohol catches up with you and sets your head swimming. Leaning back in your chair, fighting the urge to heave, you suddenly recall another drunken evening from years ago. The crisp winter air had kept your head straight and you’d held her hand, been transfixed by the cut of her coat, how it accentuated her body. You’d sighed inside at the redness of her cheeks, softness of mouth and the way her hair had curled out from under that striped woollen hat. You considered the decisions that lead you to that point, and the ones you made that lead you away again. How the stars seemed to align for you that evening and how, no matter how closely you might try to replicate those circumstances it would never, could never, come again.

If you continue to ignore the message, will Adam be dead by morning?

The choices you make from this point could affect many futures, or have no impact at all.

Recalling the guy who’d suggested  (or was it forced?) Sometimes Always Monsters to you, his words fade but the almost feverish look in his eye was enough to sell the game to you. What was it he’d said?

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“It’s not an adventure to take lightly, it’s a new life that you engage with. It could turn out a hundred different ways and you’ll never be sure of the best fit. It’s filled with odd, awkward moments and strange busy-work tasks that don’t seem to fit. It’ll frustrate you, it’ll delight you. It can make you laugh or cry and sometimes you won’t be sure which is the right response. Sometimes it won’t seem like a game – sometimes it’ll feel like the only game.”

You click play game.

For a moment, or several, you lose yourself.

Constructed using RPG Maker, Always Sometimes Monsters is Vagabond Dog’s fascinating role playing game.  The player moves through a variety of locations in a bid to stop the love of their life marrying someone else. The small, independent studio have constructed what on the surface appears to be a very simple game but which actually tells a variety of stories; some humorous, some sad, but all work together to create a fascinating narrative. The maps of the game operate like the towns from many an RPG, filled with a developed array of characters who respond to the player’s actions in interesting and sometimes unexpected ways. Short minigames pepper the adventure, although these are merely asides to an enthralling tale of love and life that player guides through their choices – many of which have repercussions that are far reaching and thought-provoking.

A thoroughly engaging and beautifully written title.

Karlos Morale

Always Sometimes Monsters is out now on PC

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