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About the StoryJust you and your car, alone on the open road. You haven't seen another car for weeks. You haven't spoken to another person in months. And if you want to stay alive, you'd better keep it that way.
14th Place - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)
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Number of Reviews: 9
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Most Helpful Member Reviews
Nevertheless, "Alone" consistently displays effective game design. Its puzzles lead to each other in a logical progression and establish the game's backstory unobtrusively. The puzzles themselves aren't particularly inventive, but they are engaging and, for the most part, sensible. There are a few exceptions, though. For instance, (Spoiler - click to show)the player is expected to remove a cash-register's money tray, even though the description of the register tells the player that the PC knows money is useless after the apocalypse.
The game's implementation is just as spare as its landscape, sometimes too spare. The PC can't, for instance, open the door of a junk car or examine the food in a hydroponics lab. "Alone" could also use a lot more synonyms for both nouns and verbs to help the player navigate its environment. Scalpels are not also knifes, gas masks and gas cans get conflated with each other, and panels can be touched, but not pressed.
But, "Alone's" combination of a stark tone, suitable to its environment, and solid game design, which guides the player through the post-apocalypse, works well.
Alone quickly establishes that you are a survivor, working solo and avoiding infected people at all costs. But a visit to a convenience store to get some gas changes all that. The gas pump is locked, and what follows is a long string of puzzles to get access to additional areas that hopefully have something you can get your hands on to cut the dang lock off. While partaking in the puzzlefest, you slowly learn what's happened in this neck of the woods Babel-style, reading journal entries and stumbling across horrific scenes.
I did not need to resort to a walkthrough at any point as the puzzles are generally straightforward. There are no red herrings, and all items you can pick up or manipulate have fairly clear uses. That's not to say the puzzles were insulting; they just didn't take leaps of logic or require a stroke of brilliance to uncover, which was definitely refreshing.
Another thing that Winters improved upon with this game was that he never tells the player how they should feel. He just lets the setting tell itself. Even the alternate ending (the less favorable one) is not given judgment by the author.
The reason I didn't rate this game higher is that the atmosphere didn't grab me as much as I would have liked. Room descriptions are sparse. Rarely do we get any details other than the objects we need to manipulate. Smells and sounds are not described very often. And with one pretty great exception (Spoiler - click to show)(the timed sequence with injecting Adrian), there's never a sense of dread or urgency, which there should be fairly regularly in a horror game.
I very much look forward to Winters' next effort.
There are a few games in this year’s Comp that gain resonance from having been written in 2020 – Babyface, for example, where the way COVID limits the main character’s ability to interact with their father is an important part of the overall discombobulation the game is imparting. Alone also falls into this category: despite the fact that it doesn’t specifically mention the current pandemic and draws on common post-apocalyptic and zombie fiction tropes, the game’s aura of isolation and fear of infection would not land with nearly so much impact in a different year. That’s not to say that it’s only because of current events that the game works, to be clear – the prose is admirably sparse and the I found the sequence where you’re at risk from one of the infected fairly tense – but there is a little extra frisson from playing Alone now.
The game itself is relatively straightforward in premise – after running out of gas on a lonely stretch of highway, your post-apocalyptic survivor hikes to an abandoned gas station only to find more than they bargained for. There’s some secret backstory to uncover, but it’s nothing too fancy (though I did find one aspect – (Spoiler - click to show)the rationale behind a collapsing government concealing a secret research facility under a gas station – a bit odd and underexplained). Really the focus here is on puzzle solving, so good thing that they’re solid and fairly well-clued. Most involve using machinery or tools in a reasonable way, with most relatively straightforward though there are a couple that involve some more complex mechanisms ((Spoiler - click to show)the control panel is fun to play around with, though it can also lock you into a sub-optimal ending if you play around too much). There were a few that sparked aha moments for me, which is always satisfying ((Spoiler - click to show)the cinder block puzzle, and figuring out how to use the control panel to get the best ending). The structure is maybe a little more linear than would be ideal – though the map is relatively open, there’s usually only one puzzle you can work on at a time. But since the puzzles are fair and not too challenging, this doesn’t present too much of a problem.
Technically, Alone is well put-together: I didn’t run into guess the verb or disambiguation issues in the release version, and the only typo I noticed this time out was a missing line break that make the paragraph spacing look odd in the dumbwaiter sequence. And it has a deceptive amount of choice built into it as you come close to the end of the game, with several different possible endings. While I found these more compelling as a goad to solve the last puzzles correctly than as alternate narrative resolutions, I think that’s fine – characterization and plot aren’t Alone’s area of focus, and it succeeds admirably in presenting a series of fun puzzles in a foreboding atmosphere.
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