|Platform PS Vita, PS4|
|Developer Benjamin Rivers|
Developer Benjamin Rivers aims to tell an introspective story about human exploration — and human folly — in space. Classic sci-fi narratives have left their fingerprints all over it; The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury comes to mind. It even feels a little bit 2001: A Space Odyssey, especially in the latter half of the game when the clock is running down and a creeping sense of dread sets in. It’s the sort of dread that comes because you’ve read stories like this, and you’ll have suspicions about how it will end.
Maybe you’ll be right.
Like many of the first settlers of Mars in Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, the human colonists in Alone With You are doomed by things they can’t control, and can only try to understand.
Alone With You strands you as the lone survivor of a space colonization attempt gone wrong. Your only companion is the colony’s AI. However, the AI still has data on four mission-critical colonists, which the AI uses to recreate them as holograms so that they can use their specialties and help you repair the colony’s last escape ship.
You know that the people these holograms embody are dead — and the holograms know they’re dead too. But they take on lives of their own, and as you explore the planet, you have the opportunity to help each of them find closure.
Gameplay quickly settles into a loop
As I played, it struck me how much Alone With You feels grounded in a tradition of hard science fiction. Every facility that you’ll visit had a bearing on the colony’s functionality. While the science may not be accurate (and I’m the last person to judge that), there are no details spared describing how the colonists terraformed and grew food, or how they harvested fuel. If you didn’t know what a lenticular cloud is, or what a Bryophyte plant is, prepare to learn.
But Alone With You’s mechanics can’t meet the standard its narrative sets.
Gameplay quickly settles into a loop: find parts for the ship by day, and speak to the corresponding hologram by night. Scour the Agro-Dome for parts that day, for example, and you’ll be speaking to the hologram of Leslie Bharadwaj, who managed the colony’s agricultural efforts, during your night in the Holo-Sim.
As you explore, you need to find clues and codes to unlock doors and access more information. Little discoveries fit together one by one, painting a full picture of what happened at the colony.
There are times in Alone With You when all the puzzle elements fall into place just right. One of the levels in long-suffering Colony B, for example, had me moving through the living spaces of the colonists and using what I knew about their lives to figure out the passcode to a door. It got me thinking about the contextual clues I was seeing in the environment, and it was an exciting puzzle to solve.
Other times, I was left thinking that a solution was completely nonsensical. At one point, guessing the correct passcode to someone’s bedroom amounted to inputting the only numbers I found in the level — even though there was no logical reason for those particular numbers to be a passcode.
Choice-driven conversations with the holograms account for the rest of Alone With You. In each facility, you’ll piece together the story of the colonists who worked there by reading their diaries and journals. Clues are revealed about their feelings for each other and their lives on the planet, complete with rivalries, secret romances and a lot of tragic endings.
But once the conversations stop, everything else quickly feels stale.
There is some payoff later in the game, when the daily routine finally breaks
At the very beginning of the game, you’re told that you have three in-game weeks to complete your objective of repairing the ship and escaping. After my first excursion to scavenge for parts, that seemed like an eternity. Daily tasks lacked variety, and the time limit felt more and more like a reminder of how much longer I would have to play the game. Almost every time the game announced a new day, I would sigh and count down the days until the ending.
There is some payoff later in the game, when the daily routine finally breaks. This deviation successfully created an immediate sense of unease. On edge, I found Alone With You much more engaging than it had been in the beginning.
Likewise, Alone With You’s storytelling was at its strongest when I was piecing together the lives of the other characters. The opportunity to dig deeper into a relationship between two of the holograms, for example, kept me coming back to them over and over.
But the holograms are ultimately more interested in you than in each other. They’re always concerned about how stressed your character must be, and what a hard time you must be having. Through special visits, you’re encouraged to choose one of the holograms with which to build a deeper relationship.
The thing is, I never wanted to choose. And not because I was torn between liking all of them. Rather, none of the characters particularly stood out. They don’t have discernibly unique speech patterns, and though they tell you stories that illustrate how different their personalities are, those personalities don’t affect their conversations with you. Eventually it felt like I was speaking to the same gently concerned, introspective person every night. I never particularly wanted one of them to love me.
I think I broke a lot of hologram hearts.
It was only at the end that Alone With You stopped telling me how I should feel about the destruction of the colony, and instead made me feel it. Rather than being told by its characters what a hard time I must be having, I was put in a situation where my survival was in question.
Alone With You is a game that understands that the inclusion of romance doesn’t cheapen or detract from other themes, and it leans just as heavily on the science of science fiction as it does on its romance elements, if not moreso. And despite my initial apathy, the final moments of Alone With You were genuinely emotionally difficult. It’s actually a miracle that it managed to affect me as deeply as it did, considering that minutes before I had been celebrating nearing the end of a game that I largely did not enjoy playing.
Alone With You's story can't erase its repetitive gameplay
If Alone With You had been as emotionally effective throughout, I would be singing its praises right now. I’m usually more than willing to forgive boring, repetitive gameplay if a game leaves me a frenzied, sobbing mess on the floor. But in the case of Alone With You, I spent too much time bored with the gameplay, and annoyed that the characters were telling me how they assumed I felt. I'm curious about the other secrets I could discover, and other endings — but not curious enough to go back.
Alone With You was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using code provided by the developer. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.About Polygon's Reviews