by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
Decision, decisions, decisions
Often, it is the choices we make in life that define us. I'm sure that during each of our lives there will be a number of moral dilemmas that must be weighed up before making a particular choice. Always Sometimes Monsters is a game that explores those dilemmas and casts outcomes on the direction which you have taken.
In Always Sometimes Monsters, you take the role of a struggling writer, one who seems to have massive writer's block (we've all been there) and is struggling just to put food on the table, let alone pay the rent. And what's worse, the love of his life has left him some time ago. But lo-and-behold, an invitation to her wedding appears in the mail, and with an expectation of seeing her again, our writer friend sets off on his journey from one side of the country to the other to meet up with her before the wedding. Of course, with no money, it is going to be a difficult journey, one made slightly easier by his publisher giving him one last chance to come through with the goods, in this case completing a daily journal of activities. It is in this journal that our writer enters all his thoughts and discusses the moral dilemmas he faces along the way.
Important parts of your back story are played in flashback sequences. These are done remarkably well, helping to push the story along, as well as giving reason to some of the predicament you are currently in. It shows how your character became a writer and how he met his publisher. They also show how he met the love of his life. And many of the decisions made during these flashbacks are quite meaningful in the overall scheme of the game.
The game plays out in chapters, each chapter being played out in a particular city on his road to reuniting with his former love prior to her wedding. The game has an old-school adventure feel about it, mainly due to the amount of text that must be read in order to progress. All dialogue is written, and it almost seems as though the game is a text adventure with accompanying pictures. There is lots, and I mean LOTS of text to read involving the story and the dialogue. There are also some action pieces though. Our character needs to accept various jobs, that in themselves may provide some moral dilemmas on the part of the gamer. But without working, our author friend would die of hunger.
Always Sometimes Monsters is a game all about choices and the repercussions of those choices. The choices are often a shade of grey in terms of ethical dilemmas. Do you save the life of a friend by blackmailing a doctor, or do you let him die? Do you cut the brakes of an opposition racer, or do you risk losing the race and potentially your chance to reunite with your former love? Would you save the life of a friend over that of your own? There are often no right answers to these dilemmas, but each has a significant impact in the story.
Interspersed amongst the story are a number of mini games. These often had lower resolution graphics than the main game itself and often seemed as though they were added so that gamers could take a break from the main story. Mini games include various work tasks, gambling games such as blackjack and even variations of classic games such as Frogger and Pac-Man. They don't really add much to the game, and to be perfectly honest, the resolution was so low that it was painful to play for more than a couple of minutes.
Indeed, the letdown of the game is in the audio-visual department. Despite the ultra low-res of some of the mini-games, the main game looks and sounds like a Sierra classic of the late 1980's. The characters and the locations are somewhat blocky and pixelated, which I have nothing against. But the main problem I had with Always Sometimes Monsters was with the size of the play screen. It is as if the game was developed for a 7" tablet screen, one that cannot be resized. Though, having said that, most areas of the game are clear and well laid out and it is quite simple to find whatever you're looking for. The audio too, follows the simplistic nature of the graphics. The background music has an old-school midi musical track feel to it. And that is basically the extent of the audio. There are limited sound effects and no spoken dialogue at all.
Always Sometimes Monsters plays out similarly to an old text adventure, but with pictures. If often feels like one of the early Sierra Quest titles (Space Quest, King's Quest or even Leisure Suit Larry) from the late 1980's with its simple graphics and audio. But despite the lack of audio-visual polish, Always Sometimes Monsters is a wonderful game based around the choices we make. And although the story isn't entirely compelling, I did want to keep playing through to the conclusion, simply in order to observe the end results of all the choices I had made during the game. If you're a gamer who likes action, then you'll probably want to skip the game, but if you want a game with a story that explores the human psyche, then Always Sometimes Monsters may be right up your alley.
Storyline keeps you involved to the end
Tiny visuals and lots of text.