You wake up thirty-something years after the apocalypse to this.
You’ve had better starts to a day.
Bottom Line: Please go play this right now. It’s free, it takes less than three hours, and I can’t talk about it properly without giving specifics. I’ll wait.
Hard to believe it’s free, right?
- While the backgrounds are adequate and Trash’s sprites are varied and nicely done, the lack of sprites for muties and other characters kept me from feeling as threatened or connected at the appropriate moments. Gamma in particular needs a proper sprite.
- The background music sets the mood but did not blow me away.
- Click-read-click-read-click-read-click-read-choose an action or dialog option. Repeat.
- The choice moments that define your protagonist are clearly phrased and believable.
- Whatever choices you make, the female protagonist feels like a distinct person. My favorite is a smart-ass who spent the entire game trying to avoid physical contact with Trash. Well, she did voluntarily kick him in the balls once. Poor guy. XD
- Trash, the male lead, is basically a good guy stuck in a miserable survivalist situation dealing with it as best he can. His family tried to raise him right, but he definitely has flaws. He’s survived solo for years, he knows he can’t stay at his home base indefinitely, and then a potential nutter appears in his bed. The protagonist is both a liability and a godsend.
- And it all informs his character, decisions, and interactions with the protagonist. That coupled with the beautiful relationship pacing makes him feel like a believable, complex individual even though he grows to love the protagonist no matter her personality or decisions.
- As you may have gathered from previous sections, Trash always comes to love the protagonist, but your protagonist is under no obligation to return the sentiment. She can, and the little romance interactions are sweet without becoming cloying, but I appreciate that the protagonist and player are ultimately in control.
- The pacing of the leads’ interactions and relationship evolution kept impressing me throughout the story. My favorite part has to be when they’re trapped inside the shack for days. The grinding, claustrophobic, spiteful atmosphere is captured perfectly. When Trash started whistling, I screamed in delighted frustration.
- The few times I began to worry where a scene might lead (being forced to pick a flaw, initiating a physical relationship too early, etc.) the author neatly and, almost with a wink, dodges the potential problem. Brava.
PLOT AND SETTING
I’ve played many Fallout and “main character can’t remember their past” games, yet I still enjoyed the setting and some of the plot beats.
- +The protagonist has amnesia…but she does eventually remember some things, and some of the blanks allow you to shape her personality and history.
- +It’s a post-apocalyptic setting…that has no definite explanation and allows the relationship between the two leads to evolve beautifully.
- +The protagonist is part of what appears to be a secret government conspiracy…that is not over-explained or the ultimate villain.
- +The protagonist is threatened with harm to make the male lead comply…and they both keep their heads and endure what they must.
- = Some “well isn’t that fortunate for y’all” moments flirt with breaking the player’s suspension of disbelief, but because they drive the protagonist and Trash’s grounded character interactions they never bothered me. It kind of equals out.
- – Having Trash accept and help the protagonist for a while before he discovers her origin and having the Easter Initiative feel ominous before the apocalypse is more problematic. It kept me from ever doubting where the protagonist’s loyalties lay and whether she would forgive and fully side with Trash.
- – The protagonist and Trash forget they a need a key to out of their fortified jail cell. Nice one, guys.
- Apparently in the post-apocalypse humans no longer need to relieve themselves and women no longer have periods. Yes, I know most games treat these things as though they don’t exist, but in a story that puts an emphasis on long stretches of confinement, the scarcity of supplies, and the importance of reproductive ability it feels weird. Maybe put “I noted the bucket tucked behind the screen and grimaced at the implication” when the protagonist first explores the shack or something similar?
Despite my nitpicks, I love Aloners. sonnet009 is a writer and developer I now trust to take well-worn ideas and interactions and make interesting, believable characters. I look forward to what she does next!
Aloners is available for PC, Mac, and Linux.
Follow the developer at sonnet009games.