Indie games have a reputation, they are either adored by those who love them, or vilified by those who think they are somehow stopping the development of the next big budget game. We at Gamestyle have always maintained that a game is a game, no matter the budget, the graphics, the studio or the cost.
So this brings us to Never Alone and a bit of a new trend in gaming that is taking hold. The interactive story!
Now this isn’t to be confused with the Call Of Duty, Battlefield and the like’s interactive movie. Those are what they are, a showcase of special effects and new technologies. We have nothing against those, in fact we enjoy them in the the right context. The interactive story however is something different.
If you take a look at the likes of Danganronpa, Phoenix Wright,The Walking Dead and other Telltale games, then you are used to a certain delivery method, that being scenes that are mixed with interactive elements, usually based on choices or some kind of point and click mechanic and again that works very well.
Then you have Never Alone that is at its core a simple left to right puzzle platformer where you take control of Nuna and her befriended arctic fox…Fox. In terms of gameplay Never Alone is as simple as you can imagine, it can be played in single player with switching between characters or in co-op with each player taking control of either Nuna or Fox. You will reach the end and you will reach the end with very little challenge.
But that isn’t the point of Never Alone.
This is something else, this is a game that is not only a first, but also something that dares to be different and deliver a very emotional and clever way to tell a story.
Never Alone is the first videogame to be made of native Alaskans and reveals a culture that many of us have probably never been exposed to. That of the Inupiaqs. The story is told mainly as you take Nuna and Fox through each level, with a narrator telling the story as you go and reach certain trigger points. It is something we have seen in the likes of Bastion and Transistor before, but those were still built around being games first.
Never Alone is built around the story and in all honesty is all the better for it. For one, the story is truly engaging and we won’t spoil it and just ask that you play the game and discover it for yourself. Secondly the visual style is stunning, it has an art direction that means this will be a game that will easily stand the test of time. The animation is so wonderfully fluid and creates an amazing atmosphere, especially with the elements Alaska can bring with it.
Add in a superb score and you have everything to create a deeply emotional and immersive story that can pull at the heart strings in the same way a book or finely crafted movie can. Had this just been an experience and story told across a couple of hours gameplay alone, then you’d still feel you had value for your outlay. However there is something else added to expand on the main game.
Included are 24 insights, which are essentially little documentary style clips that further explain the world, the culture, the setting, the myths, everything around the Inupiaq people. Considering these are only a couple of minutes long each on average, the amount of information you get from them is staggering and we at Gamestyle feel like with have learned something.
Not only have we learned something, we feel like we have been taken on an emotional and spiritual journey. This is a game that strips away all the stereotypes of a culture we know very little about and will often leave you teary eyed as you get drawn in to the story emotionally.
The only issue we found, can be solved very easily by playing in co-op, is that the AI partner can sometimes get stuck and not work out what they should be doing, which can slow down the pace of the game. However, it is a mild annoyance as you can just as easily switch character and give them a nudge in the right direction. But it is a slight blip in an otherwise flawless game.
Never Alone is a game that has gone from hardly being on the radar, to something that could quite possibly be a Game of the Year (2014) contender. Those who take a chance on this game will come away knowing they have been part of a unique experience that shows that games can be used as a serious vehicle for story telling. When we said as a community we wanted to show games can be mature… This is exactly what we meant.