Alone with You comes with a lot of promise. Benjamin Rivers proved himself with Home, the imaginative indie horror experience, so his next project is hotly anticipated. The game’s premise is unique: As the lone survivor of a space colony, you must try to escape the dying planet by solving puzzles and gaining information from holograms of deceased colonists. You, along with the colony’s AI program, must implement your plan to escape. Of course, a couple of romantic interactions with these deceased holograms along the way can’t hurt. It’s a unique premise, alright, but one with mixed results.
Immediately, and most notably, the game oozes style. Mr. Rivers brings both artistry and nostalgia to the project. His experience as a graphic novelist is abundantly clear, and inspires each shot in Alone with You. The game feels like an old classic arcade game with its approach to area design and the use of verticality on the screen. It’s simply a satisfying world to spend time in visually. That being said, there are times when the functionality of the style is in question. For example, every time you walk through a door, you get a short 2-3 second transition clip of your character walking through the door. This becomes a tedious problem once you walk through more than two or three doors in a row. In addition, some rooms and maps are difficult to navigate because of their static design.
The sound design in the game is also excellent, reminiscent of a previous era. The soundtrack is driven by synths and feels like old science fiction adventures, while player scans are met with some satisfying “bings” and “bloops.” There is no voice acting in the game, but it is not missed. The art and sound blends together to create a strong sense of atmosphere in a game driven by its style and approach.
Gameplay is primarily split into two main forms: daytime puzzles and nighttime interactions. In order to repair the ship and make your planetary escape, you’ll need specialist information from four colonists. Thankfully, the base’s AI has captured their likeness and can allow you to interact with them in holographic form (I mean, it IS Sci-Fi). Each night, you’ll interact with these characters and, by day, you’ll go to various relevant areas of the colony, solve puzzles, and slowly figure out a way to escape. Meanwhile, you’ll also explore the sub-plot of what really happened to this colony and all of these characters.
Unsurprisingly, the story interactions each night are far and away the best parts of Alone with You. The AI turns off all of the other parts of the base to preserve energy, leaving the holograms “alone with you” (get it?). The characters are deep and thoughtful, each with their own voice and sense of self. They all conveniently suffer from a gap in their memories that you can assist with by exploring their area of the colony following an evening encounter. As with similar games, the responses you choose change the way the story moves, and you can end up with a couple different endings. You’ll actually end up spending a fair amount of time with these character throughout the 3 in-game weeks, and you’ll have the opportunity to watch them grow based on your responses and even go on hologram dates with them.
The largest shortcoming of the game, by contrast, are the daytime excursions. Again, the art direction is excellent and each area of the colony feels like it has a story to tell. This is clear when you find non-essential items, such as those that give background to the lives of the characters you spend the night with. But gameplay is disappointing. Not all, but most, puzzles lack any real sense of engagement and end up feeling like obstacles to the thrilling character interactions each night. Your AI companion adds some flavor text to items you find, but it all just ends up feeling tedious by comparison. It’s a risky proposition, but if Benjamin Rivers and Co. had decided to cut out those elements and dive headfirst into the visual novel genre, the project may have been better off.
Another issue, and one that is more difficult to place a finger on, is that Alone with You feels a bit like it’s holding back. There is potential here for some fascinating exploration into falling in love with the computer representation of a deceased individual, but nothing is ever explored in depth, which ends up feeling emotionally unsatisfying. The story as a whole also ends on a rather vague and ambiguous note, although there is an intention to such a choice. It just sometimes feels as though the game could’ve used just a bit more risk, a bit more commitment.
Benjamin Rivers and Co. have presented a game full of unrealized potential. A bit more risk and intention could’ve really helped Alone with You find itself a bit more. As it stands, the project has some engaging character interactions and a fantastic art style, but is hindered by tedious gameplay and some lack of functionality. Most players looking for a deep romance sim or some interesting intergalactic gameplay will likely come away disappointed, but select players interested in dialogue-driven story and a stylish approach to game design can find something enjoyable here.
And based on artistic trajectory and growth, I personally wouldn’t be surprised if the next Benjamin Rivers game is a home-run.
A PS4 review code for Alone with You was provided by Benjamin Rivers for the purpose of this review