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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Review: Never Alone (PS4)

Never Alone is a puzzle-platformer whose primary purpose is to provide cultural understanding of the Inupiat Alaskan natives. The game tells a story (in the Inupiat language with subtitles provided) about a girl who sets out to free her village from an eternal blizzard. The story is well told and full of atmosphere, with cut-scenes provided through faux-historic pictograms. It's pretty, and part of the reason I kept playing even though I don't usually enjoy platformers.

The game is clearly written to be played with two players at once: if you're a solo player, you'll have to flip between the two characters (the girl and her arctic fox) in order to get through some of the puzzles. Because certain puzzles have a time limit (especially near the end of the game), this could lead you to repeat sections over and over until you get it right, which can be frustrating. Fortunately, the game's checkpointing system is fairly well thought out, and you usually will not repeat any puzzle which you can do once.

The closest comparison game I'd compare this to is Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Both use a puzzle platformer to tell a story, and because the game has a goal other than to provide extended play time or to challenge the players, the puzzles are straightforward.

As a single player, however, the approach of Brothers is the considerably better one, with the controls for Never Alone never really feeling comfortable, and frequently awkward. However, what the game excels at (and this is an excellent reason to play and experience the game) is mapping the platforming adventure to the environment of the harsh arctic circle. Frequently, the most dangerous part of the game is the environment, not the polar bears or the enemies, real or mythical. Furthermore, the game ends just about when it starts to wear out its welcome (3 hours 10 minutes is the average), a rare demonstration of restraint amongst video games.

I got this as part of the Playstation Plus subscription. I can't imagine paying the full $14.99 price for this game, but considering the other PS+ games that never get played more than a couple of times, I'd say that this game is considerably more respectful of my time than other games, is beautifully rendered, and therefore worthy of your consideration if it were to be suitable discounted (it was recently on sale on steam for $6.99, and on PSN for $6.00). Considering that it includes 24 videos that essentially form an hour long documentary about the Inupiat Eskimos, that would be a very attractive price if you have an interest in the topic.

The game is available on XBox One, PS4, PC, and Macintosh.


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