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Always Sometimes Monsters

Score: 85%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Vagabond Dog
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Adventure

Graphics & Sound:

In the 1990's, Penn & Teller did a little social experiment. And by "social experiment," I really mean "prank." At the height of the violent video game controversy, the famous illusionists/skeptics struck out and created what was, at the time, the most "true to life" video game ever made. This "game," Desert Bus, consisted of nothing but driving eight hours on a straight road with no pause option. If you finished the drive, you got a point. Sounds fun, right? Well, it wasn't, and that was by design. Always Sometimes Monsters is similar to that same experiment, but there's a key difference. Where Desert Bus was intentionally terrible, this game is ambitious, engaging and thought-provoking.

Always Sometimes Monsters fits right at home in the Devolver Digital family, which seems to boast a similar aesthetic philosophy across its entire library of published games. This is a minimalistic production as far as the visuals are concerned. It looks like something that would have appeared on an 8-bit or 16-bit system, and it goes a long way in establishing an identity for itself. At first glance, you might confuse the game for a role-playing game along the lines of Final Fantasy (that is, back when it was still good). Character design is similar to that from the golden age of Japanese role-playing games, but the illustrations that accompany much of the text-based dialogue give you a better idea of what they actually look like.

The sound design for games like Always Sometimes Monsters is almost never even nearly as minimalist as the visuals. On top of big, bombastic soundtracks, there's usually a full suite of voice actors to transform the writing into pure drama. But this game remains minimalist throughout, letting its gameplay experience tell the story for it. There's a synth-heavy soundtrack accompanying all of your character's trials and tribulations, and a few sound effects reminiscent of the Nintendo era.


If you're a fan of the show What Would You Do?, consider Always Sometimes Monsters to be an incredibly dark, elaborate, interactive episode of that show. It's a safe way to experience true desperation and to test your morality when your back is against the wall.

You assume the role of an ambitious up-and-coming writer with everything to lose. You end up at a party with a very important individual who seems ready to assist your climb to prosperity and potential stardom. You're also romantically involved with another of the partygoers, and things are serious. Long story short, your life looks good, and your future is blindingly bright. But a lot can change in one year's time, and that's exactly where the game fast forwards to after the intro.

The whiplash that you'll feel after the jump is incredible. Suddenly, somehow, you've made a gnarly transition from being on top of the world to being dangerously near rock bottom. Your career is over, your former significant other is getting married to someone else, and you've just been evicted. This isn't usually a popular scenario for a video game, but Always Sometimes Monsters is not conventional in any sense of the word. This is the kind of situation everyone dreads and doesn't like to think about. Always Sometimes Monsters forces you to look it in the eye and answer the question "What would I do?"


Always Sometimes Monsters doesn't test your reflexes, your dexterity, or your intelligence. It tests your character. It puts you into a number of awful situations and forces you to make difficult choices. It forces you to feel desperation and then tests you by offering a number of incredibly distasteful potential ways to get out of them. Even if you consider yourself one of those gamers who is able to distance themselves from the experience, you still might find yourself horrified by some of the Monkey's Paw-style solutions to some of these dilemmas.

Game Mechanics:

Through an extremely well-designed introductory party sequence, you establish your character and your love interest. These first choices set the stage for the rest of your experience. Even the seemingly small things, such as your race and sexual orientation, will come up at some point. It wouldn't be an examination of human nature without common prejudices being inserted into the mix.

The game itself is played from a top-down perspective. There's nothing in the way of traditional gameplay; you don't run around fighting enemies, earning experience, gaining new abilities, or anything of the sort. You explore the world that has been crafted, talking to the people who inhabit it and slowly but surely finding your way through the darkest chapter in your character's life. I'd go into more detail, but going any further would constitute spoiling the experience.

Even though I've been intentionally vague as to the specifics of what makes Always Sometimes Monsters work as well as it does, you should at least have a sense of whether or not this game is for you. Between its unflinchingly mature content and its unorthodox gameplay style, it definitely isn't for everyone. But man, is it powerful.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

Minimum System Requirements:

OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7, or 8 (32-bit or 64-bit); Processor: Intel Pentium 4, 2.0 Ghz or faster; Memory: 512 MB RAM; Graphics: 1024 x 768 desktop resolution or better; Hard Drive: 500 MB available space

Test System:

ASUS G74S Series, Intel Core I7 - 2670QM, 2.2 GHz, Windows 7 Premium, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560M, 12 GB RAM

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