Morality is something that’s constantly being tackled in this interactive medium with games such as Mass Effect, Fable and Bioshock presenting the player with such binary choices determining whether you are “good” or “evil”.
But what if we took that all away. What if “good” and “evil” did not exist? What if we deconstructed these modern tropes? What if we were Always Sometimes Monsters?
This is a unique game. Whilst many have been quick to label it an RPG, I would say it’s very different, being similar to some visual novels in the way that it presents its narrative and how you interact with characters.
The game starts with this weird sequence where you follow a suited man walking down the street, off to do something whilst a woman tries to stop him. On the way, he meets a hooded homeless person who wishes to tell the character a story. This makes no sense. The developer knows it makes no sense, we know it makes no sense, it’s meant to make no sense. It is presumed from this, that we will need to listen to the man’s story to get some context for all of this.
But we’re given a choice. And this is our first experience with these choices. So, I shot him. And I finished the game. I didn’t fail it, I didn’t get a game over screen, I completed Always Sometimes Monsters just… a little quicker. This makes for a brilliant introduction to the game’s mechanics.
Unfortunately, there’s not enough mechanics, which made the game painfully dull for me. There is no combat. There is no action sequences. There is, however, a lot of wandering about. It’s slow. There is very little to do apart from looking around for these conversation opportunities.
How you interact with others and how you respond to them will shape your consequences, whether that involves money or just having a place to sleep. It’s how you deal with these social situations that defines your experience. However, whether the player can actually identify with this experience is another matter entirely. Always Sometimes Monsters investigates the nature of humanity, cruelty and desperation but there is still the question of how much the player actually cares about the fate of their character. Why should we care if our character is sleeping on the street instead of a bed? Why should we care about these characters that we’re doing horrible things to?
We are never given a reason to take the morally right choice if it results negatively for the player. The relationships that our protagonist apparently has are not the player’s and the game never makes an attempt to develop these relationships. For example, our character is feeling depressed after being dumped by their partner shortly after the introduction. Why should the player care? The player picked out the partner purely on the basis of how their sprite looked and not much more. There’s no personality in that. There’s no development in that. There’s no emotional connections in that.
I find little motivation to play this game for any extended time period. The player’s character is given a reason to succeed, but there is nothing about it that makes the player want to succeed. There’s nobody we really want to get back at, there’s nobody we particularly like, there’s no reason to play.
Always Sometimes Monsters may have an audience somewhere. It is undoubtedly a very interesting game that combats the ideas of binary morality choices. But the way in which it was executed and how it fails to include the player in these choices emotionally resulted in a lackluster experience and because of that, I personally cannot recommend this game.