From the Archives - Always Sometimes Monsters Review (PC)

From The Archives posts are posts which I’ve carried over from my old blogs and sites I wrote for that are now offline so that I can keep a record of some of my better and more important work that would otherwise be lost. They come from the entire length of my time in games writing, so you’ll probably notice a big jump in quality between the really old stuff and the more recent content.

Always Sometimes Monsters

This was a review of Always Sometimes Monsters which I wrote for Hittin' Crits in May 2014. I probably won't be posting many of my old reviews and previews here because I'm still writing those and have plenty I can link to, but I didn't want to lose this one because I was happy that I wrote a concise but informative review of a game with some heavy subject matter and non-traditional gameplay. And I managed to sneak a Superior Spider-Man reference in there.

Original article:

The people who’ve let you bunk in their house have left some money on the table. It sits there for a few days, no-one obviously needing it. You’re broke, kicked out of your apartment, and need to get a bus ticket to chase the love of your life who’s about to marry someone else. You could use that money more, right? But stealing’s wrong! The money sits there, taunting you. Your roommates are never even around. You snatch the money, grab a bus ticket and never look back.

There was a recent moment in the Spider-Man comics, where Peter Parker almost chose to let someone die in order to stop his enemy, Doctor Octopus. Doc Ock later used this event to defeat Peter, by crippling him with guilt. Some people were shocked that a character they saw as a good guy had such a dark thought. In an interview afterwards, writer Dan Slott explained why Peter would have a moment of darkness. “[We’re] allowed to be horrible monsters in that one moment. We’re allowed to consider the worst of us, and be the worst of us. As long as we don’t act on it; as long as we fix it immediately.” Always Sometimes Monsters is all about these moments, moments where we find ourselves being monsters. It places you in a state of desperation, where taking the high road often makes things so much harder for you. You’ll agonise over even the smallest choices, running over the consequences of each option in your head. But here there’s no need for you to correct your actions. You can make the right choice… but do you really want to? Is it the most beneficial?

Monsters is a weird mix of genres due to all the activities you can get up to in order to make money and progress through the game. Your end goal is to make it to your ex’s wedding (the motive for doing so can be decided by you along the way), but you’ll need to earn money and find modes of transport in order to get there. There’s a number of odd jobs and activities you can participate in to earn money- some early ones include creating tofu products and working for a newspaper, while later on you’ll be able to do things like harvest marijuana and bet on cat races. Not only do you need to pay for your transportation, but you also need to keep your character alive as well. If your character doesn’t eat, then there’s a chance that they’ll die in their sleep, ending your story then and there, and you’ll actually need to find a place to sleep as well. The first plot sequence of the game has your character kicked out of their apartment until they pay their rent, and if you can’t do this on the first night then you’ll need to find somewhere else to stay. This was one of the most memorable moments from my playthrough, as my homeless character had to find somewhere to sleep. The first place that looked nice was already taken by someone else, who told me to leave “before bad things happen”. The next place I found looked passable, but then I saw an old man watching me from a distance, who made creepy comments when I approached him. Finally, I stumbled across a place to sleep right next to my apartment building of all places, where my tired, hungry character could pass the night. I hadn’t felt as genuinely vulnerable in a game as I did in this section for a long time.

The game can play totally different based off your choices though- if I’d stolen money from people while running the cloakroom at a nightclub, I’d be in my cozy apartment building. But then again, I might have been caught by them, or put them in a position as bad as I was. It’s seriously impressive how the game changes so much based on every choice, including your choice of character. You pick your character and their partner out of a crowd at a party, and their gender, race and sexual orientation will change the way other characters react to you. You’ll be faced with many moral dilemmas, making you feel like a monster as you consider doing whatever it takes to get to that wedding on time. Or, you may take the ‘good’ option wherever you can, and you might find later on that it makes things difficult, making you wonder why you try to be the good guy in the first place. Some of the choices are the hardest ones I’ve had to make in a game for a while. They’re not large scale, “save the world or destroy it” sort of choices, which I think is why they’re so affecting. You see how they affect individuals on a personal level, and the consequences hit you hard. I did some quite questionable things along the way in order to get where I needed to, which I found myself reflecting on afterwards.

While the game’s story and characters are incredibly interesting, there’s a point during the second ‘arc’ of the story where nothing is really happening, and you’re just stuck doing odd jobs until you get enough money to move on (or at least there was for me, if you make different choices there may be more going on here). The menial nature of odd jobs is great, because it’s successful at reflecting real life, but it gets a bit much at this point. Another annoyance with the story is that there may be unresolved plot threads in an earlier area that you can get locked out of once you move on to a new area. The game portrays getting to the wedding as you biggest priority, which meant I would move on as soon as I could, but then when you get there, it skips ahead in time after a few days, meaning I had about an in-game week’s worth of spare time I could have used. There’s also some errors in the script, in terms of grammar and sometimes the wrong character names being used. In a text-heavy game like this, these errors are noticeable.

These are minor annoyances in the scheme of the game though, as Always Sometimes Monsters is a fantastic experience. It’s a game in which you always have a choice, even if you don’t realise it, and your actions will come back to bite you later. It’s not a game I would describe as fun, my enjoyment of the game came from the atmosphere it sets up so well, and the writing. Right after I finished the game I went right back in to start a second playthrough with a different character because I wanted to see how differently I could make things play out. It’s really hard to describe without talking about specific situations, but the surprise and spontaneity of those scenarios is a big part of the reason the game is so great. I felt like my choices actually mattered, and it made my ending sequence all the more gutwrenching. It’s an experience that I’d heartily recommend to people.

8.5/10 Sandwich Futures

Bottom Line: A game all about the tough choices we have to make in life that brilliantly captures the desperation of a character who’s hit rock bottom, and the meniality of the tasks they have to undertake to get there.

Recommendation: Not a game designed for ‘fun’- enjoyment comes from ways that may be very different to what you’re used to from games, so be wary of that going into it. It also features mature content- the Steam page has a content warning for “content dealing with racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, mental health, sexual assault, child abuse, animal abuse, drug abuse, and suicide”, so this isn’t one for younger gamers. It does really interesting things with atmosphere and player choice, and the length (around 6-8 hours) encourages replayability. For $10 it’s definitely worth trying out.

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