Never Alone (PC) - ReviewDan Carreras , posted on 27 November 2014 / 3,493 Views
It’s hard for me to begin writing about Never Alone without mentioning the current indie revolution that such games are born from. If it wasn’t for the creative freedoms brought about by the democratisation of games development, Never Alone would never have existed, and that would have been a great loss for the medium. Never Alone manages to combine a truly fantastic cultural story with enjoyable gameplay to bring about a new type of video game experience, and I for one am truly excited and glad it’s here.
Never Alone, also known as Kisima Ingitchuna, is centred around the Iñupait - a community of people who live in northern Alaska that are currently losing their way of life due to climate change and an ever-changing world. In Never Alone you play through one of their stories, and at the same time unlock documentary shorts that give you greater insight into the tribes of the Ińupait people and their storied history.
The main narrative revolves around a girl called Nuna and her pet fox. The two embark on an adventure to stop a blizzard which has consistently blown for many seasons, causing problems for Nuna and her community. Moving from left to right, you’ll find the platforming gameplay to be fairly easy and standard compared to the more complex and experimental platformers that have stood out over the last few years, but the attention to detail in Never Alone is fantastic; the wind blows Nuna’s hood around and characters react to the game world, which helps to give the game a great sense of atmosphere.
Nuna’s fox is able to communicate with the spirit world whenever you are in close proximity to a spirit, which adds a secondary puzzle element to the gameplay. You'll either need a second player to control the fox, or have the AI control it until you need to access it yourself by pressing the Y button. At this point the AI will control Nuna, but only enough to keep her close to you and try to ensure she doesn't fall off the screen. It’s a decent system when played in co-op, but an annoyance in single player, where 90% of your deaths/failures will likely be caused by AI wondering too far or falling off the level.
There are chase sequences and pretty landscapes to enjoy, but the true majesty of Never Alone is its ability to tie the narrative of the story with the real life experiences of the Iñupait people. Each time you discover a new story piece, such as getting lost at sea from ice crumbling because of climate change, or looking at the way the Iñupait hunt, a new documentary segment will unlock. At this point you can press the back button on your controller to watch it and discover more about that particular topic as told by real members of the Iñupait community.
It’s this combination of video game and cultural exploration that makes me feel that Never Alone is helping to push the gaming medium forwards. The people behind Upper One Games could have easily taken this story/documentary to any other medium, but in choosing to make a game out of it they've created something that will stick with people long after they've finish playing the game. Due to its very interactive nature, I feel like I’ve come out of the game with both a great understanding of the Iñupait’s problems in this modern age and empathy for them, something that I likely wouldn't have said had I passively watched a documentary on TV, for example.
The gameplay itself is unremarkable - it enables the developers to tell the story well, but I sometimes found the gameplay to be frustrating, especially when it comes to lacklustre AI control of Nuna or her fox. The platforming gameplay is also fairly simplistic, adopting typical genre tropes.
Another criticism that can be levelled against the game is its short running length - I managed to complete the whole game whilst missing only a single collectible in just 2 hours and 47 minutes. I didn’t rush through it at all either, and took my time to watch all of the documentary shorts as well as appreciate the game world. Never Alone is also a very linear game with no exploration to speak of, so be warned if you demand more from your platformers.
Graphically, however, Never Alone is lovely to look at. Despite being a very linear game the environments are highly varied; underwater caves shine and windy villages look dynamic and surprisingly homely. The endearing animations and pixar-like graphics also do a perfect job of conveying the story of Nuna and her fox as they embark across the world.
Whilst Never Alone certainly won't appeal to everyone, it doesn’t need to. It offers a perfectly executed story, underpinned by fantastic background research, and just happens to use the interactivity of gaming to push its narrative of the Iñupait community to a wider audience. The indie revolution that allowed games like Never Alone to exist doesn’t mean we’ll see less of the traditional games we've come to love and more typically associate with the medium, but it does allow us to experience greater variety and different perspectives, especially in the realm of video game storytelling. For this reason, Never Alone encapsulates the indie revolution and its overarching ideology perfectly.
This review is based on a digital copy of Never Alone for the PC
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