Never Alone PC, Xbox One, Playstation 3 & 4, Wii U, mobile platforms Developed by Upper One Games Released in 2014
Bedtime stories are an important thing, aren’t they? One benefit to reading is that it boosts the listener’s intelligence, but another plus is what the stories themselves can tell. Fairytales and fictional stories have been used for both entertainment and for teaching morality or philosophies in a more subtle matter. This is a clear tradition that is still going on to this day and it continues with this video game. Never Alone bases its story upon Kunuuksaayuka, which is one of the oldest tales from Alaskan native culture. I used to study a lot of cultures throughout history when I was still a student, and surely found this approach to a game appealing. Especially after the beauty of Valiant Hearts, I am all up for more interactive storytelling.
Once upon a time in Alaska
As you start the game, you will be provided with a narrator, telling you a story about a girl, trying to find the source of a blizzard. While she is out on her search, she is suddenly attacked by a bear and as she flees for her life, a fox comes forth to save her. Seeing how well they can work together in this dangerous and cold land, they team up and continue the adventure with plenty of bizarre creatures and landscapes as beautiful as they are threatening.
Never Alone sets up a more atmospheric and traditional tale, where you have two companions that share a strong bond between each other, both in cutscenes and in the gameplay as they support each other to venture further. However, while you have a clear main-goal, there are some creatures that pop up in the adventure and feel added for the sake of variety and nothing else. Storytelling has come a long way, and it shows in Never Alone, as the blizzard storm is easily forgotten due to other obstacles in your way that make it easy to forget the overall plot. What does shine however, is our main duo, as they have such a beautiful chemistry with no words uttered. Combined with discoveries this land of spirits provides, it does really feel like an adventure despite the sluggish progression in plot-development.
As you play through, you will also unlock videos to get insight on the Alaskan culture and wildlife, which is an intriguing way to learn more. You are invited with an interactive story and if you crave more knowledge, you will unlock that as you discover new elements. They are also both easy to take in for younger audience and also keep adults interested, so this is definitely a intriguing way of learning.
Story score: 7/10
It is boring to go alone
You take control of both the fox and the girl in a linear puzzle-platformer, where you need both characters’ abilities to venture further. What is great, is how well this functions for the first part of the game. The girl has a projectile-weapon and can push crates for example, while the fox has a strong connection to spirits and can wall-jump, which makes each character unique. Each puzzle requires support of both and it is a great way to synchronize this duo by depending on each other. Some puzzles can be a bit bland in the beginning, by having you drag or push objects just to make a ledge easier to grab, but most are great with a huge variety of objectives and some fun platforming incorporated. Speaking of which, the platforming can be simple, especially since the girl only has few abilities here, but it has some effective parts to it. Wind affects the range of your jumps, some chase-segments test your reflexes or, as stated, being a part of puzzles. It is quite endearing how well they made this work for the most part.
As the title points out, it is not a good idea to play this game alone. It is a constant pace-breaker to play this by yourself as the AI does not help with the puzzles and can only move and barely get through platforming-obstacles, which can easily make it a drag. Thankfully, there is a two player co-op mode, and it is great. It really becomes effective in an emotional way when you help each other to get through the puzzles, with each player having something to do to find the solution. Not to mention, making the progression much faster as you have someone to actually rely on. Sadly, this doesn’t help the last part of the game. After the first 60%, the second player gets too overpowered, with abilities like flying being provided. Because of this, one will do all the work while the other player is only there for the ride and because the game requires both players to get to the end. This makes the last puzzles and platforming segments as barebone basic as possible. Adding to this, the game has many glitches, with characters not always grabbing ledges, hit-detection can be off, and elements clipping through surfaces. It never broke the game, but definitely was a clear annoyance.
It is quite slow and unsatisfying to play this adventure by yourself, and I can’t imagine anyone going through this without the desire to do something else. When a friend comes along, it is certainly more enjoyable until the last part. While the first part is great, the fact that you can’t be alone and the last 40% is downright unappealing are terrible blemishes in an otherwise enjoyable game. More bug-testing would have helped too.
Gameplay Score: 4.5/10
Solace in the snow
Despite being set in the cold Alaska, it is beautiful and mesmerising how much they were able to create with what might sound like a limited concept. There are some very impressive weather-effects, with snow covering the entire place, ruthless winds blowing through, and even the water looks impressive. The varied areas featuring different shapes of snow and objects, makes them more memorable and the same goes for the inhabitants, creating an intriguing world that I wish I could explore more of. The animations of the girl and the fox as they react to things around them and to each other, are also heartwarming and makes the cold world and their relationship with each other immersive. Even when the characters clip through objects at times or some jumps having frame-cuts to make a character reach a platform, it is easy to look over when everything else is so inviting and yet lonesome.
The cutscenes use mostly in-game presentation with great animations and pantomimes, which is adorable. However, the old paintings are rather creepy and a big contrast to the beautiful in-game presentation. I understand it is used for historical accuracy, but it does not represent the in-game presentation well and becomes. with all due respect, ugly instead of an appealing insight on history. On a more positive note, the atmospheric music is incredibly effective. It is set with use of echo, creating a sense of loneliness and differs between peaceful and intense, with long stretches of different instruments being used, and it is fantastic. Adding to this, are the great enviromental sounds, like the wind passing by or the footsteps when there is an eerie silence. It is incredibly effective. I do wish there was more emphasis on the music, as it is impressive how effective it is compared to the more silent parts, but both are great. The voice actor has a very appealing storytelling voice and the story is told in his native language, which is fitting.
Presentation Score: 8/10
Never Alone’s biggest issue is the simple fact that it is unpolished. The technical aspects are not always on top and the last 40% could have been removed from the game, as it makes it a hassle to play through. I am happy for the first part I experienced though, and it was a good way to spend an afternoon, playing it with my good companion. However, I feel it is hard to recommend to everyone. If you have a friend and are more interested in an atmospheric adventure while discovering knowledge about an old culture, you will have a pleasant time for the most part.