Surviving lethal conditions has become a reliable backbone for modern games. Sometimes it’s the unknown alien landscapes of No Man’s Sky, other times it’s the harsh post-apocalyptic world of DayZ. You craft, you hunt, and you take shelter in a genre that often feels like a video game adaptation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. But Alone With You, which launches today on PlayStation 4 and PS Vita, isn’t so concerned with what you’ll eat or how you’ll stay warm. Its dire alien setting asks you to fulfill another human need: find love.
Alone With You puts you in the role of the last survivor of a once promising colony on a distant planet. At the outset of the game, the colony is in shambles, with crumbling buildings and malfunctioning technology. The planet itself is set to implode in just over two weeks. With the help of a chirpy AI companion and a quartet of holograms representing some of the key members of the settlement, you search for a way off the planet and back to Earth.
There’s a pleasant routine to almost every day in Alone With You. You wake in-game at 6AM, chat with the AI about what needs to be done, and then head out in a shuttle to explore the colony’s various facilities. You’ll need to scrounge supplies from the agricultural building to ensure you have food for your trip, and repair parts of the communication system in an attempt to alert nearby ships to your presence. Along the way you’ll learn about previous colonists by reading diaries, medical reports, and more. At day’s end, you return home and spend the evening with one of the holograms.
The game has clear Star Trek inspirations, from the boxy shuttle to the tricorder-like scanner to the fact that everyone reads physical books even though it’s 30 years in the future. “There’s a lot of The Next Generation in this for sure,” says creator Benjamin Rivers. But for the most part, the science fiction elements are just a backdrop to a much more personal story, a way to lure in players who might not immediately be into the idea of a romance game.
Alone With You is a cross between an adventure game and a dating sim. In the exploratory sequences you’ll solve simple puzzles to unlock doors or repair damaged hardware, while also using a portable scanning device to learn a bit more about what really happened to this doomed culture. The minimal interface doesn’t rely on genre mainstays like a map or item inventory. “We do away with those elements and always make sure you know what you’re doing at that exact moment, and that that’s all you care about,” says Rivers.
The dating sim portion of the game, meanwhile, takes the form of in-depth conversations you have with the holograms. There’s a fascinating dynamic at play in these scenes: the holograms were, in the game’s fiction, programmed to be exactly like the colonists they’re based on, but their programming only goes up until a certain point in time. Like you, they don’t know what ultimately caused the failure of the colony, nor how their human counterparts met their demise. You’re able to bond all four of them by talking in the evenings and scrounging through the dilapidated buildings. At times the game lets you focus on a particular character, inviting you to further develop a specific relationship.
With its relatively simple gameplay, the narrative is what drives Alone With You forward, which is fine because the plot becomes all-consuming: there’s the mystery of the colony’s collapse, the race to find an escape, the budding romance with holographic companions, and the curious nature of the ever-present AI, which seems to have your best interests at heart.
Rivers’ previous game, the psychological horror title Home, was similarly story-focused, though on a much smaller scale, spanning the length of a movie. For Alone With You, Rivers — who worked with a small team this time, including musician Ivor Stines, artist Gavin McCarthy, and producer Nancy Yeung — wanted to try something new, but also fix some of the issues players had with Home. “The thing that people loved the most about Home, and that they sometimes get the most angry about with me, is the vague nature of some of the plot points, the parts that are meant to be left to the player’s imagination,” he says. “I wanted a game that felt like it had a little more closure.”
When I finished Alone With You — which ends with a very tough decision — it wasn’t the retrofuturistic computers that I remembered, or the barren-yet-colorful alien landscape. It was Leslie, a botanist who struggled with the loneliness of living on the colony, but found solace in her plants. When the credits rolled I wished I could’ve had at least one more chance to talk to her. So I started playing again. Closure is nice, but it can wait.
Alone With You is available today on PS4 and Vita.