Indie Spotlight: Always Sometimes Monsters

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About a fortnight ago we posted a bit of a tongue in cheek Indie Spotlight featuring POSTAL 2 as a real-life simulator game. It’s now time for the actual new Indie Spotlight.  This time it’s from a game which is a much truer to life real-life simulator. In this game the decisions you make, even if the decisions are seemingly arbitrary, impact your story in some way. Let’s put you in to the situation of the protagonist of the game for moment. What would you do if…

Your pockets are empty.
Your life is in shambles.
You’ve ruined your career.
You’re being evicted.
The love of your life is marrying someone else.How far will you be willing to go to make things right again?
What are you willing to sacrifice for one more chance at happiness?
Who are you willing to hurt in the process?Who could judge you?
In the end, aren’t we Always Sometimes Monsters?

Always Sometimes Monsters is an unusual game but a game that you yourself play every day without even fully realizing it. The amount of time it takes to finish the game is pretty much based on your decisions. It’s completely possible for the game to be over within the first 2 minutes just because of the decision you make. If you progress past the opening adventure, the real story begins to unfold. Since this is a game where your decisions shape the world it means there can be constant change. With such a variety in choices, the replay-ability of the game is extremely high. This Spotlight will focus on the story or the elements of the story as little as possible in order to avoid any spoilers or influence to your decisions. The basic premise is that with precious little time left you make a last-ditch effort to salvage your world. You do this initially by just trying to keep a roof over your head since your rent is overdue and you are about to be evicted for being a deadbeat. Eventually this leads to setting out on a cross-country journey to win back the love of your life. During this journey you must endure the hardship of making story-defining choices that will affect your life and the lives of those around you.

As mentioned earlier, this Spotlight will not spoil anything. We applaud what the developers did for the achievements in this game. Always Sometimes Monsters has only freely given progress based achievements. Generally when you look at a game where the achievements are all freebies received just for playing, it might seem like a lazy way to add achievements. You may feel that it robs you of your gaming right to do ludicrous challenges to get your profile sticker. With that said, this is one of those games where you really need to respect the fact that the achievements do not force your hand to earn them, they just unlock and add interest as the story progresses. Having any form of specific requirements to unlock an achievement in this game would force your hand in to making certain decisions. Being forced into any actions would entirely defeat the purpose and most likely spoil the game.

There are also collectables in the game. You get them simply by searching around or you can win them from the arcade. These collectables showcase other Indie Games including our own POSTAL 2. Some of the fun collectables available are Krotchy, Champ and the Postal Dude. What you do with them is up to you. You can attempt to collect them all and try to make a full set or just sell them for quick cash.

Always Sometimes Monsters looks and sounds like a classic JRPG on the surface due to being a game made in RPG Maker but it really doesn’t fit well in to that genre.  It’s more of a simulator and adventure game mixed together with some JRPG elements mixed in. For those that have difficulty playing games that do not have next-gen true to life realism graphics you will be missing a completely fun opportunity if you pass up this game solely for that reason.

When we do an Indie Spotlight it’s always based on a first impression. The amount of time it takes between the first play and the actual posting is solely dependant on how much a game hooks me in to it. “Should I finish writing that post for our fans now, or should I ‘research’ this game a little more and do the write-up tomorrow?” Decisions, decisions! To be honest, when I first seen this game I didn’t think I would like it. It was nice that they had referenced POSTAL 2 in their game so we figured we should at least tweet about it. When I first started playing Always Sometimes Monsters, I thought this was going to be a very hard Spotlight to make. On the surface the game seemed rather dull and pointless. “It’s just a bunch of talking and choosing a response” how can I possibly make an Indie Spotlight about it that is both fair to the developer and fair to our fans. At that point I was still expecting the game to hold my hand and that some automatically triggered event would happen to add some kind of resolution at the end of the day. That check you were waiting on was in your mailbox when you got home; all your decisions were kind of pointless. Yawn… but that wasn’t what happened at all. I slept on the street that night. This game was serious about the decisions you make, I underestimated it completely. I found this game moving from dull to very intriguing. Rather than restarting I decided to live with my decisions and try to do better the next day. The next day I tried to do what I thought was best and ended up making a mess of things. The day after that I did a little better and my decisions led to positive results. At this point I was thinking… wait, I see what is going on, my first impression was right, it was just tricking me. I restarted the game and did things differently figuring “I’m on to you game” turns out my life was very different. I used the money from a person wanting me to pick an item up for them to buy lottery tickets. I did really well and won big many times in a row. That made me able to pay off my rent at the end of the day and still gave the unsuspecting person their item (because I am an honest scoundrel in this life). Score! So the solution to the first puzzle is to play the lottery. I restarted again to test this… I lost horribly on the lottery; all those big wins I got in my first try were just luck. This game is right back to intriguing and now it has me completely hooked; the post will have to wait until the next day or maybe even the day after…. Well it’s been a few days an entire week now since I initially started writing this and I still don’t feel ready to post which is a first for me and these Indie Spotlights.

Probably the easiest way to do this without spoilers is to contrast between the game and real life. Most of you have probably been to some kind of party. Unless you are a wallflower you generally mingle with the others attending the party. Who do you talk to? Who do you share a drink with? What do you eat? These are just minor decisions you have to make in your life that generally may or may not have consequences.

Moving forward, what do you do when you fall on hard times? How far will you reach or how low are you willing to go to get back on your feet? Would you take just any odd jobs that are offered or would you have higher standards and try to hold out for something more prestigious? Would you be willing to steal? Cheat? Lie? Blackmail? Swindle? Sabotage others for personal gain? What if time was running out and you were really desperate, would you be able to still take the moral high road or would you sink to the underworld? These and more are the kind of tough decisions that you will need to make every day both in real life and in the game.

How about things where you yourself are not directly impacted? Interactions with friends can often lead to you influencing them both in real life and in the game. When you help a friend out, do you do your best to help them so things will be perfect for them or just do whatever as fast and effortlessly as you can? Perhaps a friend with an addiction is at risk of a relapse, would you do anything help prevent it, encourage it or just shrug it off thinking it’s going to happen anyway so why bother? Maybe you found an item someone lost and may be desperately looking for, would you give it back to them, keep it for yourself or sell it for profit? When you think about it, the decisions you make every day sometimes without even realizing, may be overwhelming. Often there just isn’t enough time in the day to do all that you have thought of or planned.

Just like in real life, not every decision in the game has an obvious outcome either, so you can’t just pick what you think is “the right decision” and run with it. Helping someone out might lead to someone else ending up dead simply because you were not there to save them. Your life impacts others even if you try to avoid it. Your inaction can be just as good or bad as your action.

You even have to worry about where you will sleep and what you will eat and drink. You are not forced to sleep in the same place every night. You choose what kinds of foods you eat and drink too. Do you want to be a junk food junkie? Do you want to try to eat healthier? Maybe you would prefer to catch fish for your meal rather than buying food at all. If you want to visit the washroom, do you go to the one associated with your gender or risk the other one?

Almost no decision, no matter how large or small, is left out of the game. How you spend each day of your life is defined by you and you alone. There are a few time-based events available for you to take part in but only if you choose to do so. If there are multiple things for you to do, you can’t do them all. It is just like in real life when there is a deadline. Time marches on and you may miss the opportunity to do the other things (until your next play through of course). Your decisions really do end up mattering.

When you put it all together, Always Sometimes Monsters is one of the most complex and thought provoking games I have played in quite some time. It really makes you think about your actions in life and reflect on how things could have been different if you had simply made a different decision. Once I make it to the end of the game, I will certainly be replaying it just to see what my life would be like if I did a few things differently. It will be very interesting to be a different kind of person and see where life and my decisions take me. I am sure I will have been many different people with many diverse personalities before I am done with this game.