The Almost Gone

Platform(s): Android, Nintendo Switch, PC, iOS
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Playdigious
Developer: Happy Volcano
Release Date: June 25, 2020


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Switch Review - 'The Almost Gone'

by Cody Medellin on Oct. 23, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

In this contemporary tale, play as a young girl trapped between life and death and explore your surroundings to unravel the dark and poignant truth about her death.

The adventure game genre is the perfect vehicle for those who want to use video games as their preferred medium to tell stories. Whether it's a text adventure, a point-and-click endeavor, or a walking simulator, the nature of adventure titles has you trying to solve puzzles and other conundrums without much of the conflict seen in other genres. In recent years, these games have made more attempts to tell more complicated stories with compelling gameplay, and that's what The Almost Gone does mostly right.

The Almost Gone starts off with you in a bedroom, waking up with no idea why you're there. As you wander from room to room, you discover more about your parents, who used to live here, and some of their secrets. You also note that there is a darkness in some places, and while you're trying your best to avoid that, you also discover why things happened and how you can get out of this mess.

On the one hand, the game isn't afraid of topics that you normally don't encounter in many games. Alcoholism and drug abuse are prevalent early on, and other topics — abuse, depression and guilt — appear later. The Almost Gone does a good job of not sensationalizing these things, so the subjects are tragic discoveries rather than played out for shock value. In that sense, the approach is more mature than what's been seen in other forms of media.

On the other hand, the title makes the mistake of mentioning these topics but not following up on them. A few of these revelations have answers about why they occurred, but a number of them are left to the player's imagination. Interestingly, that vagueness is most prevalent when talking about your faceless female protagonist. Her state is never mentioned, and while you get an idea about it by the time the game ends, it is never revealed how she got there in the first place. Of all things, reading the game description gives you more insight into the world than the game does, and with more questions than answers, the player slowly loses empathy for the tale because too much is left up to the player to decipher.

Although the game is a point-and-click adventure game, it doesn't have the expected viewpoint. Whether it was because it wanted to be different or because it was designed as a mobile title first, The Almost Gone eschews screen-filling landscapes in favor of small dioramas presented from an isometric camera that places the player's focus squarely on the center of the screen. Further, only segments of each room are occupying the space at a time, even though you might be in a larger than expected environment for each chapters. While the isometric spaces are small, you can rotate them so you have more places to hide important clues and items, depending on your perspective.

While the perspective may be different and the ability to rotate the environment is unique, the game still follows the tried-and-true mechanic of solving puzzles to get further into the game. Many of the puzzles involve finding objects in the world and placing them in the correct spot to open something new. Others involve hitting switches or getting the right code combination to unlock a new item or story bit. Most of this isn't new stuff, but there is one cool mechanic that has the game present a zoomed-in view of a specific area at the corners of the screen in case you need to click on something there.

Many of the puzzles are ingenious, but nothing here can be considered difficult. Even though some of the puzzles involve pieces that seem strange, like figures as keys for mailboxes, the solutions aren't so far-fetched as to not make sense, provided you're paying attention and are observant. Selecting items doesn't require pixel-perfect accuracy, so you aren't needlessly clicking around to find that hotspot, and any of the zoomed-in areas you see in a screen will have a pulsating white border to signify that something important is there. In a way, it feels like the game wants you to put in some work to get the next story beat — but not so much that you'll potentially get stuck.

The gameplay length is rather short, even by today's standards. The average time you'll spend with The Almost Gone is roughly three hours, and that gets a bit shorter if you use brute force to push through some of the puzzles. There's only one ending to the game, and there are no hidden side-quests to help you get more out of the story, so this is a one-and-done title. Time doesn't feel artificially inflated, so the developer deserves some much-deserved praise for making the gameplay experience as tight as possible.

Graphically, the game goes for something simple but eye-catching. There might be an abundance of white space on the screen, but it helps to place each room into focus, so the experience is free of distractions. The simple lines and flat colors look wonderful, and the lack of flourish in most parts makes every element stand out, which is important when looking for a puzzle clue or trigger point. It works, especially since you wouldn't immediately relate the style to something so serious.

With no voices to carry the story, it falls on the music to do the heavy lifting for the audio. Composed by Yves De Mey, every track in The Almost Gone does a perfect job of conveying dread without resorting to jump-scares. It's eerie stuff but not overbearing, and it keeps up the sense that something is amiss, even when all of the puzzles are solved. The only complaint is that it plays almost constantly, to the point where the effect would be more powerful if some scenes had no music at all. This is especially true in the beginning, when starting the journey with silence would've been more powerful than inundating the player with dramatic horror music.

Your enjoyment of The Almost Gone is going to depend on what you're focusing on the most. If it's the story, you'll come away slightly disappointed. The game may not be afraid to tackle some subjects that some would consider to be sensitive, but the general ambiguity of plot elements doesn't create much empathy for the protagonist. If you're in for the gameplay, you'll be rewarded with some clever puzzles that lean toward being easy at times but never contain obtuse solutions. Its short playtime ensures that this is a game worth checking out when it is all said and done, but don't expect it to be the next profound indie experience.

Score: 7.0/10

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