You’re never truly alone, right?
Do you ever think about how much we take social media for granted? It’s okay to say no; I generally don’t either. If you think about it though, we really do. Thanks to the many available social networking sites at our disposal we can more easily stay in touch with those we know, meet those we don’t, and are introduced on a near-daily basis to information and opportunities that we would normally never know about. Because of these opporunities, I would dub social media as a “good” thing if I had to lump everything together, but we all know that not everything that happens on social media sites is good. Along with the good there’s bad, and plenty of weird stuff in between – and that’s exactly what Alone Together is about.
Alone Together‘s story could best be summed up by calling it something along the lines of “Facebook: The Anime – The Game”. Things start out normally enough with the player logging onto a fictional social network known as “Bocci World” for the very first time, but even that itself is odddd when you realize what Bocci World is. While seemingly based on Facebook, Bocci World works differently from its counterpart. Now usually – and I’m generalizing here – when you sign up for a mainstream social network you’re looking to connect with those whom you have already met; that’s not how things work in this game. People join Bocci World however because, for various reasons, they really don’t have any real-life people to turn to. The aim of Bocci World is to connect people who keep to themselves so that they can be alone… but together at the same time (now the title makes sense!).
Alone Together is one part social media simulator (a term that I don’t believe that I have ever used before) and one part puzzle game. The social media aspect is incredibly straightforward. Do you ever use the Facebook app on your smartphone? If your answer is “yes”, then you know how to navigate Alone Together‘s Bocci World. If your answer is “no”, then your life is probably filled with a lot less stress than that of most people – I promise that you could still figure out how to work this game, though.
The gameplay, of course, isn’t focused on how to navigate through Bocci World; that would be silly. Rather, it’s based on the people you meet within Bocci World! Much like with our real-life social media sites, Bocci World is filled with all sorts of different people (although they do all share the whole “being alone” thing). Initially, players will get to know their new Bocci buddies through news feed posts. Other users will post various activities that they are involved in (albeit rarely with anyone else), questions, comments, and plenty of puzzles (which we’ll be getting to later). After getting to know other Bocci World users through their public posts, they’ll eventually end up contacting you through the in-game direct messaging feature – this is where things start to get interesting.
Alone Together‘s cast may be comprised entirely of loners, but as you spend more time talking to them you’ll soon realize that a solitary life doesn’t necessarily mean a boring one. The more chances you get to talk with your new online friends, the more you’ll end up uncovering about them (which is kind of obvious, I guess) . Messaging isn’t just sitting there and listening to internet strangers ramble on about how a different person in a dinosaur costume is impersonating them; players will have plenty of chances to throw in their two cents during conversations. Player responses during conversations must be chosen from one of three – which I found to be rather unfortunate – but they were usually varied enough that it ended up mattering less than I had originally anticipated.
Amusing as each of the character’s stories were, I found myself becoming attached less to the story and more to the actual characters as the game progressed. With as limited as some of the player interactions can be I figured that decent player immersion would be a pretty herculean task for Alone Together, and hey maybe it was, but Vanguard Universal somehow managed to pull it off. In the beginning, I responded to all of my fellow Bocci World users the same. I would give my honest opinion about whatever was going on but didn’t give a whole lot of thought to the person that I was talking to. After playing for a bit longer it became pretty clear however that there was actually some depth to each character. People reacted to different things in different ways, and it was believable. Characters also seemed to have some semblance of a personal schedule. While most conversations flowed smoothly I found that characters would sometimes not respond right away due to the fact that they were merely doing other things. It was a small addition, but certainly not one that went unnoticed
Okay, so I said there were puzzles in Alone Together too, right? Let’s talk about those. For some reason everyone using Bocci World is absolutely crazy about making puzzles, so you had better be ready to solve them. Before I continue, let me set something straight here. I like puzzles, and while I’m by no means an expert, I would say that my puzzle-solving skills are pretty decent. With that being said, I found myself having quite a bit of difficulty with several of the game’s puzzles – and not for reasons that you might expect. Keeping true to the social media theme, each puzzle is essentially solved by looking at a picture of something and figuring out what the meaning behind it is. Not being able to touch or move things around when solving a puzzle got a little frustrating sometimes – in a few instances I literally had to get a pen and paper in order to write things down – but I let that slide because it honestly made things seem more authentic. After all, if someone posted some sort of puzzle on Facebook or Twitter your computer or phone wouldn’t magically turn into some puzzle-solving hub complete with catchy background music and the words “PUZZLE START!!” flying across the screen” so it just adds to the realism of the game. What did end up frustrating me was some of the game’s translation decisions.
Most of Alone Together‘s translation is just fine, and anything that is noticeable isn’t a big deal at all – most spelling and grammatical errors are actually character quirks – but the way in which the English Alphabet is used in this game didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me sometimes when it came to the puzzles. I’ll be honest; there were a few times where I ended up asking the game for so many hints that the answer was essentially given to me. Usually, whenever something like that happens I end up getting frustrated with myself because I had ended up misreading something or skipping some sort of key item or piece of information, but that never seemed to be the case with Alone Together. The few times that I ended up having my hand held through a puzzle still left me asking how I was supposed to get an answer like that in the first place. Even the puzzles that were good – which there were plenty of – seemed to be overshadowed by the social aspect of the game; I may have enjoyed the puzzle that I was working on but only ever saw them as a means to get more conversations out of people as opposed to gameplay equal to other parts of the game.
This is where I usually talk about the audio and visual aspects of a game, but there’s so little to say that I almost left it out this time. Still, if you’d really like to know, the entire game looks like a Facebook app and there is absolutely no audio whatsoever. Objectively that sounds like something to complain about, but it really isn’t – that’s what social media sites look and (don’t) sound like, and Alone Together mimicked that perfectly.
Puzzles aside, this game felt more like a social experiment than an actual game – but considering how unique its concept was I don’t think that that’s a bad thing at all. While my experience with it wasn’t perfect, I enjoyed my time with it. Alone Together needs some more work before it fully gets to where it’s going, but it’s definitely headed in the right direction.
FINAL VERDICT: 3/5
Available on: iOS (reviewed), Android; Publisher: PQube; Developer: Vanguard Universal; Players: 1; Released: October 21, 2016 ; MSRP: Free