"Is life always this hard, or just when you're a kid?" asks Mathilda. "Always like this" is Leon's answer. With Always Sometimes Monsters, Vagabond Dog have made a game that reflects the hopelessness in this scene from Leon: The Professional. It's a brutal, unsparing look at a person who is on the ropes, reeling from blows delivered by life and their own mistakes, and desperate for redemption at any cost.
You start at a party, thrown by a literary agent, and attended by a gaggle of bright young up-and-comers. A little bit of schmoozing and hey presto, you are ready for the big time. A contract, money, your name in lights. It's so close you can reach out and touch it, and then... ...And then... You wake up one year later, and it's all gone. It never happened, and what's worse is, you know it's your fault. You fucked it up. Your partner left you, there's no contract, and you are 12 hours away from eviction. What you do next is up to you.
The principle motif of ASM is choice, and not the typical red-trigger blue-trigger choices found in many games. Much like real life, some choices have sweeping consequences that will affect your character and those around them, whereas others are more simple; do you take a few extra hours at your job or go keep an elderly neighbour company for a few hours? These decisions are of the utmost importance as you race against time trying to get your life into some semblance of order before throwing yourself into a last-ditch cross-country mission to see your ex before their impending wedding.
How you scrape together the money, how you deal with the different individuals you meet and how you resolve your own story is your decision, and the results are not always the ones you expect. This choice also gives scope to multiple playthroughs of the same story, virtually guaranteeing that you will have a different experience every time you start the game. Starting character, sexual preference and attitude is entirely in your hands.
There are few games that accurately reflect the struggles of modern life and the experience of heading towards rock bottom, but ASM manages it with aplomb. It seems rude to say more, as in the end each journey will be individual, and full of significance to the player. My advice is to get a copy, and discover your own story.
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