Much has been speculated about what happens when we die. Some believe in an afterlife of bliss and happiness, spent with all of those who left this world before us. Others think there is no hereafter at all. The Almost Gone portrays the afterlife as a place where your living years can be examined in a simplified setting, even if the memories you look back on are quite complex.
An unnamed individual awakens in a familiar yet strange environment. They recognize their surroundings as the house they grew up in, but things don’t seem the same as they remember. Windows don’t open, objects aren’t where they should be, and doors are locked that used to never be locked. It quickly becomes apparent that this is not the reality they are used to, but it’s also too realistic to be a dream. Exploring this peculiar landscape soon yields uncomfortable revelations and sobering truths about their past.
The plot of The Almost Gone unfolds as you play. Every new location, puzzle, and room you explore indirectly yields more tidbits about the main character’s past. These pieces of information largely involve the people that were in their life, rather than the protagonist themself. For example, you may uncover details regarding the problems the main character’s parents had in their marriage while examining their room. Topics such as mental health, child neglect, and failure are examined, as well as the effects they can have on subsequent generations. The inclusion of these subjects gives the plot a realistic gravity missing from many other games. This willingness to delve into serious topics is an appreciated quality.
What players may not appreciate is just how indirect storytelling can be. Unlike many games, The Almost Gone chooses to let the player be the one to piece the story together instead of presenting a complete narrative. Small glimpses into the main character’s life are given incidentally throughout the game while solving puzzles or clicking on things, but only by combining these details will players get the bigger picture. This may be appealing or annoying, depending on individual tastes. The game does a great job of being sufficiently informative, therefore it’s likely a majority of people who play the game won’t have an issue with this method of storytelling, even if the sudden ending may leave players wondering why things couldn’t be explained a bit more explicitly.
The game is divided into several acts, which feature unique settings to explore. Every act is comprised of several rotatable rooms. These can be switched through via directional arrows to find clues and items to solve puzzles you may come across. Navigation is done with a cursor, which is used to examine points of interest in each room. The gameplay is similar to point-and-click and room escape games.
Points of Interest
Certain things that you interact with in the environment will be highlighted in circles that surround the room they are in, showing a close-up view. These are important things that either give a clue for a nearby puzzle or need to be interacted with in some way to obtain an item needed elsewhere. They may also simply be an object that helps to develop the story or atmosphere of the location. This is a great feature, as it serves to bring focus to relevant things while also filling the negative space around the edge of each screen.
One glaring omission in The Almost Gone is any form of map. Due to the nature of splitting each region into several individual rooms, it can be difficult to get your bearings. This is aggravated by the fact that puzzles often require you to get items or click on things many screens away from where they will be used. The result is a lot of time spent desperately clicking arrows trying to find the right room, something that can detract from the overall experience.
The puzzles you will find in The Almost Gone often cannot be solved entirely in just one room. Players must traverse all around the rooms in each act to find the clues and items necessary to progress. In addition, things in the environment often require interaction across multiple screens in order to solve puzzles. This forces players to really explore the whole act, which is a great design choice, though difficulties in navigation without a map could diminish enjoyment somewhat.
The difficulty of the puzzles is quite manageable. It’s mostly a matter of finding the clues necessary to solve each puzzle, so any particular difficulty with puzzles will likely be in finding those clues. For example, padlocks or number puzzles are not easily bypassed without the exact solution, unless brute-forcing solutions is something you have the time and patience for. There are no trick solutions or leaps in logic necessary for any puzzle, so players are encouraged to explore every room with the cursor for points of interest that can help to solve any pesky puzzles they may encounter.
The items you find can be examined further once collected, which often yields information that both gives insight into the story and helps to understand what the item is used for. They can even be rotated to get a full look at the item, as well as revealing hidden clues that are crucial in solving puzzles that may not even use that particular item. This detail makes the puzzles more complex to solve and forces an element of creativity in finding solutions. This detail in a puzzle game is a novel breath of fresh air. Too often it’s a simple “get key, open door” scenario with games in this genre, but The Almost Gone utilizes its items to the fullest.
The musical tracks heard in The Almost Gone are perhaps the most minimalist feature in an already stylistically minimalist game. Ambient noise and creepy tones dominate the game’s soundtrack. Each area has different sounds and noise that plays, loosely matching the location. This style of sound serves to create an atmosphere of unease, which is a fitting feeling while traversing a world between life and death.
It also means it’s not particularly fun to listen to, which is interesting considering the line “Best with headphones” shows whenever the game is booted-up. One can assume the developers very much want the player to be uneasy, and feel that is an important detail while playing the game. In that respect, the musical style pairs quite well with the gameplay.
The world of The Almost Gone is deceptively simple-looking at first glance. The 3D-rendered environments have clean lines and are very geometric, while the color palette seems to become more limited as the game goes on. However, this clean style fits the game quite well. The theme of architecture comes up a number of times throughout the game, and the buildings and objects seen share the same aspects of exact form and lines you might find in a blueprint. This is a nice detail that also allows the notable objects in each scene to be easily discerned, which is important when much of the game’s story is discovered by interacting with the environment.
The Almost Gone has many of the hallmarks of the modern-day “indie darling”: an eye-catching art style, unconventional score, and hard-hitting subject matter. The uneasy atmosphere and intuitive puzzles help a lot with making gameplay a memorable experience. Many players will like this game and be left wanting more, though it would have been nice if the game had a bit more time to flesh out the story. As it is, the game can be completed within a handful of hours, which doesn’t exactly justify the $15 asking price. Short as it is, this still does not mean it is not an experience worth having. Perhaps just one more act would have been enough to make the ending more satisfying rather than abrupt. Considering the game’s overall theme, that sentiment may be exactly what the developers were going for.
Final Score: 7/10.