Always Sometimes Monsters is a game about choices. Indeed, there’s a yet-to-be-determined conclusion, a pretty run-of-the-mill control scheme, a theme involving heavy doses of uncomfortable romance, sacrifice, life’s more potent mundanity and a true sense of placement. While each new game features the same base narritive, there’s an underlying lack of direction that reflects a reality rarely portrayed in video game form. Behind the pixelated visuals, the catchy tunes and the often hilarious dialogue, there’s a harsh and bleak truth: choices, whether small or large, can change everything.
The story isn’t as complex as its results can be. You, the character, is determined to travel from one side of the country to the other in order to stop the love of your life from getting married. Life, however, is a complicated mess. Nothing is quite as simple as it seems, and it soon proves to be a tree of many branches. As such, Always Sometimes Monsters offers something few similar experiences do: a unique perspective, entirely tailored by you within a predetermined web of possibilities, all leading toward an outcome of your weaving. Everything you do has a consequence, and you’re at the wheel of the adventure.
Always Sometimes Monsters doesn’t want to direct your story, however; it wants to test your ethics and principles. It doesn’t want to corner you, forcing you to choose a black or white path, but rather help you paint a portrait of your many decisions. “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” That statement, announced to me moments before I began my demo, has never resonated with me as much as it did at that point in time. I didn’t quite know what I was getting into, but I was eager to find out.
Here’s a simplified breakdown of my very first playthrough:
I’m a homosexual Hispanic male named Keenan. My buddy asks me to spy on his love interest. I comply, if only because his pleas are hilarious.
I find the love interest, but decide to instead satisfy my own need for companionship with the handsome gentleman. As it is, he considers my “buddy” a creepy stalker.
I wake up from a dream state of sorts, and quickly realize that everything thus far was my imagination playing “what if.”
I discover that the handsome man I adored back in college is getting married. I must have him, evidently. That, as with most relationships, costs money.
According to the dialogue exchanges, I’m a failed author. I tell my friend to “f*** off” after his many attempts to help me.
I perform poorly at the alternate job he provides, which essentially involves loading boxes onto a truck. I decide to take off, since I’ve been paid in advance.
I witness a robbery or sabotage of some sort on my way out of the warehouse. Rather than talk my way out of the mess, I help them by sh***ing on some mans car from the rooftop of a building.
I accidentally kill that man after tinkering with a satellite dish on that very rooftop. My character seems concerned, but that’s where the demo ends.
I spent 45 minutes wondering what would have happened had I made different choices throughout, and realized that my outcome was one of many.
I can’t stress the level of choice Always Sometimes Monsters throws at you. There are a lot of choices; heaps of them. More choices than you’ll know what to do with, and most will be in the form of a dialogue option. Some, as expected, are as simple as answering a question. Others, however, will force you to abandon one thing for another, or even toss some lives into your hands. The full game, which co-creator Justin Amirkhani states can go “anywhere from three minutes to infinity depending on your decisions,” will also allow players to choose a name, gender and race for their character — another layer that will play into the experience greatly.
“The more selfish you are, the shorter the game… the more self-sacrificing and kind hearted you are, the longer it is,” added Amirkhani. “But we find that most people find about 12 hours to be the middleground.”
I wasn’t quite satisfied after finishing the demo, and it wasn’t just because I killed an innocent man. I felt the urge to ask what the game was about, because while there was a brief introduction, plenty of dialogue and enough story to set the record as straight as a ruler, I was determined to find some method to its madness. You see, I felt responsible for my experience. It was mostly scripted, sure, but my choices led me down a path I wouldn’t have taken in real life. I questioned myself throughout, and more so once the credits rolled. Thankfully, Amirkhani came to the rescue with a fat dose of knowledge: “Sh** ain’t easy, bro.”
“There’s no unsatisfying pay off with an A, B or C choice,” Amirkhani responded to my concerns. “It’s a story about romance, feels and the modern day grind… that kind of stuff, so we wanted to make sure it was as interesting as possible.” I didn’t doubt those words for a second. It’s clear that Always Sometimes Monsters is far from a traditional game, and it’s appeal largely depends on your ability to immerse yourself into a world where your choices matter. For $10, though, there’s no reason you shouldn’t jump head first into the cross-country journey of a lifetime. Always Sometimes Monsters is something that simply must be experienced.