Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Never Alone (PS4)

Video games in general are usually crafted wholly from the developer's imagination with sometimes subtle hints of various mythologies, or man-made fictions included. Most games, again in general, are derived from fictitious stories about unreal places, and persons or beings who have no standing in our reality whatsoever. The hero's, heroine's, and even anti-hero's feats are merely put into place for entertainment purposes. Nothing is really relative in that sense, and only serves to impress it's audience on an escapist's level. As I've said many times before gaming is often times an escape from reality for most of us gamers. It helps us escape the bad, or trying times in our lives, and in doing so gives us a much needed break in a fantasy world that is unlike our own. While this sort of entertainment based fiction is, in it's own right a story that mimics life such tales of heroism, and feats of prowess never really serve a point beyond their entertainment values. While this would seem like the norm to a lot of us gamers, and readers it still pales in comparison to the tales of old that are passed down through generation after generation in order to keep a culture's beliefs, and traditions alive.

Not everything in the world is as far fetched as most game developers aim to make it seem. Nothing is possible outside the realm of our reality. With that being said though some stories of the world, as far fetched as they are do serve a purpose beyond the fictional realm that the story encompasses. Such traditional stories, or folklore teach the growing children of various cultures values, and the way of life as their greatest ancestors knew it. I think this is the type of video game based story that Upper One Games, and E-Line Media has created. Their interactive metroidvaina style story which unfolds through character interactions, interesting fact based videos, and the words spoken in the native tongue of the Inupiat people helps the person behind the controller really begin to understand what the Alaskan heritage is all about. The developer really strives to not only tell the tale through hands-on interactive storytelling, but also holds the gamers' attention using an unorthodox mixture of historically accurate videos, and new-generation gameplay. It's a totally immersive experience the likes of which has not been seen in the gaming industry before.

Beyond the glitz, and glamor of the video game structure, and elaborate multi-layered storytelling that is 'Never Alone' you will find in place a short, but worthwhile adventure involving a nameless girl, and an arctic fox that is anything but what it seems. The story begins on a slow, but perilous pace that pits the girl against the forces of nature as she seeks an answer as to why her village is being faced with certain death through repeated blizzards. Along her journey she braves many obstacles, confronts foes of various sorts, and even runs from said enemies when needs be. With the aid of her spirited fox friend she works together to overcome the impossible, and restore order to her troubled tribal family.

As you take on the role of this young female protagonist you will learn a handful of useful control functions that will help you, and your newly found fox friend to get past several puzzle based areas along the way. Movement for the girl, an the fox work in a similar way that will not confuse you as you switch (TRIANGLE) between characters as needed. By using the 'Left Thumbstick', or the 'DPad', on your Dualshock4 controller you will be able to move each character to the right, and left, as well as climb upward, and descend downward in certain areas of the game. Along with the movement also comes the ability to jump. Jumping in this game works the same for both the girl, and the fox, and will require a pressing of (X) in order to perform said jump. Aside from jumping the 'X' button will also serve as a means to swim, and fly faster later on into your adventure. You'll know when these functions come into play as the controls will appear onscreen in tutorial fashion. When it comes to the use of the bolo weapon, which also comes into play later on in your playthrough you must hold back, or down on the 'Right Thumbstick' , and the press forward, or up in order to toss the projectile in the direction of it's intended target. For the most part the bolo is used to clear paths of obstacles, or reveal hidden spirits via a direct hit to a spatial orb. The bolo also serves as a weapon in the sense that it will help you to attack your pursuers.

As you guide, and switch between the two main characters (Girl & Fox) you will have to use the environment, and obstacles around you in order to progress deeper into the game. Along with the standard usage of each character you'll also find that the girl, and fox have certain purposes within the game scenarios that only each can do respectfully. The girl, who later wields a bolo weapon can use the bolo to make ways past frozen, and burning objects. She can also move crates, and other objects into place helping both her, and her furry companion to get past where they currently are. The fox on the other hand has a more spiritual influence in the game, and can reveal hidden spirit like platforms, and move them so that the girl can get to harder to reach places. The fox even has wall jumping capabilities that are entirely unique to his character which will aid in the retrieving of spirit targets, as well as the spirits themselves.

As you can probably guess the gameplay in 'Never Alone' is a "Metroidvania" style experience that uses enclosed structures, and various 2.5D platforming features to hinder your path, and make your objective a puzzling ordeal. The graphic art style definitely follows a 2.5D pattern, meaning that it has 3D elements, but that you will be moving along a predetermined 2D pathway as you proceed through each of the story's intermittent parts. A lot of the elements included stay true to, and are derived from the actual Alaskan Inupiat culture. This becomes obvious as you encounter owl markers along your journey that will give you the option to view 1, of 24 different unlockable documentary style videos that are each relative to the Inupiat culture as well as the story of the game itself. At each owl marker you will be given the opportunity to view the documentary video on the spot, or continue playing as you were. From experience though I can tell you that stopping to enjoy the mini-videos definitely enriches the experience, and makes the game much grander in scale.

The Verdict ...

At the end of it all there is no doubt in my mind that you will feel blessed with the rich cultural learning experience that 'Never Alone' has to offer. While the adventure, and story itself are relatively short in length the added unlockable videos enrich the gameplay, and extend upon it without really seeming like filler material. The graphics are gorgeous, and the characters, as simplistic as they are are lovable. This is definitely the type of game that oozes with charm, and grasps the undivided attention of the gamer with said charm. For those of you wondering if it's like the XBL game 'A Tale of Two Brothers' it is most certainly akin to such a gaming experience, but in a 'Metroidvania' style. You will be managing two characters (A Girl & A Fox), and will be utilizing their unique abilities as you seek out your main objective. Learning what to do, and when you need to do it will not be an issue as the game eases you into gameplay through onscreen control based tutorials. As each new mechanic is required a tutorial pop-up will appear helping you to understand what it is that you must do.

When it comes to my difficulty assessment of 'Never Alone' I think it's more of a casual experience that most 'Metroidvania' enthusiasts will be able to master without much trouble. There are a few instances though that are challenging in the puzzled based sense, and will have you stopping to think of a solution. Death will definitely happen once, or twice as it did with me, but there are checkpoints in place that will keep you from sending your controller flying through your television screen out of a fit of rage. Not that the game is really all that rage inducing.

As far as a recommendation goes this one gets my seal of approval. It's that special innovative gaming experience that I'm always preaching about, and what it does it does exceptionally well. This is one game not to be missed by any true gaming enthusiast. I highly recommend you buy it on release!

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