Never Alone: Well, unless you opt for single-player - Games Weekly

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Never Alone: Well, unless you opt for single-player

Oral storytelling is an interactive, social and incredibly intimate tradition that began long before the invention of writing. Writing developed to put across formal, solid ideas; to make permanent the words of the author. The oral tradition, on the other hand, is constantly flowing and dynamic the narratives take on the personality of the narrator, and welcome change.

So it’s interesting to see this, a staple of Iñupiaq culture, at the heart of Never Alone. Games are an anomaly, somewhere between written and oral tales: while fundamentally carved from rigid code they are different for each of us, mean different things and can change to suit you. Never Alone is a thoughtful experiment, choosing to tell an ancient story through a modern medium. The problem is that the game itself is just not all that good.

Described as an ‘atmospheric puzzle platformer’, it gets the first bit spot on set in Alaska, told patiently by an Iñupiaq narrator as ice dust blows across snow. It looks cold enough to give you goosebumps, and main characters Nuna and her arctic fox brace against the biting winds as they trudge across the plains. As for the puzzle-platformer setting, it was chosen both for accessibility and to reinforce the value of co-operation.

But it’s fiddly, slow and tricky, relying on character-switching that doesn’t always work and tedious chase scenes. Unpredictable elements such as suicidal AI keep sending you back to the checkpoints, and it’s often frustratingly unclear what needs to be done. It’s a shame that the bread and butter of this game is so maddeningly awkward, because everything on top of it, from its looks to its exploration of the culture of the Iñupiat people, make this a game worth giving a chance if you can brace yourself for a bumpy ride.

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