Always Sometimes Monsters is one of a few indie games I received thanks to N4G's indie month giveaways. Special thanks to Cat and the rest of N4G for the game code I received!
Always Sometimes is a simple but interactive visual novel of sorts for the PC. It tells a pretty grim story where the player impacts the plot with their decisions. Your character is a writer who is given the chance of a lifetime to write a book that will give you a publishing deal and thousands of dollars. Only time goes on and you have completely screwed it up by not getting done. On top of this, your ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend has long since broken up with you for one reason or another and has seemingly sent you an invite to their wedding with someone else. The rest of the game is you trying to make it to the wedding while moving the plot forward.
The story is well told with bouts of silliness mixed in with the general gameplay and drama. Multiple moral choices without any "right" or "wrong" outcomes present themselves randomly. Each choice has a 'cause and effect' feel as they impact the world just a little. These choices also have their ups and downs. Some of the choices are more black and white than others, such as whether to return a lost dog to its owner or give them to a shady business dealer. The writing was good enough that I cared to play all the way through to the end, but there are points where you can get stuck just working tedious jobs and this can halt the story for a little while.
You move your character with the arrow keys and use the space bar as your action button. You can talk to people, buy food to refill stamina, buy and sell things at the pawn shop, go fishing for for additional food. Each day you have job opportunities that can make you a little money but every once in a while you will get better paying jobs for short periods of time. These jobs can become tedious to the point of being mind numbing and they also automatically make time pass by, which is essential to the schedule in the game. You need to really plan things out and consider what you need to do and how. The gameplay overall is good for what it is trying to do.
The visuals are cute in the main engine. You play from a top down 2D perspective and the world seems pretty flat, but it is all drawn well enough that you know everything is meant to be and where you are. The characters look alright as well and are presented in a chibi anime style. During dialogue characters are given static illustrations in a more mature looking anime style, though these appear to be hand drawn and clash with the rest of the pixelated world.
The music is pretty good, but a little too loud. I had to turn down my volume because the music was mixed a lot more loudly than the sound effects. Speaking of which, the sound effects are not terrible and work well enough for the world. Many of them are stock noises, but there is enough to make the world feel believable to the ear.
---WARNING!! My largest complaint is a massive spoiler for much of the game, particularly its ending. So I am giving you this SPOILER WARNING. I would highly recommend playing the game before you read on.---
The end of the game felt very cheap. Much of the game talks a lot about and alludes to decisions and the making of decisions and I suppose a big part of the game's grim storytelling is that your choices won't matter in the end. But basically no matter what you say or do, you cannot get a happy ending. In fact, my ending was ridiculously somber to the point where my character lost everything and my story's supposed villain won it all despite his being a gambling jerk and me trying to do the right thing. I wound up looking up the ending and discovered that no matter what you do, your character cannot end up with the ex or be financially successful or most importantly happy. All paths lead to your character becoming a homeless nobody going around begging to die. I felt very sad at this, and maybe that was the aim, but being told to make choices and actually having very little impact on the ending made feel like I was cheated out of an ending that truly lived up to the game's moral choice ideas.
---SPOILERS END HERE---
Overall Always Sometimes Monsters is a decent drama story, and it is worth experiencing at least once. But I feel that some of its flaws and its jarring ending have left me feeling like I am glad for the experience but don't want to experience it again. Please check out the game when you can, as not everyone will react to the ending as I did and either way the rest of the game is a well told story presented through a decently designed game.