Set in the transitional space between life and death, truth and lies, love and hate, The Almost Gone takes you on a journey of discovery, distrust and acceptance.
Imagine waking up in your own home with a feeling of dread. Imagine getting up, walking around your house and finding nothing but locked doors on what feels like a film set. Your world is nothing but fake; props creating a façade of your life. This is the haunting opening to The Almost Gone.
As your explore your house, your neighbourhood and your childhood, you find a haunting, minimalist world that seems more and more detached from reality the deeper you explore. The clean lines of the imagery juxtapose the dark contents of the world you have to navigate. The Almost Gone isn’t afraid to explore subjects such as alcoholism, divorce, institutionalisation and shattered dreams, but while such subject matter can be difficult for some, I didn’t have issue with the way they were discussed here.
The story is broken up into five chapters, each with its own distinctive set – your house, the suburb you grew up in, your grandparents’ house, a psychiatric hospital, a forest. To progress, you explore dioramas, spinning them around and using simple point-and-click gameplay to puzzle and piece together what has happened to you, and by extension, your family.
I would have loved the ability to zoom into the isometric view of each area, to allow for better exploration; the world only occupies about a third of the screen, meaning some details that you need to find can be impossibly small and difficult to spot, resulting in pixel hunting and clicking ferociously in the hope of finding the missing link.
As you explore the world, you need to piece together the clues you find, whether it’s matching constellations to a globe in your room, matching symbols found in notes to a physical in-game puzzle, or finding hidden numbers and patterns to unlock the next area. I resorted to jotting down notes on a scrap of paper to keep track of everything, but for the more mathematically inclined, I’m sure you won’t need to do this. What intrigued me the most about the puzzles was that there were no red herrings. Everything you find has a purpose. Everything is useful.
The areas you explore are broken down into rooms that usually form a square, whether it’s four adjoining rooms, or nine with one at the centre. I say usually, as certain rooms have areas protruding from the typical layout, such as in Act Four, where an MRI scanner that takes you through to an adjacent section or a broken window takes you to the wards of the hospital. What would’ve been useful is a mini-map of sorts, showcasing the general layout, as some areas became increasingly complicated and the game depends a lot on your memory of the exact layout of the world.
The game also explores the past through the introduction of a time travel mechanic. Delving into your father’s childhood, this was the darkest part of the game for me, especially as you uncover disturbing imagery and find out about the suffering your grandfather endured in his later years, as his work resulted in the deaths of others.
The narrative voice is that of a teenage girl, resulting in several blunt and apathetic comments that brought a smile to my face, despite the subject matter. The one that caught me the most was, “Grandpa might have been an awful man, but he did read.” Her sarcastic nature contrasts with the atmosphere, breathing lightness into what could have been a very dark and unforgiving story. All of this tragedy is accompanied by a fantastic score. Composer and Sound Designer Yves De May creates a captivating and ethereal sound to accompany the storyline. It’s barely there, but swells and dips alongside the story, creating an eerie, almost unnerving atmosphere.
Speaking of the story, be aware that it is full of gaps. It reflects reality in that way, as you almost never truly know the full context as you go through life, and so the game leaves you to make associations and fill in the gaps. This allows for many interpretations of the events, and the links between characters and the world. Despite this, I found the ending a bit too open, somewhat anticlimactic and abrupt. Again, that ties into the nature of life and death, it was somewhat a disappointing ending to an otherwise beautiful narrative.