We're taking Rezzed online over the next few days, presenting sessions and bringing you highlights of what's new and interesting in the world of independent games. You can find more details on exactly what's going on over here, and we'll be bringing you more write-ups over the coming days.
More and more it feels like games are oscillating between two different extremes, with twee comforts on one end and challenging, gritty-or-else pretense at the other. Or maybe I've just been playing too much Animal Crossing and Doom.
Still, at the very least it feels refreshing to play a game like The Almost Gone, a cutesy, pastel-pink diorama with a venom-green sting in the tail. Your mind will jump straight to Gone Home, when you first play it, which would be understandable but not entirely a justice. The Almost Gone is more subtle than that, more refined and more restrained.
You wake up, disembodied, in a strange facsimile of your bedroom, and the task is more or less to just escape, tying together threads of a family mystery - and presumed tragedy - as you go. You'll prod and poke at your surroundings, spinning the little rooms like dollhouses in your hands, opening drawers and doors and secret hiding places as you go.
But there's an oozing subtext - sometimes an oozing text - that lingers throughout. The rummaging, at times, feels like an invasion, a surgical exploration of a family home's corpse as you trespass on memories that ought to be kept locked away. There's a sort of "schematic" theme running through - the family's father, who you seem to remember fondly, was an architect and his sketches and diagrams, including those of the house you're trying to escape early on, are dotted around the place - and the way you spin rooms and places around after entering often leaves you feeling a little lost, even in the simplest space. At one point, stuck for a bit on a half-answered puzzle, I wondered if I'd need to start mapping the place out with plans of my own.
And there are puzzles, of course. They're largely handled through items you'll pick up after a particularly detailed snoop of a room, that can then be used as clues for another, which means they're simple but still nicely teasing, just the right side of obtuse. But the magic here is all in the atmosphere and the unsaid. Locked doors are always threatening but at one point I found myself terrified of a fridge. The truly refreshing thing about it is the game's resistance to hamming it up. There are no voice overs or diaries. No audiotapes. Just a story told through space and tone and pulled forwards by your own curiosity. A lesson in the spooky brilliance of sparseness.