I feel like I constantly state this, but I’m a huge fan of basically everything indie. If there’s a unique premise, emotional and engaging narrative, or simply a pretty aesthetic that evokes nostalgia or something new entirely, I’m often there in a heartbeat. This constant eagerness to discover new and interesting indie titles led me to The Almost Gone, a mysterious narrative-driven puzzle game created by Belgian Indie Developer Happy Volcano. Despite the upbeat name of the team that crafted it, The Almost Gone is anything but, telling a dark and unsettling tale that’s not afraid to tackle serious issues such as mental illness and abuse, while also providing enjoyable puzzles that take place across multiple dioramas.
The diorama level design looks awesome
The Almost Gone puts you in the shoes of a young girl as she revisits memories of her life while teetering on the in-between of life and death. You are tasked with exploring these memories of the past, not only to reveal the dark untold secrets plaguing her family, but to ultimately understand the truths of her death.
The premise of The Almost Gone is particularly engrossing, with the idea of uncovering the facts of the girl’s death a constant driver that saw me eagerly progress through the game. Another factor that made my playthrough of The Almost Gone so engaging was the ever-present foreboding tone. Despite not being a horror game in the traditional sense, The Almost Gone is truly horrific. It’s dark, unnerving, and probes issues such as depression, substance abuse, and childhood trauma to name just a few. Further enhancing the unsettling vibes is the music, which sounds equal parts eerie and insidious, as if something greater is waiting.
This poor girl had a rough upbringing to say the least
While the narrative of The Almost Gone does an admirable job of maintaining player engagement, it unfortunately drops the ball in delivering a suitable pay off, both at certain points of the game and the conclusion. I can’t help but feel like the narrative could have worked a little harder to make things a bit clearer, however I’m sure some will enjoy drawing their own conclusions of what the story is trying to articulate. At the end of the day though, it is a bummer that some of the interesting reveals throughout The Almost Gone just come and go without any further mention or attempt to weave it into the greater narrative.
Each area of The Almost Gone is represented in the form of a diorama, something I’m sure the majority of you made in primary school at some point. In case you aren’t aware, dioramas are basically 3D models that represent a scene that are often created in a miniature cube form factor. Throughout The Almost Gone, you make your way through a multitude of these dioramas solving puzzles within the environment to find the item needed to progress the narrative forward. In terms of gameplay, you rotate the dioramas to reveal areas otherwise unseen, point and clicking on items of interest to either collect them for use in a puzzle or to receive more narrative tidbits. The game at its core is very simple, however most puzzles still provide a decent challenge and often provide that ‘eureka moment’ that makes you feel like a puzzle solving badass when you figure them out.
The story is interesting but doesn’t nail the finale
The Almost Gone plays well the majority of the time, however there were some instances that sullied my overall experience. The first is a trap I feel most puzzle games often fall into which is the fact that puzzles can often feel a little obtuse and hard to understand. While most puzzles aren’t overly rough, some can be a little long winded and can quickly stunt the flow of the game, especially if you get lost.
This brings me to my biggest issue in The Almost Gone, it’s extremely easy to get lost and be forced to aimlessly meander throughout the environment. Because of the diorama design, you are progressing through locales in a segmented fashion. In doing so, it makes it really difficult to remember where you came from and where you’re going jumping between dioramas. Something as simple as a map indicating locations and names of specific rooms would make a huge difference in alleviating this issue, however at the moment it feels like a lot of the gameplay experience involves going around in circles in a desperate attempt to find the room you need to find or specific item to use.
It is easy to lose where you are when moving between dioramas
While The Almost Gone manages to provide fun gameplay and an intriguing narrative, it ultimately fails to capitalise fully on its interesting story premise, with many potentially powerful revelations left a mystery. The game is still a fun experience and I Iove the diorama aesthetic, however I can’t help but feel like this game would be all the more memorable if the narrative were a little stronger.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher