Having played 4 hours of Always Sometimes Monsters with zero enjoyment, it’s clear that the intended demographic is for people who like The Sims and who would like Bret Easton Ellis if they bothered to read books.
The game is unimaginative, repetitive, and crass, and when you combine all those things, you’re punished with a game that insults your intelligence and wastes your time.
Always Sometimes Monsters is not worth your money.
What is Always Sometimes Monsters?
Have you ever wanted to play The Sims as a deadbeat? Not like the no-food-in-the-fridge-but-still-living-in-a-white-picket-fence-house Sims, but like a gritty underbelly Sims of wannabes living in Hollywood; wannabes so hipster they can’t be bothered with careers, but are so versatile (and desperate) that no matter what blue-collar errands you need taken care of, they’ll do it.
Always Sometimes Monsters is a top-down game (think Pokemon) where you need to do odd jobs for grungy friends to make rent, sleep, and eat (otherwise you die of starvation). Sound fun yet? You roam around they city at an obnoxiously slow pace and read through walls of text (read “dialogue”) before you’re actually given a choice. Of course, if you possess a fourth grade reading level, then you’re going to be clicking through the dialogue so fast that, by the time a “choice” comes up, you’ll click through without seeing what the option was. Great design, guys.
Like most games that fail to do anything new or noteworthy, they implement a “choice” system, i.e. you can “always” or “sometimes” be a monster. And, like most games that implement a “choice” system, Vagabond Dog claims “every choice matters” — don’t hold your breath.
This idea of choice should create freedom — it should feel like Grand Theft Auto instead of The Sims — but it’s bogged down with rules and restrictions. Take the second “choice” in the game, where you play as Larry, a publisher looking for the “next big thing.” He throws a party for degenerates where his wife tells him he can only have one drink. Well, my friends, that sounded like a yellow flag to me. I thought, I’ll have 50 and see where that gets me… but you can’t. Your one drink is their way of saying, “You need to pick one of these personality-less protagonists.”
Your next choice comes in the form of surrendering your keys to your landlord (since you can’t make rent). You can either hand them over or run away, but regardless of which one you choose, you’re not allowed back home (since he changes the locks if you run).
This isn’t a “choice” system, it’s a bureaucracy. A different dialogue tree doesn’t make it a different game — and especially when your protagonist is the same character with a different skin every time. Any difference is marginal since it doesn’t affect gameplay or the linear story, only supporting characters and passive events: sleep in your apartment or sleep on the streets. Characters may die, but someone will take their place. Saying it’s “always different” is like saying, “Instead of watching red paint dry, you can watch orange paint.”
As a result, Always Sometimes Monsters suffers the same problem as all other choice-based games where, unless you’re a saint or Satan incarnate, you’ll walk a fine line of monotony. It’s a dreary drudge through dullsville and nowhere is this better represented than in the ‘choice’ to masturbate or not masturbate in the shower. What impact does it have? Moreover, why stop there? Why not have the choice to use your left or right hand, Vagabond Dog? At the very least, let my character spend all day masturbating so that the “novel” s/he is writing can be the next 50 Shades of Grey?
As I said, the story is uninspired, using every known cliche in the book (and pretty much the plot of Young Adult). You were destined for success, but then you lost your friend, your lover, and your book deal. You are at rock bottom when you get a letter in the mail saying your ex-lover is getting married and now you have 30 days to either get your shit together and stop the wedding or justify why the two of you broke up to begin with.
Always Sometimes Monsters won an award for best writing, which leads me to believe there were simply no other candidates for indie games in Canada. The dialogue is uninspired, crude, and not even befitting proper game design. Speaking as someone whose dream job is to write dialogue for translated games, the first thing they teach you is to practice writing dialogue on twitter. The 140 character limit is about the right size for how big a dialogue box is in video games… a rule that makes even more sense after playing Always Sometimes Monsters. The dialogue box is large, making conversations tediously long or offensively short. While the presentation is bad, this is nothing when measured against the content itself.
Characters talk as though in a movie trailer, speaking in vague ultimatums and cliches to provide only the most vapid gamers the illusion of depth.
The story started very exciting. Some John Wick lookalike is trying to leave his mercenary lifestyle behind, but his boss threatens him to reconsider. The two bump into a hobo who pulls a gun on them and the hobo says, “Take out your gun too, and you can shoot me now or hear my story.” I opted to shoot him and he died. Credits roll.
That disappointing anecdote set the tone for the rest of the game. I restarted and ‘listened to the story’ which is the far less interesting story I’ve been detailing above. At first, I thought, ‘Oh! This is going to tell the story of how someone gets into the mercenary business. I’ve hit rock bottom and I’ll become a full-blown killer to make ends meet…’ but that doesn’t happened. After 4 hours, I turned to the internet to make sure this was going somewhere, but it doesn’t.
To make a game like this successful, you can’t have layabout protagonists. You need every character to be unique so that each story is different. To do that, you need a lot more manpower (a team), not two guys in a coffee shop. I can respect the effort they put into Always Sometimes Monsters, but it is worthless. It’s hardly a game, and it’s certainly not art — it’s an empty world without new ideas.
As I’ve said before (about Boyhood), art needs to reflect society — which is usually shit — and breathe life into it. These indie developers seem to think that ‘being meta’ is all it takes, but it’s not. We play for escapism, but it’s a round-trip, so it’s the artist’s job to provide a ‘souvenir’ to take with us when it’s over — hence, why you can starve to death in The Sims, but it’s still more idyllic than starving in real life.
PS. It feels like they worked harder on the pornographic sprites and selfies than they did on anything else.
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