Critical Play: The Almost Gone

The Almost Gone is a 2020 puzzle game developed by Happy Volcano for PC, Switch, and mobile. The player moves through isometric rooms and clicks on items that can help them piece together what happened in the house that the protagonist has found themselves in. This items act as clues in this puzzle—some items fit with other items to get codes, break locks, or find keys. When the player clicks on a clue, they also get some commentary from the protagonist. While these mechanics (the diorama-style rooms and commentary) place emphasis on the narrative type of fun and pull the player into the story, they also hinder the exploration common in games of this style, which hurts immersion and discovery. 

Many games with embedded narratives have a similar puzzle style The Almost Gone—players traverse through a setting (usually a building) to pick up clues that can help them solve a larger puzzle. However, unlike these other games, the player cannot actually move around the home. Instead, they get a diorama of each room and a set of arrows that will take you to the next room when clicked. On one hand, I spent a lot less time moving from room to room, which helped me focus on the overall narrative. However, I found it difficult to keep a sense of tradition because I wasn’t actually moving through doors and up stairs. Even worse, there was no overall map of the home (or at least the parts of the home that I’d discovered), so I had no overall sense of where I was while playing. While I was curious enough about the story to keep going and find out what happened (plot twist: you don’t actually find out what happened), I did not feel nearly as immersed in the game as I usually do with exploration-based puzzle games. Oftentimes, games that involve investigating a new setting invoke the discovery type of fun, but this one did not. When I took a break and came back to the game, I did not care about discovering more of the house or neighborhood—I just wanted to know what had happened to the protagonist and their parents.


You would never be able to tell that these rooms were right next to each other.


If I could change one aspect of the story, it would be this. I know that lacking the typical first-person POV is part of what makes this game stands out. At the very least, though, I would make it so that I cansee how the rooms connect to each other. Maybe instead of arrows, the other rooms could still be visible but at much lower opacity.

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