Pre-release accolades can be both a blessing and a curse, and The Almost Gone is a small game that has grabbed some big attention. Highlighted by plenty of outlets when it demoed at Gamescom, and with a whole host of awards already under its belt, does it live up to the expectations?
I’m happy to say that for me, it certainly does.
The game sees you in the role of a young girl trapped between life and death. Through isometric point and click gameplay and puzzle solving you’ll explore the mystery of her undeath, as well as reveal the traumatic details of both the girl’s life and further back in her family tree. Locations are divided into individual square areas, and you’ll need to carefully go over them all to find every item and clue. Like a simplified version of Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker, you can rotate the room to see behind walls and find objects that were previously hidden from view.
You’ll see from the screenshots that it has a muted colour-scheme and simplistic style, which works really well. Different areas have different palettes, from the pastel shades of a house to the stark black and white of a basement workshop. The sound is similarly simple but effective, suggesting a mood rather than forcing one on the player. This is thanks to the input of sound designer Yves De Mey, who also worked on the Oscar-nominated film Bullhead.
It’s an abstract experience, with a lot of it open to interpretation. Symbolism is present throughout: constellations, schematics, locked doors, model buildings, animal bones, oozing black sludge. On several occasions when you think you've got a handle on the game it will surprise you with something new, which I won’t go into for fear of spoilers. The story is the creation of award-winning Flemish author and comedian Joost Vandecasteele, and the quality of writing - tragic, with a hint of dark humour - shines through.
The puzzle-solving is relatively basic, so if you’re after a really challenging experience then look elsewhere. A couple of solutions are not particularly intuitive, but you’ll get through with the time-tested method of trial and error. It’s also a short game, clocking in at around 60 minutes depending on how long the puzzles take you. The shortness might put some off, but it’s the perfect length to tell this simple tale without the game outstaying its welcome. I recommend playing in one sitting for the full impact. As well as Steam, it’s available on Switch and mobile, making it a perfect game for a long journey.
At its heart The Almost Gone is about trauma, and how it can become a cycle that is difficult to break from, both for the individual and those around them. Depression, self-harm, abuse, grief, and more are explored here. The feelings and situations portrayed may resonate with some, so I would urge caution if you think it may disturb you.