The appeal of narrative games is and always will be irresistible to me, and with How We Know We’re Alive, the visuals added to that special allure that made me want to pick it up the instant I saw it. The short point-and-click-esque game (if it can even be called that) thrusts you into the nostalgia of coming home to a tragedy from your hometown, but while the game looks gorgeous at first glance, does it have enough going for it to leave a lasting impression?
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HOW WE KNOW WE’RE ALIVE VISUALS
As I mentioned, the visuals of the game are simply top-notch – the retro pixel-art style harkens back to the good ol’ days of DOS games and the heyday of Sierra, with a melancholic tone that permeates throughout the whole game. The color palette complements the atmosphere of loneliness that envelops you as you go through the Swedish town of Härunga, and the soundtrack is all kinds of evocative. Everything from the flickering lights to the neverending sheet of rain is meant to instil this sense of heaviness in the chest, and rightly so, given the game’s tragic premise.
You play as Sara, a copywriter for an ad agency in the big bustling city come to pay respects on her estranged best friend’s grave on the anniversary of her death. You’re never quite sure what happened between the two of you, but you’ve both lost touch over the years, mainly because you’ve been too busy with the sights and sounds of city life while your best friend Maria chose to stay in your small town to raise a family. The smallness of the town has always felt suffocating to you, and now that you’re back, you find that nothing has changed – save for the big, gaping hole your best friend’s death has left in her wake.
THE GAMEPLAY OF HOW WE KNOW WE’RE ALIVE
Essentially, you’ll go from one establishment to the next in a linear motion – there are no puzzles, mini-games, or overly complicated inventory items here. The honest gamely feels less like a point-and-click game and more like a visual novel, given how little you’ll actually have to do to move the story along. You can talk to people, tap on the magnifying glass icon on some items to reminisce about them, and enter buildings as directed by the plot – you can’t even visit other places in town if it’s not where the story wants you to go.
The lack of interaction or actual gameplay might be off-putting for some, but I think this is just brilliant, to be honest – the game knows exactly what it wants to do and wastes no time in doing it, and that’s to tell this straightforward story without any distractions. The one-hour runtime makes sure that the game doesn’t overstay its welcome, either – and it certainly gets its point across despite its brevity.
WHAT’S THE APPEAL?
It’s hard to talk about my feelings on the game without spoiling anything, but suffice it to say that the story took an unexpected but welcome turn, executed masterfully by really good writing. There were a few beats where I felt like Sara was unlikeable as a protagonist, but it all made sense in the big picture. Plus, the wallpaper-worthy scenes painted the narrative in a poetic light, and while the ending didn’t make me cry ugly tears much like Sumire did, it certainly left a mark that made me rethink my own priorities in life after the credits rolled .
How We Know We’re Alive is proof that less really can be more, and it’s the perfect experience to go through on mobile, too. Tapping and moving from scene to scene is intuitive, and the quick runtime (with auto-saves!) makes it the perfect title to dive into if you’re in the mood for a quick and emotion-filled breather from your own version of Sara’s fast paced city life.