If the usual shoot-things-with-guns and slash-things-with-swords games are feeling a little tired, Always Sometimes Monsters brings a new, combat-free approach to RPGs—but doesn't quite hit the mark.
In Always Sometimes Monsters for the PC, you play a struggling, down-on-your luck writer pining over a lost love, and—after receiving an invitation to his or her wedding—you decide to trek across the country to see them before they get married. It's a tough road, and you have no money, so you'll spend your time sleeping in alleyways, doing boring odd jobs for cash, or doing stuff for sketchy characters to get ahead.
Always Sometimes Monsters is completely decision-based. The game has no combat; instead, you walk around cities talking to people, making decisions, and doing little "quests". There's no fantasy or sci-fi here, just regular life drama emulated in a game. It's a great idea, and certain parts of it are well executed—most notably, the different branching quests. Other parts of the game, unfortunately, leave a bit to be desired.
After the game's opening, you find yourself at a party, mingling with a bunch of work friends. Unbeknownst to you, the player, you are currently selecting your character through the eyes of an NPC. The people you talk to are possible player characters, the people they talk to are possible love interests, and the dialogue options you pick develop the context of the story. It's actually a nicely done scene, though it is a bit confusing the first time. Fret not, though, the game gives you a ton of chances to do it over if you're unhappy with your selection, right up until the very end, when you get a chance to redo everything from the beginning.
(Note: Your character choice also affects certain bits of dialogue in the game. Pick a woman, and you'll be subject to a little sexism, pick a person of color, you'll see some racism, and so on and so forth. I didn't find this feature as noteworthy as many reviewers did, mostly because of the cheesy dialogue.)
With the character creation done, the game starts going downhill a bit. You wake up, lonely and unemployed, still pining after your significant other even though you broke up a year ago. Your character quickly comes off as whiny and selfish, and the game's dialogue is overly melodramatic and cheesy. You get used to it after awhile, but it's kind of hard to identify with your character when the game tells you your motivations rather than letting them develop naturally.
As such, it's hard to really get into the game like with most good RPGs. I didn't really connect with any characters, including my own, so my decisions didn't feel weighty. Furthermore, it feels like the game punishes you for making morally "good" decisions, since they're so boring. Do you want to make honest money or sketchy money? Well, honest money involves you pressing a series of four buttons over and over again for 10 minutes. I've been told this is supposed to be a commentary on the tedium of real-world labor, but ultimately it just made the game...well, tedious.
I learned about halfway through that the game is a lot more fun if you play the character like a sociopath. Which was easy, since I didn't really care about my character that much. Instead of playing the game like yourself, think of it as playing God to this sad little person, who you get to make do evil things and watch crash and burn. It'll be a lot more fun if you do—some of the quests are pretty enjoyable.
The story also picks up later on in the game, introducing you to newer and more interesting characters, and giving you some surprises along the way. And, when you finally reach the wedding, you start to care a bit more about what's happening—which is good. The game also has multiple endings that are actually affected by the choices you make, which Mass Effect 3 haters will love to see. I got an utter shit ending, which pretty much matched my character's actions. I had lots of fun reading about the different possible outcomes after it was all over.
I'll also say this, in fairness: There's a good chance I still haven't seen a lot of what this game has to offer. Watching the above trailer, for example, reveals a few scenes and areas I never came across. Perhaps they didn't end up in the final game, or perhaps I just missed the opportunities to start those quests—but if that's the case, they were pretty hard to find. I tried to explore as much as I could, and found myself walking into the same empty buildings, short on things to do besides go to work potting plants. It's not that big of a game world.
All in all, it's an interesting concept that, to my knowledge, is one of the few games of its type. I also really like its old school, pixel art aesthetic. If you're interested in a completely decision-based, regular-life game, it's worth playing—just don't go in with super high expectations of a well-written, gripping narrative. I'd love to see more games like this, though, provided they can get me a little more hooked.