All Alone

By Ian Finley (2000) (Parser; IFDB) (This game is 15 years old!)

You’re alone in Harvey’s apartment. It is raining. The news is on: the ‘Slicer Killer’, who has young women living alone as his prey, has claimed another victim. Harvey will be back soon.

Because of genre expectations (the genre is horror, few surprises there), I, the reader, was already conditioned to expect something bad to happen. The serial killer news is the most obvious hook that the threat to the PC’s safety comes from outside, almost definitely the serial killer. That the PC is actually in danger, though, is implied. I played this once early last year, and I remarked then that because the danger was implied, it meant that there was little sense of urgency. Now that I’m playing it again, I think leaving this implicit made the player make a lot more assumptions. What’s to say that the PC fits into the serial killer’s demographic? All we know about the PC is that they’re wearing Mickey Mouse pajamas, for goodness’ sake.

There are some bright spots. Events outside the PC’s control heighten the tension, including, like it or not, the news. Despite my misgivings about various cosmetic and storytelling approaches, All Alone does become quite foreboding in parts. The standard ‘my dirty apartment’ details are drawn up adequately to give the impression of squalour (I like “Piles of Harvey’s dirty clothes crouch on the floor.”).

But this is not the most polished of games. Ellipses are rendered strangely throughout (maybe it’s my interpreter?). There are double spaces after full stops, which is Not A Thing we do nowadays. 

Another major problem is that there is not nearly enough to know about the PC to make the player care about them. We know more about Harvey and even about the serial killer than we do about the PC – in this way, the PC automatically (and disturbingly) becomes the typical horror movie victim: nameless, generic and lacking almost all autonomy.

There are some events which you may or may not see, depending on what you do and in what order you do it. Some of the later events are satisfyingly foreboding. My grouse, though, is that the ending comes suddenly, and it felt a little out of the blue for me. It was ambiguous, and didn’t quite link up with the implications from earlier in the game, but was perfunctorily effective (and I really liked the last sentence).

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