There’s a saying that you need to learn the rules before you can break them. Indie studio Vagabond Dog, and their game Always Sometimes Monsters, seem to think otherwise.
The game looks like something that was slapped together in RPG Maker. Tiny 16-bit-esque sprites and simple color palettes form the crux of the experience. But to judge it simply on its exterior would be doing it a total disservice — this is not your typical RPG. There is no combat; the conflict instead comes from how you deal with the constant stream of bad luck your character seems to find herself in.
Consequence is an important part of Always Sometimes Monsters. One particular scene I played had a character give me a hundred dollars for getting them the passes to SwagFest that they so desperately needed. Turns out — that money was actually his drug dealer uncle’s cash, and he is none too pleased about having it stolen from his deadbeat nephew. He comes at us with a shotgun. I can decide to turn tail and run and leave this scumbag to his fate, I can try to fight (and die in the process) or I can give the money back. I’m a nice guy, so I decided to fork the money over.
That’s when I found out how wrong I was.
I saw a ton of games at PAX this year. I got a chance to sail the Caribbean in Assassin’s Creed IV’s single player mode. I piloted giant mechs in Titanfall. I outlasted hordes of zombies in Dying Light. But nothing has stuck with me quite like Vagabond Dog’s Always Sometimes Monsters. From the punk rock ethos, to the gravity of every choice presented to you, Always Sometimes Monsters has the potential of being one hell of a breakout hit. It’s sinister, it’s raw, it’s real, and it’s got soul. Each day that passes from now until its 2014 release is one that feels far emptier than it should.