Good fiction, the best fiction, does something non-obvious. Some fiction does this with a twist in the narrative, some does it with the creation of a character. Sometimes, what happens is to take an expected component of the setting and do something different with it – in this case, the future, and how its norms will not necessarily be better than our own. Analogue: A Hate Story is a dreadful, painful and sad story, one with torture, sex, despair, the death of hope and the loss of innocence. It splays our ignorance and asks us to question what is good, what is justified, and what is truly inherent about the gains we have, as people, made, thanks to the societies in which we live.
It is a horrible, beautiful game.
You should buy it, or, at least, send some of your money to Christine Love.
When I reviewed Spec Ops: The Line I resisted the use of the word ‘fun’ and ‘enjoyable’ because the terms didn’t really work. There wasn’t a visceral sense of joy or happiness from the story or the mechanics, but there was satisfaction. There was a grim embrace of the rage that the story gave me. There was a resolution, a seriousness. A gritty self-loathing, a need to see it completed. The story was engaging, but at no point in its long cry of anguish was there to be heard an echo of joy.
Analogue plays with the same darkness, but very differently. The dark themes in Analogue are not the superficial trappings of a style, like the excessive and ridiculous grimness of (say) Darksiders. The dark themes in Analogue are both very real, and very painful. The narrative – as simple as it is – can be read as either a justification for a terrible deed presented by a person beyond redemption, or, the cry of a crushed spirit, redeemed through understanding.
Oh, and the game has fabulous depth in its simple interface, too. It’s a game essentially about going through someone else’s e-mail, a format I imagined could make a really fun game a while ago – I even composed a short story once made up entirely of texts back and forth with timestamps to set the pace. The trick with Analogue is that the simple yes-no multiple-choice nature of your inputs is a limitation of the genre that is encoded by the setting. Your character has a very limited means to communicate with the characters; therefore, the ‘prompts’ you get are actually created by the person you’re talking to. This simple little change in who is responsible for the texts of the question suddenly changes a flaw that many games with multiple-choice dialogue face: The absolutely infinite spectra of choice not taken in these situations.
It uses its genre very effectively too – one challenge to the kinetic novel style of game is pacing. Analogue has a single large timer-based event, and while the event comes out of nowhere, the idea of timing and reaction speed does not. There are moments characters say things, then immediately delete and replace what they said, giving some conversations a feeling of pace. You blink, and you miss it. Analogue uses this device throughout, and it both signals important topics that are worthy of further exploration, and it creates in the reader a feeling of advancement.
There are some weaknesses to its use of the genre, of course. It can’t really be called challenging at all; the game has only a few ways to make serious errors, and it autosaves very regularly. The game tells you when you have exhausted a conversation tree, and very few of them have difficult responses in them. There is very little actual detective work in the whole experience: despite it being a game with a mystery, there is little challenge in finding the solution, merely a journey towards its answer.
Now, that’s not to say Analogue is perfect by any means. It’s not a great game, as a game. It’s not an experience that’s tons of fun to play. It is however, very engrossing reading, a great example of ways to improve the genre from whence it comes (freedom of movement is surprisingly overrated, RenPy users), full of small delights, sweet romances, and deep concepts worthy of discussion in light of contemporary, real-world events. It is, essentially, what I wish the new normal could be of games. Games should learn from it, and strive to consider it when they are created.
Buy it if:
- Apocalyptic log narrative interests you.
- You want to see a good way to tell and re-tell a story from multiple angles in your own narratives.
- You like romantic stories, and don’t mind, or appreciate them contrasted with tragic events.
- You want to support good ideas from good developers
Avoid it if:
- You don’t like reading lots of text.
- You’re easily distressed by emotional abuse or terminal illness.
- You dislike having to choose between two things in a videogame.
- You think ‘men’s rights’ is a serious, meaningful topic.