The bait-and-switch is a powerful tactic. A game like Axiom Verge uses it set you up with a stockpile of expectations—a collection of reasonable assumptions on how it will play out—before subverting so much of what you think, surprising you with how far outside the box a game can be while allying itself with classic influence. And then there’s Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty where, well, you know.
Alone With You is more like the former in that its switch is a benign one. Hell, it might even be a preferred one. A more apt comparison, though, might be with the television show Supergirl, as it takes the same flip but inverted. This is a game that presents it self as just another sci-fi survival game, throwing you into an abandoned space colony (aren’t they all by this point?) with no explanation, before turning into the thing you’d least expect.
I’d hate to ruin the surprise, but it is a vital twist, so to be perfectly frank, it turns into a dating sim. Sure, there are plenty of adventure game things to do like traveling between hubs and solving puzzles and it’s still very much a sci-fi story about you getting back to Earth, but you are also spending entire days talking to people, developing relationships, and, yes, falling for them. (It reminds me a bit in premise and structure of Shay’s origins in Broken Age but if a disaster.)
That last part is the most important thing because it’s not entirely systemic. While you do commit time and words and resources to any of the people you engage with, it’s also that you end up remembering and thinking about the ones that truly and deeply affect you outside of the game. There are only four of these colony-trapped scientists to talk to, but each of them makes a lasting impression to where I’m actively thinking about them even now.
But here’s the thing (and sorry to pull my own bait-and-switch): they’re all holograms. This is a strange but delectable slant on the romance part of the narrative as it introduces a great many traditional and nontraditional sci-fi elements. All of these holograms were programmed to mimic the entirety of their people, from personality to knowledge to quirks, but only to a certain point.
This means they have no idea what happened to the colony, so they want to know just as bad as you, but they also have to deal with the fact that they aren’t real. And there’s great value in this consideration, both in and out of the game. It’s a strangely nagging sensation that pulls at the back of your head as you talk to them. There’s an odd and pervasive sense of inevitable doom as you have incredibly lengthy and deep conversations with these entirely digital people.
You do, however, have to be remarkably open to have your hand held in these aspects, which is weird in contrast to the rest of the game. For many of the puzzles, it’s extraordinarily uncaring about your ability to solve something, as an adventure game should be. But for these relationships, you are usually told (or at least informed) how to feel about them.
This can be understandably off-putting for some players, but I found that it complemented the structure of the game remarkably well. It felt like consuming information at any other point in the colony, from reading documents on lenticular clouds to finding out that two of these holograms actually have a past together. For these relationships, it was oddly like building the foundation under a house when the building is already there.
And by the end, there’s a pretty damn good payoff, culminating in one whopper of a decision. This conclusion is also where that structure begins to make sense, especially as it stands against the rote routine of waking up, collecting resources, and making smalltalk rends itself into a somehow more dire situation. And by the time the credits roll, while any sense of closure is up to you, this is one switch you’ll be happy to have been baited into.