Monday, November 7, 2016

Gone in November - Thoughts

[contains minor spoilers]

Gone in November is a severely undercooked game. Developed by Florastamine, its a walking sim that centers around struggling with three separate but related problems: loss of a friend/lover, depression, and leukemia—a powerful combination on paper. The visuals and price tag make it pretty clear that Gone in November an amateur piece of art, but I went into it with an optimistic outlook, especially since I know topics like these are probably really close to the developer's heart. Reaching the end of the tale less than twenty minutes later, I walked away feeling that it was in dire need of some serious feedback during development.

Perhaps the most glaring issue is that the author of the game is (most likely) not a native english speaker, given the multitude of errors in the text and the Vietnamese on some of the billboards outside of the main house. In a game such as this that's highly dependent on its prose to convey emotion and evoke pathos, any broken sentences or irregular dialogue will fail to properly resonate with the player, only serving to distance them from the story. While there are a handful of times that what's written does work ("Time. Please don't take her away." and "I hate you for not being right here, right now."), there's a multitude of examples where I couldn't tell what was happening, who was speaking, or what the author was even trying to communicate to me ("She said they didn't allow her to go out. That if she was released, she would never come back. But that was everything." and "Isn't people were born to pay their debts?")

For the most part I could understand what the game was trying to tell me; Gone in November unabashedly wears its heart on its sleeve, yet its dauntless attitude doesn't necessarily amount to anything special while you play it. You'll understand that the player character loved a girl, lost a girl, and feels isolated and cut off from everyone else... but there's really not much to it beyond that. A good chunk of the game is spent reading dialogue about how apathetic and cold the world (read: society) treats its inhabitants, but these generalizations are similar to those you're bound to make in highschool, during the time when you become disillusioned with both yourself and everyone around you ("Look at these people. They are all clueless about you and your problems. Like they care. It's not their business anyway." and "And here you are. Standing between a mess created by people's ignorance and your negativism.") Had I played this over a decade ago perhaps I would've been floored by the experience—likely finding the author to be a kindred spirit—but now it's too easy to recognize the raw, aimless angst that poisons early adulthood, each cynical remark made far from being unique, biting, or poignant.

The one aspect that Gone in November handles pretty well is its trippy visuals, but due to the simplicity of the textures there's not really anything that's worth more than a passing gander. There were a couple of instances that actually surprised me (the cactuses, the car), however the overall experience kinda just wanders around with its ideas until it reaches a screeching halt. As there aren't a lot of strong recurring motifs or optional goodies to find there's almost no reason to replay the game, especially since both of its endings only result in a mere difference of closing audio. I did remain entertained as I was playing through it, but this is far from being a sterling example of how beautiful and enthralling a walking sim can be.

I admire Gone in November's heart—any piece of art that attempts to communicate how utterly consuming depression can be is welcome in my book... it's just unfortunate that I feel it's not worth a recommendation. I mean sure, it's worth a look if you wanna see someone's personal take on the subject, flaws and all, but it essentially offers a perspective that you can stumble upon yourself in a random DeviantArt journal post. It's great that the game is both short and cheap, though I think its brevity conversely contributes to it feeling half-baked in the end. More than anything, I'm interested in seeing what Florastamine takes away from this experience, and if we see another effort from the developer—I want to encourage these kinds of products to keep being made, even if there's some ugly bumps along the way.

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