Basic Game play and Introduction
The Monster In Me is a text based decision focused game, which puts the player in control of a character who, as part of a group of (initially) 3 survivors must make life or death decisions after some kind of apocalypse. The player must make a series of choices, (usually between two options) which diversifies the narrative, and in turn, affects the next choice that the player must make. In this respect, the game is suited to multiple playthroughs, where each time the game is completed, a different outcome is ‘unlocked’. The games narrative is told over several weeks, giving the player a sense of time, further increasing the urgency of survival.
Throughout the course of the game, your persona has the option of adding new members to your group (which in turn affects the existing survivors, usually for the worse) which diversifies the group dynamics, leading to a potential high risk, high reward strategy.
For me, this game lacked any real difference to any other Telltale style game. While the narrative was, of course, different each playthrough, I found myself eternally making the same kind of decisions over and over, no matter which path I went down. I never felt like there was any real danger to my persona, because it seemed like I was always the one calling the shots. It would have been nice to see more reactions in the game to my decisions, which would be affected by the in game ‘moral’ scores (a feature which was very hard to take seriously due to its apparently negligible effect on the majority of the decisions), potentially including your persona being overthrown as the major decision maker, leading you to make more personal choices (which in turn could still affect the fate of the group).
The Branching narratives tell the story of the groups survival and food concerns. This forces you to manage the group politics of the pessimist (Jakob) and the optimist (Ana), placing you somewhere in between. The games narrative is probably the strongest part of the game, with the driving mystery of how the characters ended up where they did. Probably the most original and narratively pleasing aspect of the game is that you don’t know what you are running from; you can hear gunshots and people outside asking for help, but the game never identifies this threat from which you are trying to survive. While this is slightly frustrating, it does add that all important question to the game, hooking the player in to ever search the lines of speech in hope of finding answers. In this respect the games narrative is cleverly conceived.
In terms of the graphical style and sound choice, the game has its ups and downs. The palletised graphical style does suit the games gloomy setting, but gives little insight into the world of the characters, making them seem more fictional, hence giving the player little reason to care about their fate. I think it would be nice to see some changing backgrounds and graphics as the games plot progresses, maybe even forming part of an easter egg (e.g. scraps of a newspaper which when put together tell the player something about how the disaster happened).
The animations are again fairly basic (something which does not necessarily need to downgrade the games quality), with little more than the characters heads turning to look meaningfully at you. While this is a nice touch, and does increase immersion, it would be nice to see some simple idle animations while other character speak (e.g. tapping fingers on the ground or yawning when tired) which would add a bit of depth to the identities of the characters, enriching the plot and the meaningfulness of the decisions you make.
The sound of the game reaches its high point with the menu music and ambient fire crackling. These both work really nicely to present the dark, apocalypse feel which is supported by the games graphics. The menu music in particular is an effective metaphor for the games mix of domestic group politics and your groups aim for survival.
Other sections of the games sound (mostly the event sound effects) are a little crude, particularly when the young baby joins your group (if, indeed, he does). When this happens a sequence of crying sound effect are repeated, which sound a little off given the size of the room, and the relative silence beforehand. I think in order for this scene to work more effectively, the sound needs to be adjusted for the setting, and an earlier introduction of sound effects (perhaps when the tin of peaches is opened) would present this repeating sound mechanic more seamlessly.
With regards to how this game fares against its other text based decision focused counterparts, there is an immediate and obvious lack of any threat to the persona, unlike in Telltales The Walking Dead where threat was used to narrative effect, however The Monster In Me did, in my opinion, have a better secret to hide, and I feel like the idea of how the apocalypse started could really create a unique story for the game. Without any real conclusion though (the game merely has a brief summary of who in your group survived), The Monster In Me does feel lacking of plot arc, as it really feels like the characters need to be developed more before they partake in life or death events under your instruction. Overall a very good concept for a story, which was executed crudely, leading to a below average narrative, partially saved by good sound, and at the same time partially destroyed by underwhelming animations and graphics.
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What would you like to see in a Telltale style text adventure set after an apocalypse? Post in the comments below!