The Almost Gone is a puzzle game that drew me into its beautiful world before unleashing its darker side. I had already known that Joost Vandecasteele‘s story had an emotionally dark tone, but even I wasn’t prepared for what awaited me. Over five chapters I carefully investigated every corner of each diorama to uncover the events that brought me here. In the end, I enjoyed it so much that I played it again.
The following may contain spoilers for the first three chapters of The Almost Gone.
One Diorama After Another
The visual art style of The Almost Gone is what makes playing so much more immersive. Each scene I was able to interact in was a diorama of a bedroom or street. Each place held some significance to the unnamed protagonist’s life. I was able to move from scene to scene which built out a larger map. The way the scenes were broken up made me feel like I was separated from the actual world. Instead of moving from the living room to the kitchen in a smooth transition, it was as if I warped to the next room. This plays into the idea that the protagonist is in a world between life and death looking back over her life for clues to how she got here. It was like having a near-death experience where I was overlooking my own memories in the third person.
The Almost Gone starts in a diorama of the protagonist’s bedroom. This opening tutorial was successful in introducing me to how to interact with the world. I was instructed to click on the music box that was missing a handle. I had to spin the room around to interact with a dresser which held the handle. Then I could use the handle to open a music box. Inside I found my first overall objective. Once I was done investigating the bedroom diorama, I was able to move onto another room through the direction of an open door.
The puzzles that followed were not as simple. Going forward they varied in style and complexity. At some points, it was simply finding numbers on a drink bottle, pill bottle, and pregnancy test to unlock a safe. Other times I needed to find little player pieces modeled after neighbors and place them on the proper mailboxes to open them. Regardless of the puzzle, I was required to search through every room to find clues and items to solve them. Sometimes the room would have a way to transport me back to the past to uncover clues as well.
The variety in puzzles and use of the environment is where The Almost Gone truly shines. Every puzzle required me to search through different dioramas to uncover smaller clues. These clues took the form of documents with letters or numbers that became codes or even logos that I needed to recreate on a padlock. My favorite puzzle within the game comes early in chapter one. I needed to find constellations by inspecting the dioramas of the protagonist’s home for clues. Once I found them I needed to click the corresponding ones a globe to open a secret door hiding a key.
As the puzzles became more complex I found myself backtracking more and more. This was because there is no way to record clues. Instead, whenever I interacted with something of importance the small area would be magnified on the side of the screen. I still needed to backtrack to the correct room but once there I didn’t have to click all over to find exactly what I need. Still, I eventually began writing my own notes to help me stay on track and reduce the need to go back and forth. It was the first time during my play through that I experienced frustration with the way the UI (user interface) was set up. Thankfully, the enjoyment I gained from solving the different puzzles and progressing through the story outshines the frustration of having to write things down.
A Dark, Ambiguous Story
The story in The Almost Gone is told in two different ways. The first way is what the protagonist shared with me while I interacted with the dioramas. I knew that she understood her parents were unhappy and she had her own biases about the people around her. The second way is told through the clues I found within the world. For example, one puzzle required me to find a positive pregnancy test that is baked inside a wedding cake. To me, this screamed that the parents married because they were expecting and not because they loved each other. It contradicted how the protagonist believed her parents felt about each other
I was able to form my own opinions using what I learned from the world around me and also taking in the protagonist’s opinions as well. Stitching together both sides of the story was the most enjoyable part. I did find that during some points the story went a bit astray like when we learn more about the neighbors than needed. It took away from driving the story forward and added no insight into the protagonist’s story. The only thing the neighbor’s story was good for was solving the puzzles within that chapter.
By being able to experience the protagonist’s memories and feelings while also forming my own opinions based on the information I found, the story really comes together. I already knew that this world was situated between the living and the dead. The overall goal was to uncover exactly how I found myself there. Watching as the protagonist commented on the things I interacted with and had fond memories of gave me such a wholesome feeling. Then the mood turned dark as I uncovered information from puzzles that made those memories feel incomplete or just wrong. In the end, I was left with a story just as beautiful as it was dark.
Overall, the time I spent playing The Almost Gone was well worth it. The puzzles were challenging and required me to think out of the box to find clues. The story itself, while dark is told beautifully alongside the gameplay aspects. The use of the dioramas really helps to make me feel like I was looking into the world as it once was and being truly a part of it. By the time the credits rolled I was ready to jump back in for a second playthrough. And even within the first few minutes, I uncovered things I missed during my first playthrough..
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