Alone Together

One of the delightfully confusing things that can happen when searching through itch.io for games to play and talk about, is that you can get lost in a sea of similarly-named games. No, not the 7,000 Shrek-themed horror games, infinite Backrooms-inspired shockers, or flighty FNAF homages (sometimes all three appear in one game!), but completely different horror games with some version of the same sentence that feature wildly different styles and themes. 

For example, this week, I noticed plenty of new games with ‘Alone’ in the title. Now you could make the obvious, cynical connection to the rebirth of Alone in the Dark sparking some quickly renamed projects to grab attention, but there’s a more innocent, logical reason behind the surge, and it’s one that is often the key factor in such moments…a Game Jam.

Brackeys Game Jam 8 had a simple theme of ‘You Are Not Alone’. The beauty of that phrase is that it can take on so many sinister meanings in a horror context. The games constructed in the short time limit afforded to them make a good show of that. Even with some obvious sacrifices made in the race to put out something in time, there’s a promise and natural flair to be found in swiftly-assembled bite-sized pieces.

Whatever the reason for the surge in games emblazoned with ‘Alone’ is, it made for a fun exercise to pore through a variety of freshly made short horror games linked by this single word. So I did just that and collected some of my personal highlights from itch.io.

Alone in the Diner (Now Known)

You wake up in a seemingly deserted diner, and armed only with a camera, you begin to investigate why you’re here. Turns out this camera can tell a supernatural story.

The writing is a touch messy considering how limited it is, but for a short, sharp ghost story, it packs a lot in. Music choice is top-notch as well.

Not Alone (oh indy productions)

Another game where you wake up disorientated. This time, it’s in your twin sister’s room and you appear to be a spirit. This visual novel offers up choices on how to communicate with your sister and find out what happened to you.

This is a heartbreaking experience, and suicide is a heavy topic here, but it’s dealt with in such a personal way that it feels even heavier than expected. Nicely done, but be warned…it’s a lot.

Gastlings: You Are Not Alone (ArtSadistic)

Lemmings has long been a gaming stress point for me, so seeing a horror-themed take on it in Gastlings, I took full inspiration from ArtSadistic’s moniker and embraced nostalgic misery.

Very basic, which is understandable in the context of a Game Jam, but I dig the bare bones of what’s going on here, especially because that age-old stress came roaring back from the get-go.

Alone in the Forest (CostasDev)

A swift take on the ‘find stuff in the woods with something stalking you’ sub-genre. I’ve seen many of these in my many years on this planet, so Alone in the Forest doesn’t exactly score points for originality, but I’ll say this. For something put together in a brief window of time, it’s got a lot of the right ingredients for something so crude.

Jump scares are often used as a crutch in this kind of game, but this earned a good one by making me jolt at the sound of the monster snarling out of nowhere. Also, while not intentional, the disconnect between movement and the sound of your footfalls puts a little doubt into what’s causing them.

We Might Not Be Alone (Schenk0)

A top-down maze game evoking the Alien Isolation experience of watching every vent in a space station. Armed with just a flashlight, the objective is simply to find the way out in the dark without having a monster drop on your head.

Bare bones simplicity works in We Might Not Be Alone’s favor. It can be finished in less time than it takes to make a peanut butter sandwich and plays accordingly. The tinkly piano track that accompanies this isn’t exactly a perfect fit, but it works. As does the use of the ‘thing tumbling out of a vent’ sound.

You Were Not Alone (Nomer)

Another maze game, albeit with a different tack. You’re an adventurer in a brick-clad labyrinth of corridors, searching for what it might hold. No surprise then that it doesn’t feature kittens.

Another example of smart use of sparse sound. The timeless horror trick of hearing footsteps in the dark is played out nicely here, and the bamboozling mze builds unease with gradual signs of just how foolish you were to explore this place.

Alone in Space (MrForbas)

There’s nothing ruder than being woken up to some unfurling nightmare. You may have noticed a few games on this list feature that opening, but it’s hard to deny the effectiveness of it as a catalyst for horror. Alone in Space buys into that as you come out of cryosleep to find the spaceship you’re on having a bit of a bad day. Tasked with fixing up its mechanical and technical problems is routine enough… until it isn’t.

I like how Alone in Space has a sense of humor about its underwhelming ship life. Computer readouts that give up being useful halfway through, sharp, overbearing door opening noises, dull gray corridors, and gratingly jaunty elevator music make this a dreary place to work in, but that’s perfect potatoes to go with the horror meat.

Alone in the Dark (Binus Games Development Club)

I couldn’t finish this list without having a game called Alone in the Dark now, could I? Fear not though, this is not a homage to the recently-revived Survival Horror don, but a puzzle platformer where you lead a squiggly little man through a treacherous dungeon and ease his fears as his source of light.

The balance of controlling the little dude with keyboard and the light source with the mouse could do with a bit of fine-tuning, but it’s a really neat concept.

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