Always Sometimes Monsters is hard to categorize, it has elements of a life-sim mixed with the branching choices of a deep RPG. It is the first game from Vagabond Dog. Vagabond Dog resides in Canada and the small team is made up of six people. The game relishes in the ugliness and dinginess of life; what it is like to have barely enough to survive. It features characters residing on the outskirts of society; the broke, the drug addicts, the dangerous, the desperate…the losers. Regardless of category, Always Sometimes Monsters will leave a lasting impression on the player.
Broke and broken hearted with nothing in your pockets or your bank account, you wait on the mail every day for a check that likely does not exist. A month overdue on your rent for the small studio apartment you live in, you try to sneak out the building without alerting your landlord, who wants to evict you. When he sees you next, there better be a check for the money you owe or his is taking your apartment key. Desperate for money and unable to write, you are out of options and wits on how to pay him. Plus, you are dealing with a bad break up and the fact that they are marrying another person is eating away at you. How do you deal with so much insurmountable pressure? Those choices are yours to figure out in Always Sometimes Monsters.
At PAX, Vagabond Dogs had a demo available for Always Sometimes Monsters to give attendees a chance to try out the game. It was a fairly lengthy demo featuring three scenarios from the game. The demo began with a man and woman arguing over a deal in an alley. The man is some sort of gangster who the woman hired for an unusual job. Now she is having second thoughts and is trying to talk the man out of doing it by offering him more money. He refuses because the job is more about fun than money, he wants carnage.
As the two stroll through the alley, a masked homeless person accosts them. The masked person spouts about games and choices then pulls a gun on the two. Startled by the familiar looking gun the person pulls, the gangster pulls his own piece. Here the player makes their first choice. They can run, listen or shoot. Two of the options end the demo, and the clear choice leads to the other scenarios in the demo.
Choosing to listen to the homeless person leads to a party where the agent who threw the party is desperate to sign a writer. Whatever person he talks to in the room becomes the player avatar. After choosing an avatar the agent tells the person that he is signing them to a deal. The player walks out as their avatar to the patio to choose a boyfriend/girlfriend to bring back inside to celebrate the good fortune.
After the party, a year passes and things are not going so hot for the player. That book money still has not come and things grow more desperate every day. They are living in a dingy and messy studio apartment with 3 hot pockets to their name. 500 dollars in the hole on their rent and a month overdue, the landlord takes their key away and they cannot get it back unless they pay the rent in full. So, the player has no choice but to do odd jobs around the city.
The first job is setting up equipment for a friend’s gig at a dive bar in the city. The player will get 100 dollars for doing the job correctly, but if they mess it up then they get docked. Regardless of the quality, it will not pay the rent. The player’s friend Darkeff has been there this past year as they have dealt with their girlfriend/boyfriend leaving them and their current meager life situation.
Despite everyone being proud of Darkeff for kicking heroin, he confesses to the player that he feels it was a mistake to get sober and break up with his junkie ex-girlfriend, Viper. His fans say his music has not been as good since he gave up the needle and he is nervous about the gig. The least you can do is make sure the set-up is done the way he likes.
During the set-up, Viper visits with a bag of that H ready to give Darkeff the cure for what ails him. It is up to the player on how to deal with Viper. The player can chase her off by being cold or con her out of the heroin. Then it is up to the player to tell Darkeff after setting up about her visiting and the heroin. Due to the nature of the demo, the last effects of the decisions her do not immediately add up, but it is pretty heavy stuff.
From the club, the demo cuts to another scene with Darkeff. This time it is in a hospital, Viper OD’d. She is in bad shape. The Doctor is a talented specialist and refuses to help her without getting paid. So, Darkeff asks the player to help him blackmail the Doctor into helping Viper.
The two break into the Doctor’s mansion. Here the player has another choice, either to find something incriminating inside the house or to smash up the Doctor’s car. Both are viable options to show the guy that they mean business.
If the player goes the incriminating route, they have to rifle through the Doctor’s computer. Doing so they can learn that this is not the first time he has done some shady dealings with his practice. They can vandalize his Myface page, but what they are really after is an indecent picture of him and his teddy bear, Grizzly Jones aka Grizzmop. This picture implicates the good Doctor in some messed up kink and will get him to help Viper.
Or bash up his car real good with a golf club. Again, either choice works. After doing the deed, Darkeff will inform the player about what happens with Viper later.
The final scenario the player can participate in takes them to an arcade. Here they meet a kid named Chance. He wants to win a pass to SwagFest. To do so he needs to get a high score and win it from the arcade, but he cannot beat the high score on a machine to do it. That high score is almost his, but he asks the player to beat the current high score and get him the pass. He offers to pay the player if they can get it. Since money is the watch word, you try your hand at the game.
Playing the game treats the player to a mini-game where they have to run over criminals in various arenas with a motorcycle for points. However, they need to avoid hitting animals because they take away health and points. So, the key is to beat 150 points and kill as many criminals without harming any animals. The mini-game itself is nothing particularly amazing, but it shows another facet of gameplay. However, the commentary about what is acceptable in art is excellent.
Chance pays the player 100 dollars for the badge, and then gunshots go off. His uncle rushes outside carrying a shotgun letting off shots. The two run into the backyard where the uncle corners them near his pool. This leads to the final choice, do you run, talk or attack. The choice is important, but how this scenario plays out is up to the player.
Always Sometimes Monsters is a hugely promising game that seems to tackle player choice in a meaningful way. It is hard to know how deeply those choices will ring out in the finally product from the PAX demo, but Vagabond Dog aims to incorporate them smartly. The art style has a decidedly retro vibe that plays well with the stark and harrowing tone of the material. There are vibes to the game that echo some of the more tense moments in a Paul Thomas Anderson film. The PAX demo featured some killer tunes that help add another layer of style to the game. Always Sometimes Monsters should be on your radar because it looks to be a highly unique project.
Always Sometimes Monsters will be available sometime in 2014 for PC.