Stylish isometric visuals, venerable point-and-click puzzle design and a brooding tale of family tragedy are hitched more than a little awkwardly together in The Almost Gone, a new morsel of misery from Belgian developer Happy Volcano. Fragmentary explorations of memory and loss are fashionable these days, but Kentucky Route Zero this ain’t.
That is, perhaps, an unfair comparison. The games have different roots; Cardboard Computer’s rambling, surreal slice of Americana is a gorgeously illustrated text adventure, a purely narrative experience. The Almost Gone is fundamentally a puzzle game, a work of graphic design and logic chains, with a tale of trauma written over and around it. (The game’s official site features a statement from writer Joost Vandecasteele admitting that his job was to “inject” a story into the atmosphere conjured by Happy Volcano’s art.) And that’s the problem; the pathos it lunges for, often clumsily, is unearned.
The Almost Gone is narrated by a disembodied voice, apparently of a young girl, as you and she explore her surroundings: a detailed but imperfect reconstruction of the house she grew up in, the street she lived on, and other locations from her family history. The illusion is broken and incomplete; tree branches grow through rooms, the pages of books are blank and some houses are just empty façades, like movie sets.