I finished a playthrough of Christine Love’s first commercial release, Analogue: A Hate Story, today. But as odd as it sounds, while I’ve finished the game, I’ve barely begun scratching the surface of its story.
It’s a ‘sequel’ of sorts to 2010’s Digital: A Love Story, and while it’s ostensibly set in the same universe (albeit far into its future), you needn’t have played Digital to understand it. However, you should do, because it’s both brilliant and free.
Like Digital, and moreso than the more typically visual-novel stylings of spiritual successor Don’t Take It Personally, Babe, It Just Ain’t Your Story, it straddles an interesting middle-ground between game and interactive story. You’ll be reading a lot of text, engaging in a lot of ‘conversations’, and generally not doing much more than clicking and occasionally typing to progress the narrative. But, like Digital, what minimal interaction there is is key to your involvement.
Its setting is one of the distant future, and a brief introduction gives you purpose to access the computer of an ancient spacecraft, sent out in the hope of forming a human colony outside of the reaches of Earth. Instead, it became abandoned. So far, I’ve not managed to ascertain why.
You’re quickly introduced to an AI system and, later, to another. With one of them – and it probably will be with one of them, rather than both – you’ll walk through an unsettling tale of love, loss, illness, politics and society, delivered with Christine Love’s trademark candidness that breathes life into every word. The story’s delivered almost exclusively via discovered journal entries, but as they are the focus of the game, the usually tired narrative device never feels forced.
About halfway through my game, something interesting happened. Having built up a rapport with one character, but being intrigued by what another may have to say, I found myself in the difficult position of having to make a choice between whose side of the story to follow.
The game set this up as a moral choice. Whose story do you believe? Whose ideals are your own most aligned with? Games do this all the time. They ask you to pick between two contradictory stances and support one against the other. But Analogue is smart – much smarter than I initially gave it credit for. Via a masterfully handled ‘action’ sequence, it forces you into a split-second decision that is far more practical than it is moral.
Avoiding spoilers: at this point in the game, you’re only given ‘room’ to communicate with one character. As far as I managed to work out, anyway; I might be wrong. There are two main strands to the story, and halfway through you’re pressured into picking just one of them: not because the game thinks that would be a clever way of adding replayability, but because the story’s central moment demands that choice of you. It makes perfect sense, and is one of the best applications I’ve seen of the ‘pick your side’ device that seems to permeate every story-driven game these days.
As the story ticks along, I discovered more of my chosen character’s tragic history. But I always knew there was someone else itching to tell me their side: why they genuinely believed that the character I’d sided with was pure evil, even though I couldn’t see a hint of that for myself.
Things picked up pace. More decisions, more conversations, more reading. Then, as the story appeared to be reaching it’s climax… it stopped. Roll credits.
A huge wave of disappointment hit me. What? The game ended at precisely the point where it felt like it was about to hit its stride. There was so much more to discover. Huge story elements that clearly formed the basis for the game’s entire chain of events went unresolved. The game kept referencing an ‘event’ that played an enormous role in the lives of each of the characters in its impressively large history. What was it? I never found out.
I have a feeling that the ending I landed on would have been slightly unsatisfying anyway, my final choice being followed by a credits screen rather than any hint as to what the ramifications of my decision were. Had I chosen differently, would the game have continued long enough for me to know? I can’t be sure, but it didn’t seem like it. In essence, I chose the option of continuing the story, rather than ending it, yet I was met by an ending anyway.
But the fact that Analogue has the courage to hold back so much crucial information cannot be commended enough, and my lasting impression is one of being desperate to play through again, making different decisions along the way. I’ll have to play with a sense of pragmatism throughout the whole thing this time, instead of letting my heart do the talking, but that’s fine. It seems only sensible, given the dichotomy that the entire game rests upon: pick a side, but do it for the right reasons.