How We Know We're Alive review
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How We Know We're Alive review

Our Review by Campbell Bird on March 20th, 2023
Rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: GOOD, TBH
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This storytelling game is blunt and to the point in a way that’s pretty refreshing.

Developer: Motvind Studios

Price: $2.99
Version: 1.0
App Reviewed on: iPad Pro

Graphics/Sound Rating: starstarstarstarstar
User Interface Rating: starstarstarhalfstarblankstar
Gameplay Rating: starstarhalfstarblankstarblankstar
Replay Value Rating: starstarstarstarblankstar

Overall Rating: starstarstarstarblankstar

One of the things that can doom a game story is its pacing. There's always a balance that needs to be struck between saying what needs to be said narratively and the degree to which developers want you to engage with a progression of mechanics and systems. This isn't really a problem for How We Know We're Alive, as the mechanical part of it is mostly strolling through a small town. This results in a story that moves at the swiftness it needs to to be impactful.

Horrible homecoming

How We Know We're Alive is a story about a young woman who is taking a break from her busy life in Stockholm to return to her hometown. The circumstances from this visit are rather tragic, though. As you learn almost immediately after taking control of the game, you are there to visit the gravesite of a childhood friend on the anniversary of their death.

What proceeds from there is a brief story that provides some insight into this friendship and what ultimately led each character to where they are now. It isn't a typical journey either. Where many games that center around this kind of storytelling often opt to be rather meditative or even abstract, How We Know We're Alive keeps its focus on the characters and their interactions with each other, even as they get rather contentious.

Beauty in bluntness

A big part of How We Know We're Alive draw is its art. The somewhat minimal pixel-art in the game looks really sharp with the help of fantastic lighting effects and an effective soundtrack. As you play, this beauty extends through the game's writing, though perhaps not in the way you immediately expect.

Now, with How We Know We're Alive being a game you can easily finish in a single sitting, I'll stay away from spoiling anything, but what I will say about the writing is that it isn't particularly subtle or delicate. That lack of subtlety has a purpose though, and when it reveals itself the payoff is definitely worth it.

How to judge

To get specific about How We Know We're Alive's length, we are talking about a game that easily wraps up in under an hour. For some games, that might feel like a bad value, but this game makes the most of every minute and--in fact--would likely be quite off-putting if the story it tells got stretched out to any additional length.

The value of How We Know We're Alive is how it uses what little it has so effectively. It wants you to pick apart each little thing that happens and serves them up in a way that you can't help but do so. In many ways, this all feeds in to How We Know We're Alive's story, which may not be especially complicated, but otherwise is rather compelling.

The bottom line

Even within the realm of storytelling games (or "walking simulators," if you must), How We Know We're Alive is a bit of an outlier. It is remarkably concrete and economical in ways that both ground the game in comparison to others but also allow its specific story to work effectively. The story itself is also somewhat refreshing in its perspective, despite being pretty straightforward.

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