The Walking Dead franchise should get a lot more credit.
Yes, it helped run the sub genre of post-apocalyptic fiction into the ground with everyone who tried to cash in, as this Angry Joe bit illustrates. The biggest issue with is that there are seemingly only so many stories that can be told from the wasteland. Everything from drama and horror to romance and comedy has been done in the shadow of an extinction-level event. There is very little new ground to cover, so As We Know It is going to have to take familiar territory and make it interesting.
Unfortunately, that’s where it hits a hard snag. As We Know It is, at heart, a romance game set after an extinction-level event. The audience plays as Ashlynn: a young woman who has been chosen, along with her Mother, to enter an underground city safe from the chaos of the surface. For us, it looks like a seemingly normal slice of suburbia. For them, it’s a luxurious life that was presumed forgotten. Acclimating to it is the biggest challenge for Ashlynn as first and where we run into the biggest issue of the entire story.
Here’s the thing: the underground city feels ‘normal’ for a lack of better word. The people we meet have their quirks and issues, but it isn’t anything you’d see outside of everyday suburbia. Even Ashlynn, who has arguably suffered the most trauma since she is a new arrival and has had to live the longest outside of the safetyof the city, acclimates fair well into the day-to-day life of this city. There is some clear distress on her part as the demo goes on, but it rings more true of the type of stress and anxiety a teenager would have from, say, switching schools after moving to a new town than as someone who has survived Hell on Earth.
This critique is a question of time. If the ‘event’ wasn’t too far away from what we consider normal life now, then some of the cast’s behavior can be explained as carryover behavior from how things used to be. However, if a decent amount of time has passed, then the setting is off and isn’t needed to tell this story. You can keep what exactly happened close to the vest, but the effects of what has happened should be evident. It’s the key to building the atmosphere the story will take place in and, right now, there isn’t any air in the story to use.
For the most part, the demo focuses on the love interests for Ashlynn and they’re…serviceable. All of them fill their roles perfectly fine, but that role was very limited all things considered. The only one with any kind of notable personality was Jude and that’s because of his nervous tic from him quitting cigarettes: AGAIN something very normal in this particular setting but I’ll leave it alone for now. They all fill an aesthetic role more than a narrative one, but that’s it. Considering the dissociative nature of the atmosphere, a truly interesting cast was needed her to pull us in so hopefully that will be reconsidered in the full game.
So that was As We Know It. Overall the demo was weaker than I expected, but it does have potential. There just needs to be a better connection with the world it’s established and its cast. This is a world with an underground city where they choose its citizenry from the disaster-ridden surface via lottery. How does this feature into the political culture of the city? Does any of these people have family members, friends or romantic interests left behind? If not, what do they think about these people coming into their city who have had to survive outside of its comforts? These are questions that may or may not be addressed down the road in the game, but if it is with the current set up it’ll shatter the overall tone instead of build it up.
This should trickle into our love interests. They should not be this vanilla with everything going on. That doesn’t mean they should be forced into being close to the protagonist, but their personalities should be clearly defined as well as their opinions and philosophies. Again, something devastating has happened to the world. The only way we can see its impact is through these characters. That has to be shown from the get go and, sorry to say, it is far more important to the narrative for us to see these things up front than watch Ashlynn’s Mom flirt with the mayor. Just saying.
As always, I do believe you should check it out for yourself and show the developer support. The basics for a solid VN are there. Those basics just need a little tinkering. Currently, As We Know It is on Kickstarter and you can get more information, including the demo, right here. JP3: OUT.