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How We Know We’re Alive – Brief but impactful narrative game

Developer: Motvind Studios
Price: $2.99/£2.99
Size: 442.6 MB
Version: 1.0
Platform: iPhone & iPad

How We Know We’re Alive

The App Store is full of games that place the focus on narrative above all else. How We Know We’re Alive is another to add to the list, packing an emotional wallop that far exceeds its brief running time.

A text message thread between two estranged friends plays out over a night-time bus journey. Maria is eager for news of big city life, while Sara seems distracted by her cosmopolitan life.

Sara struggles with her small-town past

The bus pulls into the sleepy Swedish town of Härunga, and our hero Sarah disembarks. To say too much more would be to risk spoiling a large portion of the game.

Suffice to say, what plays out next is a tale of a reluctant homecoming, with hints of tragedy, regret, religious intolerance, and even a little whodunnit sleuthing.

The game almost strays into mystery territory at one point

Not that there’s really anything for you to figure out. The landmarks that Sara passes on her way into town form the entirety of the game once you set to working through the game’s central mystery. This is a side-scroller in which dragging left and right walks Sara in that direction, while tapping the little magnifying glass prompts allows you to interact with various key elements.

All of this is in the service of progressing the story, with nothing in the way of mechanical complexity or puzzles to decipher. It’s a narrative game in the truest sense.

There are a couple of emotional flashbacks

That narrative isn’t very long either. We finished the game in around 40 minutes, and we weren’t exactly on a mission to wrap things up quickly.

We never like to attribute value to the length of a game, but it’s worth mentioning that this is a premium game that costs $2.99/£2.99 up front.

The game hits on some pretty big subjects

The game’s true value lies in its emotional impact, and on that front it’s a winner. The dialog isn’t especially sharp or snappy, and there are a couple of clumsy typos, but you’ll be impelled to see Sara’s journey through to its completion, and it works through some pretty weighty themes within its limited span.

The presentation is pretty low key, with a 2D pixel-art world filled with featureless characters. Developer Motvind Studios makes effective use of reflections, as Sara trudges the rain-swept streets of her town. The sound design is even stronger, with an atmospheric synth-and-guitar soundtrack perfectly capturing the somber mood.

The reflection effects are strong with this one

How We Know We’re Alive won’t be for everyone, especially those who value interactivity or replayability above all else. It’s a slight thing alright, but it’ll stay with you far beyond the length of its single sitting.