EA girl sits alone in a room, her door locked. She glances toward her bed, but isn’t tired enough to sleep. Instead, her focus turns to the TV and her game console. As she boots it up, time dissolves and gives way to a series of vignettes exploring the continually deteriorating state of the village she lives in. Death begins to form an iron grip around the village’s throat, piling bodies higher and higher as the townspeople work tirelessly through the night to fill the graveyard with the corpses. An entity haunts the woods, creeping, stalking. Dust falls eternal and chokes the air. Unknowable horror lurks beneath the dark eaves of a thatched cottage.
ALINE, from French developer Robin Beaurepaire (@kanostuff), follows the story of this girl, our titular character, through these nightmarish flashes of the last few days. We get a glimpse into the downfall of this village, and the people it dragged into oblivion with it. Through all of this, the game is presented with scribble-like graphics, pulsating and moving constantly, evoking an ever-present sense that the world is alive and writhing. Aggressive music accompanies it, setting the mood for something sinister, ominous, foreboding. Between the two, a severe sense of dread is created, the music elevating the spritework from scrawl to abstraction, a view of a world that feels half-seen, incomplete. It’s as if this place is still in its infancy, still growing and finding its form, yet permeated with this darkened scenario that threatens to bring it prematurely to its knees.
Throughout the course of ALINE, we come back time and again to Aline’s room, throwing ourselves back into the game on her console, a seemingly desperate attempt to find some sort of relief from the malaise that is hanging over her. Instead, she’s forced to relive the stark moments of the recent past: her mother’s death, neighbors dropping dead, and, ultimately, her own mistakes that have brought her to be locked in this room. The sole escape she has becomes yet another avenue by which she finds herself haunted.
The first thing we’re presented with in her story is that her mother has died. This colours the rest of the plot as we begin to understand that there is a dark scab on Aline and her life, one that is not healing and not being addressed. She can’t cope with this loss, and that explodes outward into the village. Her grief manifests physically in the form of something bizarre, a monster that plagues the woods and lashes out at interlopers.
At its core, the game is about the danger of ignoring the reality of a problem; the impact of placing blame on others, ignoring the heart of darkness, looking past the immediate unsolvable for the quick fix. A shuddering mass of flesh and a demonic presence are not issues one can easily understand or solve, so instead, the town desperately blames individuals and the weather. Surely, removing them from the equation will rid us of our plight.
We are also given control of others that orbit Aline’s personal story, a village elder, their child, Aline’s mother herself. Our multiple viewpoints give way to a deeper understanding of the mysterious horror that has taken root here. That isn’t to say it clears things up or explains anything outright, however. ALINE delights in the obfuscation of itself, only truly presenting crystal clear story beats in its last moments. Otherwise, it exists within that realm of surrealism, where things seemingly happen, and you’re left to puzzle why they have.
In the end, the game is a worthy entry into the annals of “alt games” that exist moreso to explore emotion, a story, a theme, than they do to serve as outright “video games.” It’s a quick play, maybe about 20 minutes, and every one of them is time well spent. It’s haunting, puzzling, and begging to be played again. I’ve certainly become enamoured with it, its final sequences leaving an impression on me that I won’t soon forget.
ALINE is currently available on itch.io.
Catherine Brinegar is a trans game developer and filmmaker who explores the surreal and abstract in her work. Beyond her creative endeavors she enjoys losing herself inside other worlds, interactive and not. Finding inspiration in everything, Catherine aims to see all the world has to offer, through the continual conversation of art. You can keep up with her on twitter @cathroon.