The moment I saw the trailer for this intriguing looking game I was hooked. Its promise of a heartwarming story and delightfully drawn visuals fast made me understand that this was going to be my Christmas game of 2019. But, you know, I’ve been fooled by trailers before and so when I first fired up the game an incredible sense of dread came over me. What happens if this isn’t going to be what I thought it was? What happens if I’m left disappointed and bereft? Should I cancel Christmas? Well, thankfully Santa is still set to be on his way, the Christmas pudding is back in the oven and the presents aren’t yet in the bin. See, Alive: A Simple Story is an utter delight.
The world of Arise starts with a funeral, but it isn’t long before you find yourself playing out the part of an old man on top of the world, atop the highest mountains and surrounded by snow. As you get your bearings you soon find yourself walking towards a shining presence in the snow. You touch it and are whisked away into a journey through the old man’s life, starting from his childhood, meeting the love of his life, and enjoying everything else in his journey to becoming an old man. I don’t want to spoil anything more in terms of the story, especially as many of the scenes are highly emotional sections, but rest assured that it covers everything we, as humans, experience in life; from disaster to love. It’s a story told without any words and it works beautifully throughout. It’s also strong in examining the more abstract versions of his essence, capturing aspects of his life like romance or solace, with it putting you into a dream-like environment along with the normal everyday landscapes. Without a doubt, you will feel the emotional tug of this journey the old man takes in with the love of his life, with it all being handled with a creative passion by the development team behind it.
You play through Arise: A Simple Story by directing the old man around, partaking in jumping, climbing and hanging onto ledges like you would in any normal platformer. The big trick up the sleeve for this game though is the ability to forward and reverse time at will, and it is this manipulation which really hammers home the brilliance of the game. A couple of examples of this power are first found on a winter-themed level where you can forward time to make the snowdrifts higher, allowing you to climb up to a higher platform. Similarly, you can reverse time to make them more sparse, revealing a hidden cave. There’s also a section where the world is found to be falling apart; bits of cliffs and land crumbling to the ground. Your job is to try and rewind an area of this land, before freezing it at the exact moment so you can jump across to safety. These are just two small examples of how this brilliant piece of gameplay is used, but Arise has dozens of very neat and hugely innovative pieces of game design. You can be sure it’ll make you smile broadly throughout, sitting back and enjoying every single moment.
As a gaming experience, Arise: A Simple Story comes in at around 5-6 hours in length, and this is perfect for a game of this size and cost. These hours will see you taking in 10 chapters that detail the aspects of the old man’s life. And I have to say that it fully immersed me, ensuring that I was completely hooked from start to finish – mainly because it’s such a great experience both in terms of the story and gameplay. Yes, there are moments when you feel that the jumping can let you down, but on the whole things are pretty tight.
It helps also that due to forgiving checkpoints and moments where you respawn, you won’t ever really be left frustrated, needing not to worry too much about dying multiple times across specific sections. And once you complete Arise, the opportunity *ahem* arises for you to head on back to take in the multiple secrets that have been dotted around. These come in the form of little white orbs that hold special memories of the old man’s life. Hidden in hard to reach places, these will reward you with a hand-drawn scene from the man’s past. It’s got to be said that some of the latter ones are pretty tricky to find.
The visuals that hold Arise: A Simple Story together are sublime, taking you to magical faraway places that work as aspects of someone’s imagination; a romance chapter excels, amazing in its colour, beauty and strange surrealist nature. There are some moments which will take your breath away throughout, and seeing the old man’s wordless reaction in the cutscenes is something that has been brilliantly devised and performed. The soundtrack is just as good and, whilst there is no voiceover to speak of, the mixture of soft piano tunes that play on the heartstrings and huge romantic numbers that remind of 1930’s Hollywood movies are delights. Yet again, it works perfectly with the action and should be applauded.
Arise: A Simple Story on Xbox One is a brilliantly devised game and it’s been a huge pleasure to play. Yes, there are the occasional frustrations with some of the platforming, but you really shouldn’t let that worry you. It’s a splendid wordless story with a perfect amount of gameplay hours for the price, and it’s right up there with the very best games I’ve played this year.