How We Know We’re Alive Review: A Life Well Lived

On the first anniversary of her childhood friend’s death, Sara returns to her hometown to investigate what really happened. Was it an accident or was there foul play at work? And is the game itself any good? Find out in this How We Know We’re Alive review!

How We Know We’re Alive Review: A Life Well Lived Cover

Developed by Motvind Studios, How We Know We’re Alive is a point and click murder mystery set in a small town in Sweden. You assume the role of Sara who is returning to her hometown after the death of her childhood friend. A death that Sara is increasingly suspicious of. Will she discover the truth? Is there more going on than meets the eye? And is the game any good? Well, that is what reviews are for.

The title itself is an indie release and the studio’s debut feature. And I am always interested to see how a new developer can work with such a well trodden genre; I remember a time when Point and Click adventure titles were insanely popular in the 90’s, so much so that it felt like a new one was coming out every 15 minuets. And being a more traditional one does spark a nostalgic beat in my heart.

How We Know We're Alive extended

How We Know We’re Alive is currently available on PC on Itch.io.

STORY – HOME COMING

In How We Know We’re Alive you play Sara, a young writer who is returning to her hometown of Härung for the first time in a decade and on the first anniversary of the death of her childhood friend Maria. A death which Sara becomes increasingly concerned that foul play might be involved in. And that there is something far darker afoot. So she sets out to try and investigate the circumstances surrounding it by exploring key locations in town as well as interrogating various locals.

Sara believes there is more to Maria's death than meets the eye.

Sara believes there is more to Maria’s death than meets the eye.

Given the nature of the story I can’t go too far into details on the specifics of the story itself. As the developer’s statement on the game’s listing states it is a murder mystery. However, what I can say is that How We Know We’re Alive is far deeper and more emotionally engaging than I had been expecting it to be. It is a story of perceptions, of dreams, a story of life and the choices we make, and about how those choices impact upon our relationships.

There is a lot at play here. Given the pace of the story and its tone it can give you plenty to reflect upon after the fact. Not just reflecting upon the events of the story but also the choices (or lack thereof) that you have made in your own life.

A PERSONAL TALE

It is all very remarkably well written and feels deeply personal. It would be incredibly easy to take a story the likes of which features in this game and create something that is overly verbose, one that tries to be deep but comes across as pretentious. But How We Know We’re Alive doesn’t do that. It hits the right tone for a story like this. Which gives it an edge and grit to it that feels real, that feels lived in, and feels familiar.

The game features a number of flashbacks.

The game features a number of flashbacks.

Whilst the title is set in a very specific region of Sweden there is nothing about the story that makes it hard to relate to if you’re not from that region. Though most of my emotional responses to it come from my own personal life experiences and how they relate to the events in the story itself. So your mileage may vary in terms of how well this all lands for you emotively.

How We Know We’re Alive’s story is competently written and there is little that I can fault it with in terms of the content that is there. It is a mature and thought-provoking tale that will resonate with many people beyond the story’s setting, long after it has been completed. The direction that the narrative ultimately ends up going in is a fascinating take on stories like this. However, it’s not so much the story that I have issues with, but more its presentation.

GAMEPLAY – POINTING AND CLICKING

How We Know We’re Alive is a point and click adventure game; you click on objects in the level to interact with them and control the protagonist’s movements with the WASD keys. From a purely mechanical standpoint it gets the job done; there is nothing about it that is hard to control, there is nothing about it which makes it feel at all frustrating.

However, the gameplay itself feels like it is more of a vehicle for the story rather than a means of telling it. It could have been almost any other form of adventure game; the fact it is a point and click doesn’t add anything to it beyond a nominal amount of interactivity.

No puzzle here, just click on a thing then walk somewhere else.

No puzzle here, just click on a thing then walk somewhere else.

Essentially you are just walking from one end of a long corridor to the other repeatedly. Sometimes stepping into a building now and then to talk to someone with a handful of dialogue options. None of which seem to have much of an impact upon what you learn or the direction of said conversations beyond maybe the tone of them. And even then, that doesn’t change much, with the overall flow being boiled down to “Go here, now go here and talk to them”.

Whilst I do feel that it has just enough interactivity at play, it never overcomplicates itself or adds in some mini-game or gimmicky element for the sake of it. This is not an adventure game in the classic sense. There’s more of an experience than usual interactive media. And from an experiential point of view, it delivers. From a gameplay point of view there isn’t much here.

LESS IS MORE?

If you are looking for a more ‘classic’ point and click adventure with an inventory system, a large ensemble cast and a variety of locations to explore with tricky puzzles to solve, then you aren’t going to find them here. There are no puzzles. Just cutscene and dialogue triggers. 

The game certainty is streamlined that is for sure.

The game certainty is streamlined that is for sure.

However whilst its gameplay is rather light by choosing to do this, it does avoid the issues that many point and click adventures fall in to; the two biggest being a lack of clarity on where you are going and having puzzles that end up being solved by just rubbing your inventory on everything in the room, hoping something happens. This was an issue that I had playing the recent Sam & Max release. Thankfully those issues aren’t present here.

But it must be said that if you are looking for an adventure game experience you can sink your teeth into and spend hours trying to solve, this isn’t it. How We Know We’re Alive itself is short. I completed it in less than an hour. And whilst I did enjoy that playthrough, it was on the strength of its story and deeper thematic elements more so than because of the gameplay.

As short as it is it never outstays its welcome. If you are looking for a smaller scale and shorter experience with a deep and moving story, then this might well be for you.

At least I didn't need to wander around for an hour to figure out how to open this door.

At least I didn’t need to wander around for an hour to figure out how to open this door.

GRAPHICS & SOUND – SETTING THE MOOD

How We Know We’re Alive‘s soundtrack and graphics are a brilliant sight to behold and to hear. One that has just enough creative depth to make it visually appealing and still has graphical flare to make it into something that is wonderful to see in action.

It would be easy to just give the game a retro/pixel art style and leave it at that; one more akin to the Sierra adventure games of the 80’s or LucasArts’s 90’s efforts. Something that wears its influences on its sleeve, looks great, and that is it. But we don’t get that here. The art style, the environment, and the effects are all positioned in such a way that it enhances the mood and tone of the piece as a whole.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

A SOUND TRACK

It’s a dark and brooding, yet at the same time familiar and recognisable. Something that is able to skillfully juxtapose the flashbacks to the present day scenes, which itself creates the kind of subconscious biases that make the later revelations hit all the harder.

Beyond the more artsy stuff that people like me really dig, it’s still a beauty to see; from the misty haze of the rain to the way your character reflects on the wet street just looks good. So for anyone who is looking for something that is pleasing to the eye, you are in luck. Doubly so if you are looking for visuals that have a little more going on under the surface.

Come on, its impossible to express a soundtrack in a screenshot!

Come on, its impossible to express a soundtrack in a screenshot!

A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT

How We Know We’re Alive‘s strongest element however is its soundtrack. A soundtrack both soothing and nostalgic, yet wistful and tragic. It is like the memories of summers past committed to music. The warm glow of past days of fun and youthful energy and the cold and sombre realisation that those days are gone and maybe aren’t quite as you remember them. It is a work of beauty. A great creation which feels interwoven with the fabric of the narrative and themes of the story without becoming too overwhelming or trite. The soundtrack paints an atmosphere which richly holds with the game’s aesthetics.

However, it never feels as though it is trying to force an emotion from you. It isn’t trying to grab on to your heart strings and forcibly tug on them at certain key moments. And the depth of feeling that comes from it feels as though it matures and reveals itself as the story progresses and what is truly going on makes itself known. I can barely commit to words just how perfect the soundtrack is for a title like this and its story. Truly a credit to the game’s composer.

The title’s visuals and soundtrack brilliantly show that there can be more to a videogame’s art style and audio than just stuff that looks good and sounds good. It is a valuable part of a title’s identity. In situations like this, it’s also an element that can develop the deeper themes and story therein.

(Video featured in this article by shanks154).

How We Know We’re Alive was reviewed on PC.

Summary
How We Know We’re Alive is a dark and moving tale of self-discovery with an incredible art style, a pitch perfect story, and a story that feels deeply personal. The title however isn’t terribly interactive for an Adventure Game and it may be a little too short for some gamers.
Good
  • Deep and Moving Story
  • Fantastic Soundtrack
  • Great Artwork
Bad
  • May Be Too Gameplay Light for Some
  • Short
8
Great

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