Year Made: 2014
Platforms: PC, PS4, XBox One, Wii U, OS X
Content Areas: English, Social Studies, Science
Suggested Age Level: Middle School, High School
Play Length: 30 minutes
Number of Players: Single Player or Multiplayer (2)
Difficulty Rating: Medium
Recently, video games are experiencing a transformation as more games are being created to share stories, educate, and give a voice to individuals and communities. Never Alone is one such game as it immerses the player into the native Alaskan Inupiat culture. E-Line Media and Upper One Games combine gameplay with over half an hour of interviews and stories with the Inupiat people themselves in what they deem one of the first in a new genre of “world games.” While learning about the culture, players take on the role of young Nuna, a girl who sets out on an adventure with her Arctic Fox to find the source of an unending blizzard. Never Alone can either be played in single player mode or a second player can join in and make the game a cooperative experience. Throughout the game, players encounter mythic figures and spirit helpers and even brace themselves against biting winds and unstable ice floes.
Almost fittingly, Never Alone’s greatest problems seem to happen when someone plays the game alone. The AI (artificial intelligence) in the companion is difficult to work with as moving too far from it will cause the companion to follow your character as best as it can. While this is helpful when racing across the tundra, it can become frustrating when trying to complete a puzzle and needing a companion to stay in an exact spot. As the game goes on, some of the puzzles become more trial-and-error difficulty or require precise timing (and a bit of luck) to solve. One of the most frustrating abilities to manage was Fox’s wall jump ability as one missed jump from Fox would also put Nuna back at the start of a puzzle as well. Many of these issues could be solved though by playing Never Alone with a friend and working together to solve these puzzles. The only other problem that teamwork can’t solve is that the videos teaching about the Inpiat culture are used as the collectible system in the game. While the first half of videos are easily unlocked, the second half are built into additional puzzles and are more difficult to reach. Don’t let this discourage you though as it could build student motivation and problem-solving. And for the students who really want to watch the videos but are struggling with the puzzles, they can look up the videos online. Despite these challenges, all of them can be worked around when students play together or when they take the initiative to research on their own.
The portions of video between gameplay make Never Alone a great piece for a social studies class as players learn more about the native Inupiat tribe, its central beliefs, and the culture that thrives in Alaska. The game allows players to interact with a rich history and hear directly from tribe members themselves. These stories are also an insight into the storytelling and myths of a different culture. As more cultures become more connected in our world, it is increasingly important for students to understand storytelling and values of other cultures and to be aware of and celebrate these differences. An English language arts class could use Never Alone as an example of storytelling in another culture. Finally, the game also would fit into a science classroom as several of the videos focus on climate change, man’s impact on the environment, and the dangers and beauty of the natural landscape itself. Beyond just the subjects though, Never Alone teaches the value in cooperation and in understanding other cultures.
Never Alone is a beautiful, unique game that allows players insight into a native Alaskan culture and encourages players to work together to problem solve. While the game is good for a single player, it is - unsurprisingly - best played with a friend.
Educational Rating: 7/8
(Classroom Tech Friendly*, Motivation, Concrete Learning, Additional Skills, Feedback, Difficulty, Accessibility, Extension)
*unless played with a friend.
Overall Rating: 5/8
(Immersion, Environment, Storyline, Replayability, Entertainment, Gameplay, Originality, User Control)