Post apocalyptic fantasy is nothing new. The seemingly endless horde of zombie movies that’s flooded cinemas in recent years shows that audiences just love imagining a world after devastation.  Perhaps it speaks to our desire for escapism from reality – in many ways, real life is boring. Sure, it would certainly have it downsides, but a little nuclear explosion, zombie uprising, or a cataclysmic act of nature bringing humanity to its knees would definitely liven things up, wouldn’t it?

The Monster In Me takes our natural curiosity with being one of the last remnants of civilisation, and runs with it. It’s a short, narrative game that can be played to completion multiple times in one session, so you can keep trying out different ways of playing, to arrive at different conclusions. It’s also free to download on Itch.io if you want to give it a try.

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The narrative itself is simple. Everyone you’ve ever known and loved is dead and gone. In the fallout of the end of the world, you band together with two other survivors. There’s Jacob, the quintessential tough guy who’ll do whatever it takes to survive, and there’s Ana, the ever-hopeful optimist who’s desperate to hold onto her humanity (and eat peaches. She loves peaches.) You’re tasked with one simple mission: Keep yourself and your new companions alive.

The exact nature of the apocalypse is unclear. We know that we’re hiding from the people outside, roaming the streets, and we know they’re armed with guns. On my first play through, I thought it was a nuclear apocalypse. This sense of mystery helps keep the game interesting.

If you hope to survive the end of civilisation, you’ll need to make the right decisions at key junctures within the story. Let me give you an example. A mother and child finds your hiding place and begs to be let in. You could let them in, but you only have a finite amount of food, and if you let them in, that’s just two more mouth to feed. Of course, you could just leave them out in the cold to die, but if you do that, the repercussions on the mental health of your party could be disastrous.

I find games like this fascinating. We tend to expect games to be “fun” but by putting the player in situations where they’re forced to make difficult decisions, games like The Monster in Me create an entirely different kind of experience. The parallels between it and This War of Mine should be fairly obvious. You’re being tested on your survival instincts. You’re forced to make painful decisions, but by offering players an opportunity to test their own moral fibre, we give the player an opportunity to take a deeper look at themselves.

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From a gameplay standpoint, it’s ultimately a balancing act. You’re placed in the middle of a series of arguments between Jacob and Ana. Jacob represents the necessity to survive, and he’ll push you to make difficult decision in the hopes of surviving. Ana represents your humanity, and she’ll push you to try to be kind. To survive the direness of the situation, you need to find an appropriate balance between the two, but whenever you side with one of them, you risk upsetting the other. Both characters have a morale stat, and depending on who you side with in each of the arguments, you can make one of your party members happier, and one of them less content. Depending upon how the group is feeling at the end of the story, you can arrive at a total of 24 different endings, ranging from survival, to devastating failure.

Oh, and if you screw up, this game will punish you. On my first play through, Jacob abandoned us to protect himself, leaving Ana and myself to be brutally murdered in our sleep. I can’t say I was surprised. All the warning signs were there. Throughout the story, I’d been repeatedly siding with Ana, choosing the human option at each juncture. I knew my Mr. Nice Guy routine was going to backfire on me eventually.

If I was going to survive, I needed to develop more of a killer instinct. I needed to make the difficult decisions, and risk upsetting Ana. I mean, she’s definitely better alive and pissed off with Jacob and I, than dead because I couldn’t take the decisive decisions when I needed to. I had to try my best to make some of the more difficult decisions.

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On my second play through, I tried to achieve a balance between survival and humanity. On some occasions, I sided with Jacob, and on others, I sided with Ana. The plot took a different path, and this time, we all survived. All the setup was there for a happy ending, and yet, it still left ashes in my mouth. We all managed to survive, but it was a bittersweet finale. To save ourselves, we’d been forced to commit an act of murder. No one was happy about it.

And that’s what makes The Monster In Me such an interesting game to play. It forces you to take a look at yourself, and question your own morality. You essentially have a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. If the devil offered to save your life, in exchange for your soul, would you take the offer? Having played the game through three times, I’ve never found a truly “happy” ending.

But then again, is it even possible to create a happy ending in such a devastating situation? Perhaps I did find the best ending – perhaps survival really is the best you can hope for? Or perhaps there is a scenario where you can still listen to the angel on your shoulder, and still survive, and still keep the group together. I’m going to hang on to hope. There are still 21 different endings left for me to find.

Then again, maybe I’m just too optimistic… There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write…