4pm is labeled as a “short, narrative driven game“, so it’s easy to draw immediate comparisons to games like Gone Home, 9.03m, The Stanley Parable, and Dear Esther. It also attempts to tackle a tricky subject matter in alcoholism, but after spending the last 20 minutes completing it, I’m not so sure it understands how alcoholism actually works.
In 4pm, you play a few hours in the life of Caroline, the alcoholic. You wake up hungover, checking your voice mail before stumbling in to the bathroom to pull yourself together. Your answering machine reveals that you haven’t been attending your meetings or doing a good job at keeping in contact with your mother, and to top it off, your cellphone has a voice message from your boss reminding you that you’re also late for work.
Over the course of 20 minutes you’ll go through a few different scenarios, like throwing up at a party, meeting a guy named James, and sneaking drinks on the job before making an early exit to go have more drinks. If anything, 4pm is persistent and wants you to know more than anything that Caroline is an alcoholic. Nothing is subtle or comes as a surprise during its very brief existence.
You navigate each small area and click on things for more information, which worked very well in Gone Home, but 4pm also adds in a few poorly executed “game” scenarios. It’s as if the developer took Gone Home‘s “this isn’t a game!” complaint, added in game segments, and in doing so somehow made it worse. During its finale, it’s all just supposed to come together as you make dialogue choices while talking a co-worker off of a rooftop before ending his life, but everything felt so forced. And then, in it’s big “ohhhhhh” moment, we’re expected to believe that our character, Caroline, has been completely oblivious to major events, like sexual encounters with the same partner for the last few months; but somehow remembers that she paid $500 for a dress. How?
As someone who has personally dealt with alcoholics his entire life, both family and friends, none of them have ever displayed symptoms of amnesia. Sure, they always worried about getting their next drink, and they wouldn’t hesitate to put their addiction ahead of family and friends, but they never forgot who they were sleeping with, or even someone’s name that they’ve met multiple times. Sure, alcoholics will sometimes drink to the point of blacking out, but chances are that if they’re at that stage in their addiction, they’re not going to hold an office job.
Tackling a subject such as alcoholism is extremely ambitious for a game that doesn’t even last longer than an episode of a sitcom. 4pm‘s entire concept is supposed to make you want to fix things or cheer for Caroline to get her life together, but never really succeeds in doing so. Its dialogue is so cut and dry, and when you combine that with horrendous character models and actually having the chance to fail scenarios, it just felt like a jumbled mess.
I love when games want to tackle real life issues and get emotional, but I just didn’t get that with 4pm. If anything, it felt like a student project that wanted to cash in on the narrative genre made famous by Gone Home and Dear Esther. I’m hoping that wasn’t the developer’s intention, as I know the entire project was developed by a single person, Bojan BrBora. Even still, there are plenty of quality titles developed by one-man teams, like Dust: An Elysian Tail, The Floor is Jelly, and Lifeless Planet. Its $5 price point also seems kind of steep for such a short experience.
Overall, I appreciate what 4pm was going for, but it felt so poorly executed that I can’t really recommend it; even for fans of narrative driven games. I know you’re not really supposed to enjoy controlling an alcoholic, but after it was all said and done I just kind of sat there wondering if that’s all the game had to offer. If you’re only going to create a 20 minute game, it probably isn’t a good idea to try and tackle such a devastating topic like alcoholism, especially in a way that’s completely unbelievable. It’s one thing to try and evoke emotion in your consumers with a full-on narrative approach, but breaking up your 20 minute story with a poorly executed stealth mission, or penalizing them for failing to find a bathroom within a time limit? I don’t get it.
Bradley Keene is the Executive Editor here at What’s Your Tag?, handling news, reviews, and a bit of our public relations communications. He’s an aspiring video game journalist, Baltimore native, and a diehard Orioles fan that’s completely obsessed with roguelikes, horror games, and point-and-click adventures. His favorite console is the Dreamcast, favorite game is the original Metroid, and he could watch The Goonies for the rest of his life. Contact him by e-mail at the address above, or follow his insanity on Twitter.