Review: How We Know We're Alive

5 stars
A trip down melancholy lane, in the mid-north of Sweden

How We Know We’re Alive is a short, free narrative adventure game set in Sweden. You play as Sara, an advertising copywriter who returns to her hometown of Härunga to pay her respects to her estranged friend, Maria. We learn that Sara’s and Maria’s paths in life diverged when Sara moved to Stockholm to fulfill her aspirations to become a writer, and Maria decided to stay behind to raise a family.

Sara hates Härunga, a fictional town situated in Sweden’s non-fictional Bible Belt, but she is compelled to learn more about what happened to Maria. So she has strained conversations with the people she grew up with.

The game is rendered in gorgeous, animated pixel art and features an evocative soundtrack. It combines point-and-click mechanics with horizontal movement using the keyboard, but features no puzzles. You walk around, click on some hotspots, and talk to people (you can make choices during each conversation).

Sara standing near a flower shop in rain and darkness.
Sara really, really does not like her hometown of Härunga. The weather is doing little to change her mind. (Credit: Motvind Studios. Fair use.)

It’s a 30-60 minute story about grief, love, and alienation, and not the kind of game I would recommend playing if you’re in an emotionally dark place yourself. The dark and rainy scenery is only briefly interrupted by sun-drenched memories, and the game’s ending may put you in a somber or reflective mood.

I encountered one small bug (when I moved in another direction than the game anticipated, it kept repeating the same scene with the same dialog), and I had to play the game in window mode on Linux to avoid flickering. But these were minor issues. If and when you have the appetite for this kind of story, How We Know We’re Alive is a beautiful, moving experience.

If you want to support the work of the small indie dev team that created the game, you can send them a few bucks for the deluxe edition, which includes artwork, the game’s original script, and a soundtrack with tracks not included in the game.