As somebody who struggled with depression for the better part of ten years, and seeing as this application is free, I decided to play it for myself. Yes, I know that this does not techincally qualify as a game, it's an interactive story, it doesn't belong on Steam, yadda yadda yadda. I agree, and I'm approaching this as the form of media that it is.
First off, the presentation is quite bland. The sales pitch for this "game" promises that you can "watch the color get sucked out of how you see the world" as your depression gets ever deeper, however, there isn't much color in the game to begin with. It's a solid white background with plain black text in a generic font, with a small picture on top of the page, sometimes of something that has absolutely nothing to do with the scenario. I mean, come on guys...I understand that the point of this game isn't to entertain, but if you can't put forth the effort to make it look good, then why should we put forth the effort to stick around to the end? The pictures themselve are very boring and add nothing to the text. The worsening of your depression results in the picture becomming slightly swarmed with static, an interesting (albeit misguided) choice. Indeed, depression can make your life seem dull and dreary, but why would you choose static to convey this? All it did was make the picture look like a TV that's not getting good reception. The audio is also said to change, and it does, but not by much. It's the same ol' track, only tweaked a bit to make it sound a bit more unsettling (of course, I lowered the volume because it's just kind of annoying). Overall, the special effects did nothing to enhance the experience, and the presentation leaves much to be desired.
Secondly, I don't understand the mechanics of this game. The story and outcome are driven by the choices that you make, but sometimes the outcome you get doesn't make much sense in regard to the choices that you made. For example, in my first playthrough, I based my decisions somewhat on what *I* would do in the given situation if I were depressed. I didn't always make good choices, and yet somehow, I got the good ending. On the flip side, when I chose the choices that I thought were the best options, I only got an okay ending, which confused me to no end. In the beginning of that playthrough, I made many choices in the beginning that were identical to my first playthrough. The only thing that was different was that I had chosen to try to get some work done in the first scenario, and my character somehow ended up even more depressed than when I had them veg out on the couch watching TV. And somehow, this ended up in me not being able to "test the waters" when I had lunch with Amanda. Even in Mass Effect, I could usually choose whatever option I wanted regardless of my past decisions. Of course, the first couple of options are always crossed out no matter what, as if their only function is merely to taunt you. These choices are the best ones possible, and you can never choose them, EVER. Although, sometimes when you pick the best choice available, it ends up backfiring, as is the case with the first scenario in the game. So really, what's the point? Another blunder is that the progress you make isn't really reflected that well between the text and the depression "meter". For example, if you have your character take medication, the text will say that they have noticed that they are feeling better, but the depression "meter" will persist on saying that your character is still pretty depressed, even after a few scenarios. The text itself is not much different depending on the depression "meter". There is a slight difference when you go the extremely negative path, but it's nothing to brag about. All in all, I didn't feel like the depression "meter" was a true-to-life representation. It makes it seem like when you are going through a major depressive episode, that you're down in the dumps everyday, and that's just not true. Some days are still better than others, and I just felt like this wasn't adequately reflected in the "meter". I feel like this feature shouldn't have been added at all, and I'm thinking the only reason it was added was for the sake of making this seem more like a game. And why was this game made compatible with the XBOX controller? It's just dumb. That's like surfing Wikipedia with a gamepad. Is this their way of saying, "See! This IS a game! It can be played with an XBOX controller!!!" Stupid...
Now, let's deal with the actual CONTENT of the game. In which case, what more can I say that hasn't already been said? The writing is very dry and uninspired. It's like they were trying to write an imaginative story using nothing but exposition. There's absolutely no style, whatsoever. At the beginning, you're told that you are a "twenty-something human being" and that's about all the information you get on the character you are "controlling". There's not much backstory into your character at all, and you are spoonfed tidbits about your friends, family, and girlfriend by clicking on their names in the beginning, instead of, you know, fleshing them out in the story. You're also given some vague information about your job and a "project" that you work on off to the side, but you're never told what you do for a living other than that your job is dull and repetitive, and you're never told what this "project" is and why it's so important. Other than that, you're told absolutely nothing about your character, leaving you with the conclusion that he is the most boring human being that you've ever met. I'm thinking that they did this because they wanted players to put themselves in the main character's shoes, but it doesn't really work here, especially not when the story is so linear. Instead, leaving you to imagine what your main character does for a living, and the nature of this "project" comes off as a major cop-out to me. It takes away the work of having to create a character that people can connect with.
Sometimes the reactions of the main character are overly exaggerated. Like in the beginning, when he comes home from work and is for some reason overwhelmed with stress over the idea of working on his project. I didn't understand that at all. Why would you be so stressed out about something you do as a hobby??? It's not like this project is important to his job. It baffles me that the developers state the objective of this game is to get rid of the stigma of depression, but it seems they're trying to achieve this goal by resorting to stereotypes. The impression this scenario gives is that somebody who suffers from depression is so frozen by their anxiety that the very thought of even doing something that they love makes them want to curl up into a corner and suck their thumb. Of course, this is not accurate by any stretch of the imagination. It seems like this character is always over-reacting, even for a depressed person.
Some elements of the story turn out to be a complete red herring, like the project, which is mentioned maybe two times in the entire story, and then forgetten completely by the end. Then there is the case of the resume you send for that "dream job", it's never mentioned whether you were contacted for that or not. I would imagine that being either called in for an interview or rejected outright would have a profound effect on the character, but it's never explored. This is yet another indication of lazy writing, or a complete lack of planning (or both).
Some of the characteristics of depression were accurate, such as the feelings of isolation and the mental fog, but even the developers admit that not everybody's experience is the same. I think it would have been better if they had avoided a cookie-cutter story, and had mutliple characters with different personalities and life situations. Oh, but that would have taken actual WORK.
Case in point, I can't recommend. It doesn't do well what it sets out to do.