Review: a new life.

Angela He brings us a new soft, contemplative piece in a new life. Play, loosely, as August as she navigates life with May, the woman she loves. It’s a small, intimate story of love, heartbreak, and ultimately, life. 

Soft colors and airy figures

Angela He has a very distinct style, something that touches all of her games and art. This one follows those same general patterns while still being distinct and living in its own aesthetic. Dark pastels shift in hue and vibrancy as you move through the game. They trend lighter and brighter in the beginning when hope is high and fall into more mellow and desaturated colors as the story turns. Occasional touches of jewel tones (especially in the UI) highlight moments of clarity in the thoughts of our protagonist and gently hint to the player that there’s something important waiting behind the thought without parting from the aesthetic immersion.

There’s a luminosity to the art as well, particularly in the closeup renderings of eyes and faces. This, combined with ragged, hand-drawn lines and watercolor textures, creates a moving watercolor that is a feast for the eyes and the heart. 

A living painting

Another hallmark of He’s work is an intrinsic sense of movement. Sometimes, it’s quite literally in the way the scene shifts angles in response to the mouse. More central to the story, though, is the essential movement of the sprites through the backgrounds and the shifting figures. Even in scenes that are just the characters in space, the slightest of hand and face twitches creates a sense of constant movement and forward story momentum. 

Then there are the bigger, more dramatic movements, sprites changing location and appearance as the scene moves forward. These serve to almost wordlessly not only effortlessly show the passage of time but the ever-changing nature of our protagonists’ lives. Moving from wide to mid shots just in time for a character to drop dramatically out of frame makes for a more cinematic experience than a literary one.

This effect is made even stronger with the use of speech bubbles over the more traditional rectangle at the bottom of the screen. Speech becomes more integrated into the scene and the choices more imperative as you actually pick the exact words that are spoken.

Second chances

One of the more technically interesting aspects of a new life. is the narrative structure. There’s no route or branch splitting in the more “tree-style” sense, so at first, you feel like you’re trying to “beat” the game. You think “if I just make the right choices, I’ll get the good ending.” Once you’re through what’s going to be your first playthrough of several, you realize that it’s not quite so simple. There’s not really a “good” ending, just endings. That’s when the game encourages you to think about those choices you made and how they might have been different. So you play again, trying your best to make different choices, not knowing how they’ll unfold this time. The whole experience becomes a story both out of time and constrained by it. You’re constantly reliving the same words walking the same paths, hoping that this time it’ll be different. Every choice becomes heavy with uncertainty. 

Instant replayability and relevance

That cyclic storytelling, of course, lends itself intrinsically to playing over and over. Every time you rewind and play again, the story changes in small, nuanced ways, like a dream from a past life or alternate reality. August’s inner monologue recalls things that haven’t happened yet or maybe never will or never did.

With each subsequent playthrough, you get a little farther in the story. Every time you pass a new milestone, the game tricks you into thinking that you’re on the path to the closest thing to a “good ending” this game simply must have. That makes it all the more horrible when August and May’s life falls apart again. 

It’s also a game born of the current world in a very distinct way. The troubles and tribulations of our lovers find one-to-one parallels in the lives we’re all currently living. The fears, uncertainties, and doubts are almost too real to our current reality, framing this cyclic gameplay as a picture of real world wish fulfillment.

a new life. is, ultimately, a game of heartbreak. It’s also, however, a game of second-chances. It ties together love, family, fear, hope, commitment, and loneliness in a way that’s exquisitely devastating. And yet you keep coming back, over and over, because you also recognize in it the truth of life as we know it. 

Find a new life. on itch.io, Steam, Android, Google Play, and the App Store. It’s also among the games included in the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice.