So, I sat down to play… Unavowed (PC)
One of the relatively few good things about being snowed in is that you can sit around, do nothing and still feel good about it. So in the early days of the year, when it was too snowy to go outside, I binged Wadjet Eye’s latest point & click adventure game, Unavowed over a couple of days. I’m not joking about the binged thing, all I really did was play and sleep, as this is fairly long for a game of this genre. No regrets were had.
Coming in to Unavowed, I had been reading some amazing things about the game, in fact it was included in several “Best of the Year” lists so my interest was peaked. You see, I am a huge adventure fan, and I have been a fan of Wadget Eye’s games since The Shivah all the way back in 2005. But I rarely play games on the PC these days, so I figured I’d play Unavowed at some later point. Seeing it in these lists, and reading how it “redefines” the genre and does away with several of the conventions plaguing said genre, I was sufficiently hyped for the game.
Did the game live up to that seemingly exaggerated hype? Eh… I’m not exactly sure.
The first thing I noticed while playing was that the sweet melancholy and decay that characterized David Gilbert’s previous series, The Blackwell Saga, had been replaced by a much darker, serious tone. It felt a bit weird at first, since there was a safety in the atmosphere of the Blackwell games, but it is a welcome change. Most of the point & click adventure fans, myself included, grew up with the 1990s games, which were meant to be precisely that, an adventure. The tone was lighthearted, despite some darker themes, the protagonists were happy-go-lucky losers, and you can’t help but feel that the world these games presented to the player was what a teenager thought adult life would be like.
But as we grew older, and our lives became that much darker along the way (the world has always been a dark place, but maybe we grew more aware of that as well), we also changed the fiction we consume. It’s great to see that Dave Gilbert’s work has changed accordingly. Although, it has to be said, it’s not an easy transition for Unavowed. The game still has a rather cartoony look, and the first time you’re presented with uh, more mature scenes (can’t go into detail for fear of spoilers) it doesn’t quite… mesh. You get used to it the more you play, but at first it does stick out. But, to be fair, the art itself is quite wonderful and as I said after a while it really doesn’t bother you in the slightest.
One thing that Unavowed was praised for was the inclusion of three characters; one that you play as and two that help you at specific parts of the game. You choose these two out of an available four, and they’re really different to one another, both in personality and the way the game progresses depending which ones you’ve chosen. It’s a nice touch, and it does solve one of the biggest assumed problems with adventure games, which is replayability. Personally, I rarely replay games so this isn’t that big a deal, but it’s a nice thing to have. One touch I do love is that these characters that you bring with you have their little chatter in the background while you’re doing stuff -I’ve always loved that in games. It really creates the feel of a living world that’s around even after your PC is turned off, plus it’s a great way to flesh out the characters even more.
However, if I wanted to be brutally honest about this three-characters-system, uh… Well, the Blackwell games always had two characters that were fully playable and could interact with one another, so as far as gameplay is concerned, isn’t the only real difference that all we got was an extra character? Hardly a revolutionary feature.
Moreover, while on the subject of the gameplay, the biggest criticism for point & click adventure games over the years has been that the gameplay is a bit redundant. Gameplay is the boring part between cut-scenes, which are the main reason people play this games. You click everywhere on the screen, then if nothing happens you take an inventory item and click that all over the screen. If that doesn’t work either, you just visit a different room in the game, and the clicking continues. Of course I am slightly oversimplifying things, but sadly this not far removed from the truth. But this is where I hoped (I may have misread the hype) that Unavowed would really make a difference.
To put it rather bluntly, it didn’t. Most of the puzzles work just fine, they’re logical and not too obtuse -the common pick for worse puzzle was the one involving “LEGS” but for whatever reason that clicked pretty much instantly for me. I guess one of the things you pick up after playing so many games from the same person over 10+ years is that you kinda learn how they think so you adjust your thinking to theirs, therefore solving their puzzles feels kinda natural. But the core gameplay is the same as any other adventure, which is what I was expecting but not what I was hoping for.
I do realize that I’m making the game sound worse than it really is. Don’t get me wrong, Unavowed is a great point and click adventure game, up there with the best of them. It has a good story with a downright amazing twist, well-written characters, beautiful graphics and a great soundtrack. The voice acting is a bit off sometimes, but hey Wadjet Eye is a small studio, cut them some slack. And, perhaps, the best thing it does is how effortlessly it ties in with the Blackwell saga, therefore creating its own in-game universe, in an age were virtually everybody is trying to do the same with mostly with negative results. Here, it just works, and you’re actually glad to see it tie back to the previous game.
All in all, it’s a good game and you should play it, even if you aren’t an adventure fan.
It just isn’t the transcendental masterpiece some reviews were making it out to be, but that’s fine too.
I wrote this a while ago, before I broke my left arm in mid-January, and in the meantime I did watch a video review of Unavowed on YouTube. Just listening to a few notes from the main theme was enough to make me feel deeply nostalgic for my time with the game, so there’s a good chance I might change my mind about it in the near future.