Review: Unmechanical

Unmechanical

One of the perks of being a reviewer is getting the opportunity to play games that I’ve never heard of before and otherwise would likely never be exposed to.  The benefit to this is I don’t get hyped up on pre-game trailers or preview videos.  There is an excitement that comes from playing a game without any preconceptions about the story or game mechanics.  To add to this column of gems that I had no prior knowledge of, I submit Unmechanical.

At a glance, Unmechanical is a puzzle adventure game set in an abandoned underground complex.  What that brief glance doesn’t tell you, however, is just how wonderfully alive the game world is.  It also doesn’t give any sense of just how immense the environment is, nor how striking the music is in compliment to the other aspects of the game.

Unmechanical‘s gameplay is simple yet perfect.  You control a little floating robot with the arrow keys and press the spacebar to activate a sort of gravitational beam to lift, carry, and interact with various objects within the environment to solve puzzles. During my second sitting with the game, I realized that I could also use my Xbox 360 controller, and was pleased to discover it works just as well as mouse and keyboard.

While there isn’t any direct narrative, a light story unfolds as puzzles are solved and new areas are unlocked for exploration.  A huge underground complex with what would seem to be a living heart connecting it all is being maintained by another robot similar to the one you control. Without giving away any specific moments, the game does a great job of hooking you in to find out what mysteries are held by this unusual subterranean locale.

Since the game is all side-scrolling (yet within a fully 3D world), there is plenty of time to just slowly make your way through the superbly detailed world.  Thanks to the Unreal 3 engine, every new section of the game comes to life with both an odd sense of use and subsequent neglect, as well as a slightly perverse sense of humor.  Now maybe the perverse humor is my own baggage that I’m bringing along for the journey, but that’s what makes this game shine.  Nothing is told outright as to what you are looking at, everything is in the eye of the beholder.

Unmechanical employs a mixture of physics- and logic-based puzzles for a perfect balance of observation and cues from within the game as well as familiar switch and light challenges that have appeared in similar games in the past.  Fortunately the logic behind pretty much all puzzles is straightforward so, except for a couple overly confounding conundrums, you don’t have to contend with too much head-scratching frustration.  The game doesn’t rush or force a timer, but almost revels in the fact that each section of the game is gorgeous and wants its players to soak in every minor detail.

Adding to the ambiance of the seemingly abandoned environ is the music, which feels inspired by Vangelis’ score from Blade Runner.  The music evokes modern technology yet brings a melancholy mood to the atmosphere and adds a layer of completeness that the game would otherwise suffer without.

While Unmechanical isn’t an especially long game, the pacing of puzzles and the unlocking of new areas gives me hope that the next title from Talawa Games will continue this freshmen title’s exceptional design. By that I am referring to how Unmechanical got its start as a student project and grew into the development studio’s first release. For as polished as this game is, I can’t wait to see what this highly talented team will release next.

Playing games without knowing anything about them definitely has its advantages.  Playing a game and being very pleasantly surprised by how gorgeous and lovingly designed it is makes for a truly special experience.  Available through Steam, GoG.com and other digital download services (and also coming soon to iOS devices), Unmechanical is a charming and mysterious game that should not be missed.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Beautifully designed world
+ Haunting music
+ Puzzles that fit and make sense within the world and don’t seem forced
+ Simple yet perfect controls

Cons:
- One or two puzzles just don’t make a whole lot of sense

Game Info:
Platform: PC (also coming to iOS)
Publisher: Teotl Studios
Developer: Talawa Games
Release Date: 8/8/2012
Genre: Puzzle/Adventure
ESRB Rating: N/A
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.