The wide world of independent games development tackles many genres great and small, but none more ubiquitous than the physics based puzzle platformer. From Braid to Limbo, you could almost rattle off an alphabet of melancholy games about a small hero in a big, bad world.
Unmechanical originally took off with last gen consoles, and got itself buried alongside its kin. The new extended edition aims to reinvigorate the game in a generation with less competition on the scene, but doesn’t end up soaring much beyond its original specifications.
" Parts of the world will raise an eyebrow, and you might even ask where it might be going, but such queries go completely un-answered, or doesn’t result in the grand event you had dared to imagine. "
Beginning the game finds your little helicopter guy stuck in a dank cavern, with many odd contraptions abound. With the only way forward being further into the twisted facility. Unmechanical makes attempts at creating a narrative through it’s environments as it goes through its roughly 3 hour run time, but never quite succeeds.
Parts of the world will raise an eyebrow, and you might even ask where it might be going, but such queries go completely un-answered, or doesn’t result in the grand event you had dared to imagine. Whatever story Unmechanical seems to want to tell, it failed to fundamentally engage me, and make me care about the plight of this strange world and it’s inhabitants.
The extended episode goes a bit further in developing a story, but only stitches an extra hour onto this already anemic game. The side plot involves a pair of robots trapped into a new area, and they work together to help each other through, but for better or worse, it seems completely self contained and doesn’t answer the questions the main game so tantalizingly dangled.
" While some [puzzles] are truly diabolical, most of them just involve weighing down scales or buttons to proceed. "
The puzzles do little to flesh out the narrative, but they all fit naturally into the maze-like caverns of your little tomb, feeling organic, and a part of the world of Unmechanical. The Helicopter controls simply, with nothing more than a simple tractor beam to help you carry objects, and a hint button where simple illustrations clue you in on solutions.
The simplicity of your abilities neuter the puzzle design however, and while some are truly diabolical, most of them just involve weighing down scales or buttons to proceed. Many of those same routine ones drag on as well, forcing numerous plodding trips back and forth well after you’ve demonstrated that you need to raise the water level by throwing rocks in, as an example.
It raises the question of what exactly about the player Unmechanical wants to test. Many times, the simple answer is patience. Weather that comes from forced backtracking, or puzzle elements going unnoticed because they don’t intuitively seem to be intended to interact with, or a sudden swing in tone when a puzzle depends more on execution and decides to throw any logical thought out the window.
" It raises the question of what exactly about the player Unmechanical wants to test. Many times, the simple answer is patience. "
The extended episode brings a few new ideas to the table, including a particular segment where your ability to fly for too long is taken away. It’s a glimmer of potential well after it needed to come, and unfortunately still leaves this 4 hour game with about an hour and a half of gameplay ideas.
The presentation is, as previously mentioned, schizophrenic at best. It goes to decent lengths to make its environments look convincing, but not usually very pretty. Every shade of the rock spectrum is present, but not much else to break it up.
The monotone environments can make puzzle design trip over itself, and in a post “The Swapper” world, we know that we can have both visually appealing yet desolate worlds, and visually intuitive world mechanics. Audio presentation is barely worth a footnote, doing little to enhance or detract from the game if you notice it at all. Whirring machines and background ambience, little more.
Unmechanical ends up being a strangely ironic title. The limits of it’s gameplay systems become apparent all too fast, even in its short run-time. In its world building attempts, it not only fails to engage, but actively sabotages puzzle design. The extended episode, the selling point to this fresh $10 download (as the main game is identical to the original release), ends up adding barely anything of note. Unmechanical Extended should in every sense, remain on the landing pad.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
The visuals go a long way in establishing the world and tone. Simple to control player character. Some puzzles are truly great.
The world that tries to tell the story fails to engage. Most puzzles are dull, drag on or reuse old tropes. Presentation gets in the way of the actual puzzle design