The story behind how I found Unmechanical is really not very interesting. I saw mister John ‘Totalbiscuit’ Bain do a ‘WTF is…’ video of the game, and it looked fun. So I once again went to Gog.com the other day and found it for 9 bucks, so I figured I would give it a shot. I paid more for today’s dinner, and that didn’t entertain me for as long.
Unmechanical is a 2.5D puzzle game. Pure and simple. There’s no platforming, no combat, no dialogue and what little story there is never gets in the way of the puzzles. Development was done by Swedish studio Talawa Games, and it’s actually their first game, which is rather impressive. Another Swedish studio called Teotl Studios (the people behind The Ball) helped them out. It is only out for PC at the moment, though they are planning an iOS port and the game is also on OnLive for any platform that can run that.
As usual, there will be minor story spoilers, though you’ll have to figure out the puzzles on your own.
The plot is minimalistic. You are a little floating robot-thing that is utterly adorable, can fly anywhere and use a small tractor beam to affect its surroundings. At the start of the game you are out flying with others of your kind when an arm comes out of the ground and grabs you. You fly through several tubes and see others similarly kidnapped before you crash into an underground lake which knocks you out. You wake up on the bank of the lake and the game clues you in to how the F1 key will give you a little hint.
No further explanation is given though, not even of the controls. So let me help you out there. To move around you can use WASD or the arrow keys. For some reason I couldn’t move diagonally properly with the arrow keys on my keyboard, so I had to use WASD for full movement, and a few puzzles do require that. Spacebar or Left mouse button activates the tractor beam. It’s only active for as long as you hold down the key/button.
As you traverse the world and solve the puzzles you will occasionally get insights into the world and its other inhabitants, even though they’ll always be out of reach. And eventually you figure out why you and your kind have been kidnapped.
None of that truly matters though. What matters are the puzzles, of which there is a shocking amount of variety. There are all sorts of puzzles testing different things: logic, reasoning, memory, your grasp on physics, precision, speed and more. By making you largely invulnerable and having frequent checkpoints the game encourages you to experiment to your heart’s delight. The game is only 3-4 hours long, and I kinda get the feeling that was the point where they ran out of puzzle ideas. The fact that there are so few similarities between the puzzles is quite frankly amazing though. Some of them build on what you’ve mastered earlier, but there is very little repetition.
The graphics are also rather astonishing. This game was built with the Unreal Development Kit, and it is simply beautiful. The lighting effects are excellent, the entire environment is incredibly detailed and well-crafted, and combined with the highly atmospheric music and nicely simple sound effects it creates a fascinating world that it’s a shame they don’t delve deeper into. I feel I should also mention that the game is locked at 60 FPS, for those of you that care about such.
The game physics also feel really good. On its own the little adore-bot will just float in position effortlessly, but as soon as you lift something up you will have to keep correcting because the item will drag you down towards the ground. Things behave as you expect them to, and that certainly helps the immersion.
I’d be awfully remiss if I did this entire review without mentioning the balls. From the moment I found my first one I was all ‘ooooooo shiny!’ and I wanted to never part with it. I happily did whatever it took to bring it with me to the next part of the game. Whenever one was taken from me I was outraged. I guess they felt like friendly company in a dark and lonely world. It got quite eerie down there from time to time.
And then there is the one part where you upgrade the robot. For a moment there I thought that would lead into a metroidvania thing, but that was the only time, really. It was a good upgrade, but it feels like something they intended to have more of, but then changed their minds (or ran out of time/money). The fact that some of the music felt very Metroid Prime might have tinted my expectations.
I did find it interesting that they actually decided to include two different endings. They don’t really do much with either ending, but they both have interesting implications.
Now what could have been done better? Well, any explanation of the controls would have been good. There’s nowhere you can look them up, and rebinding keys is completely out of the question. I had to guess based on my knowledge of videogame standards, and though I was right that doesn’t speak well for anyone not familiar with videogames trying this out without anyone to explain things for them. I did run into a few minor graphical bugs and the occasional place where the physics spazzed out, but nothing that ruined any of the puzzles. And I wouldn’t have minded a little more insight into the world we’re traveling through. What we got was sorta intriguing, but felt a little shallow.
What it boils down to is this: If you like puzzles, I would highly recommend you check this game out. If you don’t like puzzles, or if you’re looking for a deep story, this is not the game for you. Everything is told through the environment, be it the story or any hints the game gives you besides the F1 function. It follows the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule religiously. It is, in short: A very good puzzle game.
At a mere $10 as it costs as of this writing it certainly won’t put you far back, but if you’re still in doubt, there is a demo.