Unmechanical: Extended Edition Review
Sometimes, it’s nice to kick back with a quirky little brain-buster and spend a few hours, considering and conquering. Unmechanical: Extended Edition is an upgraded version of the 2012 PC hit and while it’s a pretty straightforward puzzler, it’s a well-designed one. Plus, the visual presentation is inspired and those who appreciate a stiff challenge will relish the latter stages of the game. There are cases where we have to suffer through a few tedious, frustrating puzzles that leave us just plain irked, but the overall experience is a positive one.
Visually, Unmechanical is like a fantastical take on the industrial; a lighter, more ethereal take on the steampunk concept. The game benefits from beautiful textures throughout along with fantastic animation. It’s one of those games that, even though it isn’t a AAA blockbuster production, it still manages to draw the eye. It demands our attention due to a solid, attractive, original presentation as opposed to in-your-face special effects. This is about subtlety, after all. The lighting and shading is indeed special but again, it’s all special on a smaller scale. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, either; it’s just pleasant to behold.
The music fits snugly into the graphical style, as a mix of haunting, atmospheric effects accompany your puzzle-solving adventure. The soundtrack works as well, helping to produce a singular environment that has its own appealing personality. There are those who may not embrace such an environment (it’s a little dark for me, for instance), but it remains a great accomplishment. The audio and graphics are appropriately implemented for the sake of immersion, and they work together to create a game that quite simply makes one smile. It’s nothing to write home about but it paints a picture, and it’s a picture that most will find inviting.
The scenario is rather vague, as there’s virtually no defined story. It all centers on the protagonist, a bizarre robotic character, lost in a strange land filled with debris and detritus. It appears that a once-powerful civilization has crumbled and all that remains is an intimidating wasteland, albeit not without its little charms. The goal is to escape this foreboding landscape and as you travel, you’ll spot other robots who are facing the same challenges. These characters don’t stick around for very long, though; you never get a chance to interact with any of them. This just leaves you, gliding along, trying to figure out what happened, and how to get out.
For the most part, I don’t like it when a game completely eliminates any semblance of plot and character development. I mean, even fighters have a plot, even if that plot is typically a joke. But in the case of niche games like Unmechanical, where the focus is squarely on puzzle-solving gameplay (and it’s not a pure adventure, like Myst or Monkey Island), it doesn’t really bother me. Just remember that if you’re a novice in the world of puzzlers, this one may be a bit beyond your grasp. I’ve played lots of puzzle games in my day and I have to admit, there were several puzzles in this game that stumped me. However, I will say that sometimes, I think it was due more to flawed design than my inability to find the solution.
All you’ve got is a handy-dandy tractor beam with one function. Anybody can press a button and make it work; the key is using it correctly and at the right time. As you progress, you’ll tackle more elaborate and time-consuming puzzles, which isn’t too surprising. There are your standard pressure-pad puzzles and puzzles based around timing, while others have you stringing together a series of strategic steps. You’ll be surprised at just how diverse these puzzles are, especially when you consider the limitations involved with a one-skill, one-button gameplay style. In this way, the designers do a great job of finding new ways to challenge the player.
There’s just too big of a gap between the really entertaining, nicely conceived puzzles and those that piss you off. I’ve spent altogether too much time going back and forth, trying to figure out a possible solution. And instead of the relieved euphoria that often follows the titular “eureka!” moment, I get more of a drudgery feeling. This makes me moody and unhappy. And that’s no good. It’s annoying that the tractor beam is so freakin’ limited and the fact that it doesn’t get any sort of upgrade only increases the tedium. I admit the developers did quite a bit with this one basic concept, but I kept thinking it had room to grow and that growth just didn’t happen.
As for why the game is called the “Extended Edition,” that’s because there’s new content for this console iteration. There are new challenges and a couple new robots as well, which makes for a slightly more robust experience. The best part is that this new content gives us glimpses of improved gameplay and more variety, which makes me think a follow-up effort will sport some lessons learned, so-to-speak. There’s no doubt that such content amps up the quality and longevity of the game in question, but I’m not sure if any other updates will entice new consumers. Don’t forget that when it comes to puzzlers, it’s all about the puzzles. Little else matters.
Unmechanical: Extended Edition is a mostly rewarding and wonderfully atmospheric puzzler with only a few significant flaws. A few of the puzzles just seem poorly designed, which clash with the great puzzles that thankfully populate most of the game. The complete lack of a narrative is only a little disconcerting; even though I’d want to learn a bit more about the world and my odd character, I’m usually too busy thinking. And that’s a good thing. I still say they could’ve expanded upon that tractor beam mechanic without too much difficulty but otherwise, this is a worthwhile puzzler for those who wish to test their brains as opposed to their fingers. It’s just a tad quirky.
The Good: Great detail and animations, and a singular atmosphere. Good music and ambient effects. Challenging, rewarding puzzles. Nice variety of puzzles, despite the one-button gameplay. Extra content adds flavor and quality.
The Bad: More could’ve been done with this mechanic. Puzzles can be tedious and annoying.
The Ugly: “Okay, sorry, but that made no sense.”
2/19/2015 Ben Dutka