I started Unavowed with cautious optimism because it had gotten rave reviews. It’s made by Wadjet Eye Games, and they are much revered in the world of point-and-clicks. As I mentioned before, however, I loathed their Blackwell series, which everyone else (who likes the genre) adored. I tried two of those, finishing one, and I hated every second. It’s a shame, too, because they should be right up my alley. Psychics and paranormal activity, people going crazy, all of it gold. Yet, the bullshit of the genre really stood out early on, and I could never get over.
To recap, the bullshit includes having to go to a ‘room’, doing one thing, going to a room three rooms away to do another thing, then pick up an esoteric thing and bring it back to the first room to do something else. In the beginning of Unavowed, they avoided this trope, and I was pleased. All the puzzles were logical, and, yes, you might have to traverse the same terrain several times, but it didn’t feel forced. The first two chapters were solid, and I was hopeful that it would continue to be a good game.
I liked the story, even if it was a bit contrived. My character, mulan rogue (I always name my characters that when I can), is an actor (could have chosen cop or bartender as my ‘class’), and the game starts with a demon being cast out from inside me. Then, we go back in time and find out how I happened to be inhabited by a demon, and the rest of the game is finding out what the demon was doing while in my body and for what purpose. It’s interesting to run into people who knew me from my demon-infested time and to see how they react to me in the present. I chose to be a woman, too, and I wonder what would have been different if I chose man or demon. I’m especially intrigued about demon, but I have a hunch it’ll just say something like, “That’s not your real self. Try to remember!” and make me pick man or woman.
Things started to fall apart when they added people to the party. Quick background, the Unavowed are a secret society that keeps tabs on paranormal activity. They normally wouldn’t accept mundanes (people) into their mix, but they had to lower their standards over time. Anyway, Logan, a Bestower (ghost whisperer) is added in chapter three or four, and Vicky the cop is added in the next chapter. I like the theory of having all these different people in my party, but I can only choose two to accompany me on any given mission. One has to be one of the OG members, Mandana, the Jinn, or Eli, the Fire Mage, which is irritating, but understandable. Each party member has a certain skill set, and–wait. It doesn’t actually make sense. You still have to have puzzles that can be solved by any of the party members, so why limit which ones you can bring?
I was annoyed that I couldn’t go back and get a different party member once I started a mission (chapter). It didn’t make sense to me, but I have a hunch it has to do with coding. That’s my default excuse to anything that I don’t understand–it’s the coding. That was the first thing that set me off. The first time I came across a puzzle I couldn’t solve (I needed Logan, the ghost whisperer, and I didn’t choose him), I wasted a lot of time trying to figure out a way to get him. I would do a few things, then see if I could go back and get him. Do a few more things, then try to return again. Eli would keep telling me no, and it really pissed me off. It wasn’t until I actually finished the mission that I realized the party I chose at the beginning of the mission is the one I had to finish it with. I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that as I would have assumed that to be the case if I were playing a so-called hardcore game.
I think that’s part of the problem, though. Point-and-clicks don’t really fall neatly into any one category any longer. They want to be hardcore, but they’re not. They’re not exactly casual, either, though. So, while I know the convention of choosing your party to go on a mission in hardcore games, it didn’t click in my brain that this game was doing that. Once I realized that, I was, well, begrudgingly accepting. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t have to like it. I just had to realize that’s what they were doing.
One thing I have to say is that the graphics of this game are terrific. I really like the look and atmosphere of the game, and I would be content to wander through the areas forever. The colors are vibrant and evocative, and I can tell they were done with care. In the last chapter I played, I was in Chinatown, which was really cool. Made me hungry, though.
One other thing I appreciate about this game is the willingness to go dark. The themes are very dark, and they show things on screen that many games avoid. In addition, and I’ll slap the spoiler tag here:
I had to kill a major member of the Unavowed in the chapter before the Chinatown mission. The scene itself was frustrating because I saw a really easy way to end the conflict before it even began. But, I couldn’t mess with the Rules of Engagement, which were created specifically to make sure I didn’t interfere with the conflict. It felt ass-backwards to me, and while I know it’s a Game Mechanic, it didn’t feel organic to me at all. I’ll get to that in a minute, but let me continue with this scene. I did figure out what I was supposed to do, which made me proud of myself, I’ll be honest. But, then I wondered if there could have been a way to play out the scene without having to kill the Unavowed member. I couldn’t find one, though, and I reluctantly plunged the sword/scimitar into his neck.
The fact that they were bold enough to make me kill a major NPC is refreshing, and I appreciated it. I didn’t like having to do it, mind you, but it made me understand that no one was safe. Anyone could die (and, really, I should have seen that from the very beginning when my demon-infested character murdered two of her friends in cold blood), and that added a sense of urgency to the whole situation.
In Chinatown, everything fell apart. I brought along Mandana (Jinn) and Logan (Bestower) with me, and there came a point fairly early in the mission where I was stuck. I knew what I needed to do (get a piece of paper out of a paper lantern hanging in front of a Chinese restaurant), but I didn’t know how to do it. KayKay (Logan’s ghost) could see the paper, but she couldn’t read it. Why, because game! Really, there’s no reason she shouldn’t be able to read it. Anyway, I rued not bringing Eli because he could have fire-read it, but again, I couldn’t go back and get him. I tried to use Mandana to stab it with her scimitar, but that didn’t work. I wandered around the four or five areas for a good five minutes before I finally looked it up.
Side note: I hate using walkthroughs for these kinds of games. The whole point is to explore and learn things on my own. Using a walkthrough makes me feel as if I’m cheating, but I also don’t want to waste thirty minutes futilely wandering around if I’m not even in the right ballpark. In this case, I went to the Steam forums, and someone had the exact same question with the same exact party makeup. The dev answered, “Mandana can climb. :)” Excuse me, what??? There has never been a hint of her being able to climb before this, so how the fuck was I supposed to know that? I mean, maybe I could have figured it out because she’s a Jinn and can go in and out of bottles, but still. That’s not something you bust out on a player after several hours of play. I was not pleased. At all.
I had to use the walkthrough several times in this chapter. Each time, it was after several minutes of failure. Such as, I needed to buy a herb from a store. I knew this is what I needed to do, but I couldn’t figure out how to prock that scene. I had a receipt of the suspected perp from that store, but it wasn’t enough to get what I needed. I had seen an accounting of this receipt at the home of the perp, and I even tried to pick up said accounting. No can do. The solution? I had to place the receipt over the accounting (piece of paper tacked to a corkboard) to note that the numbers were different, and then you could bring this evidence to the store.
The other example is, um, let me try to simplify. Based on a legend of a ghost, I had to tie a red ribbon to a banana tree and then to the bed I needed to sleep in so she would grant my wish. Now. In my brain, I could tie the red ribbon to the banana tree in the greenhouse in back/balcony/wherever it was and then unspool it as I walked into the bedroom. That makes sense, right??? But, no. I could not leave the greenhouse with the red ribbon in my hand. I had just opened a window, so I knew I probably had to throw it out the window. Because why? Because games! I tried to throw it out the window, but I wasn’t able to. I tried several times, and then I looked it up. That’s what I had to do, but I apparently wasn’t clicking correctly. After tossing it out the window, I had to go down, pick up the spool, and throw it onto the balcony. Then, I could bring it into the bedroom and tie it to the bed.
That’s when I gave up on the game. I just couldn’t with the ridiculousness. In addition, there was much more ‘do one thing in this room, then go to this other room, then return to the first room’ bullshit than there was in the other chapters. Or maybe it was just that the logic wasn’t as logical so I was noticing how much I had to walk back and forth. I was unhappy that such a promising game would revert back to the tired old tropes just as the time when it should have broken free completely.
I was going to write about point-and-clicks in general and about one game that does it well, but this is getting long, so I’ll leave that for another post.