Puzzles are all the rage with indies, not only in the adventure genre. Teotl Studios and Talawa Games present with Unmechanical a physics-based 2.5D title with its own unique personality to adore and plenty of brain-sizzlers to solve.
A small robot gets separated from his companions and has to find a way out of an underground world, full of wonder and intricate machines to discover and to overcome.
A world and story six feet under or more
When it comes to characterization and plot development, few puzzle games would be called complex, and Unmechanical is no different. It’s a simple affair to escape the underground maze with its machines and an A.I. who seems to be in control of everything. There isn’t much of a progression like in Portal, as no dialogues or cutscenes break the flow of gameplay.
Still the world itself and how it reacts to the small robot’s progress comes alive no matter how little exposition is on display. A close relationship between the protagonist and the player is built. Quite an achievement, considering no talking is involved. It’s the little things which create an emotional bond and a connection to this strange place. Changing from one location to the next, coming closer to the surface is a storytelling device which makes it seem less like a puzzle game but a journey through one consistent world (despite some loading times).
The way the underground passages are divided into different parts with their own themes of water, fire, earth, etc. doesn’t only make it more enjoyable to travel through, as no routine sets in. But there’s also always something new to discover, so backtracking becomes even more important to progress in the game, and the environments become a puzzle in and of themselves.
Physics are fun for puzzle fans and explorers
The puzzles are physics-based, which makes for quite some interesting ideas, but it can also lead to problems with the controls. Considering the robot can only use his small arms, and some objects like long iron bars are pretty heavy to carry around and to handle, the gameplay can become a bit too slow and tedious at certain points. Of course this reflects the little robot’s struggle against all odds, but it often leads to frustrating moments.
Solutions to various problems are usually found with a keen eye and a sense of orientation, so remembering places where objects could be used or switches pressed (usually by putting an object down on them so that they stay that way) becomes essential. But sometimes hints are rare and a few puzzles seem badly integrated, as if the designer wanted to throw in as many as possible to satisfy each player’s preferences. Opening a door with the right sequence of buttons which have a certain sound pattern is one such example which seems a bit out of place in this world, just as this type of puzzle is annoying in most point-and-click adventures.
More often than necessary, the player moves around aimlessly and only accidentally finds a solution to the problem at hand. It’s certainly not a bad thing to encourage exploration, but when this leads to frustration due to the lack of hints or unbalanced puzzles, it’s a bit of a disappointment, and a shame, because its presentation and simple controls offer enough incentives for a broader demographic of players.
Diving deep into musical and graphical territory
Sound and music are just as important as the graphics to create the immersion needed to get lost in Unmechanical‘s world, and the presentation succeeds on every level. Electronic synthesizer tunes might be commonplace these days in lots of indie and especially puzzle games, it seems, but they’re again used to great effect with each environment having its own unique atmosphere. The graphics, built on the Unreal 3 engine, look very nice as well, and only some slowdowns in certain areas of the game occur. Otherwise everything fits together perfectly.
Sometimes beautiful (especially when one gets a short look outside the underground in a tube later on), often big in scope, even scary in some dark places and claustrophobic, the visuals and sound design simply harmonize. Despite the lack of voice acting, there’s a certain charme about the blips and beeps the small robot makes when bumping against walls, making him more relatable than the typical adventure character who can’t seem to shut up.
A hidden gem of a puzzle game
Physics-based puzzling and storytelling with robots as protagonists are nothing new these days after the success of indie games like Machinarium or Portal. Unmechanical shares certain characteristics with the one (like the absence of voice acting), but it is even more minimalistic, as there’s not much of a story, while its mindbending puzzles are sometimes a mixed bag and not as streamlined as in Valve’s game.
Still with its playtime of around 3 hours it doesn’t outstay its welcome and offers enough brainteasing fun to be forgiven its shortcomings. The atmospheric soundtrack and good graphics add to the immersion in a puzzle-heavy world which is just as mysterious as it is beautiful.
If you liked reading this article, make sure you pay a visit to Future Sack which kindly features it as well, and every Facebook LIKE or comment is appreciated :).