Throughout history, many have theorized the existence of ghosts, demons and the supernatural. Unavowed not only delves deep into these subjects – casting you as a part of a team of paranormal investigators in a ghost-and-ghoul-ridden New York – but is also rather supernatural in its own right: a point n’ click adventure game in 640×380 resolution released in 2018!
The Thread That Unravels a Fine Yarn
Unavowed stresses the sort of choice and consequence gameplay that has become so fashionable since the 90s days of yore! Right at the start you can choose a male or female protagonist. Interestingly enough, the protagonist is the only unvoiced character and you can even name him/her (due to what is surely some sort of ensorcelled curse, none of the voiced characters ever call the protagonist by name). It definitely reminded by of roleplaying titles from back in the day as you’re given very much a blank slate to play as you will.
Right from the beginning, Unavowed takes you by surprise and manages to develop its story and characters in excitingly unpredictable way. You’re given a chance to choose the protagonist’s origin story: either a cop, bartender or actor. I picked an actor, being something of a school play thespian! I was then thrust in the protagonist’s prologue of an upcoming play being derailed by the obsessive rewrites of an auteur director whose perfectionism has spun out of control. Even in this first scene there’s a brilliant bit of surprising juxtaposition as at first you’re trying to help the director gently wind down from what seems like a particularly intense bout of word vomit, and then things turn horrifyingly violent in a plot twist that quite literally made my jaw drop. It turns out the protagonist has actually been possessed by a demon for an entire year, which has made him/her do unspeakable acts of manipulation and murder.
And this is the protagonist’s motivation: to investigate the path of destruction wreaked by the demon who possessed them and track it down before it causes any more chaos. To do this, he joins the Unavowed: a secretive organization dedicated to fighting supernatural threats to the world.
Genie (not) in a Bottle
It’s a very interesting and unique premise that isn’t wasted one iota by the game that’s formed around it. Every mission, you’ll experience flashbacks of the awful deeds committed by your demon possessed self, where you even get dialogue choices of what subtly wicked manipulations the demon tricked people with. It was honestly pretty harrowing to choose which way the demon convinced a hapless woman to kill her landlord’s dog! The way the narrative gives you broad control over the direction of the story and then narrows it down to just iterations of the bleak past is a great way of exploring the protagonist’s feelings of loss of agency and violation.
Speaking of choices, there are plenty of them to be made, and they’re not just straightforward choices between good and evil. One difficult choice that comes early on is whether to mercy kill a being who has been betrayed and cursed to eternal suffering, or to send him to another dimension in the vain hopes he might find a better life. None of the choices I made, I did without heavily weighing the consequences, and I think that’s a sign of a well made choice and consequence system.
Assisting you in your paranormal investigations are the motley crew of trenchcoated fire mage Eli, scimitar wielding genie Mandana, ghost-talking spiritualist Logan and the thoroughly loose cannon detective Vicki. Each party member has different skills they bring to the table. Mandana’s supernatural strength and swordsmanship means she can defeat vast foes or throw bricks through windows! Eli can either throw destructive fireballs, read burned books or merely set off sprinklers! It’s all dependent on how you use your party members (whose icons are helpfully kept with the rest of you inventory) to solve the various puzzles.
What’s the most compelling choice of all is which party members to bring on each mission (you’re limited to two of the four available). Depending on who you bring, you can solve the same problems in a variety of different ways. The different permutations of party members are also great fun because of the interesting flavour dialogue they’ll have with eachother while walking about (a la Bioware RPG games, which makes this a wonderfully unique aspect for a point n’ clicker). I found myself particularly favouring Logan, because you can see what all the various ghosts around the city have to say for themselves. Logan is a recovering alcoholic who, like all the characters, has his own chequered past that gradually unravels through the course of the game. The subtle hints at the backstories of the various characters is perfectly paced just like the backstory of the protagonist and gives tantalizing glimpses of their past rather than it being just a information dump.
Certain combinations of characters can create some very fun situations such as bringing Eli and Mandana to Wall Street. Former accountant Eli remarks on how the financial district hasn’t changed since the seventies, only for the centuries old Mandana to agree it hasn’t changed since the 1770s! All the permutations of dialogue and interactions that can occur because of the well drawn characters (in a literal and development sense sense) not only make your playthrough feel incredibly special, but also adds a big replayability factor that point n’ clickers haven’t always had.
A Friendly Ghost
The puzzles in Unavowed are very intuitive and heavily hinted at. Simply holding down the right mouse button will show you all the interactible hotspots on screen, minimising any time you might be searching for something to click on. Not only this, but the number of potential hotspots you can interact with are usually very low. A short description appears at the button of the screen every time you mouse over something observable and not interactive, so you can enjoy examining everything without fruitlessly trying to use everything on everything. Any items you don’t need will generally be removed from your inventory at the completion of each “quest”, further decreasing guesswork of which items in your inventory are actually useful. When you’re at a loose end, talking to one of your allies will generally point you in the right direction and give you a hint. On top of this, solutions to puzzles are usually pretty logical and straightforward, like using a screwdriver to remove a license plate.
Some old school fans would call the puzzles in Unavowed outright easy because of how much the game helps you along. For me, I found the balance just right. There’s enough mental legwork to do that there’s a light glow of satisfaction for working out various puzzles, but you never get so bogged down attempting fruitless permutations of inventory items on the scenery that it slows down the flow of the story. If anything, when you try to solve a puzzle in a way that seems logical but doesn’t quite work, there will often be an amusing, characterful quip from one of your party members explaining why it didn’t work and hinting at the right solution.
Adventures in the Void
Unavowed is the perfect title for those who want to enjoy an old-school adventure game – with all its lushly colourful pre-rendered backgrounds and perfectly pixellated sprites – without the old-school headaches of unintuitive puzzles slowing down the story. With sharp writing, excellent voice acting and genuinely intriguing choices to be made, Unavowed should definitely be possessing your hard drive sometime soon!
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (reviewed) Publisher: Wadjet Eye Games ; Wadjet Eye Games ; Players: 1 ; Released: August 8th, 2018
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PC review copy provided to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.