A Game About Hope? Sorta? Maybe? Nope
It’s hard to imagine a world without our dependence on technology. We trust it to get our news, write our documents, buy our goods, and even network with our friends. But what if the very machines we’ve come to naturally rely on were to turn against us? What if that awkward moment finally clicked and A.I. became self-aware? It’s something that The Uncertain: The Last Quiet Day does a great job of exploring, looking at the ruins of what humanity once was from the perspective of its liberated robots. But in this second chapter, The Uncertain: Light at the End, the story flips by looking at the world from the point of view of the surviving humans. What results is a monotone mess of a game that feels even less human than its robot-focused predecessor.
Developed by New Game Order and published by META Publishing, The Uncertain: Light At The End was released on October 8th on Steam. This ambitious sequel is a gorgeous spectacle when working properly. But right now, it has far too many game-breaking bugs to thoroughly enjoy the game. Yet even with promised patches and updates, the game’s dystopian adventure feels oftentimes boring. With a plot that’s semi-forced, and not much development happening outside of its pretty world design.
Uncertain Is Putting It Lightly
In The Uncertain: Light At The End, you play as Emily, a girl living amongst a group of survivors who is trying to scavenge supplies in order to survive. The game takes place just after the collapse of a robot-dependent society, where humans were overthrown and rounded up by their new robot overlords, and are being hunted by what used to be the robotic police force. And sure, there is a lot of discussion and dialogue in the game about what life was like in the world before, including speculation as to what actually happened to cause the robot apocalypse. Ultimately though, none of it matters except for a small revelation that some robots are seemingly kinder than others (though you already know this if you played the previous game).
To be blunt, I don’t understand the purpose of this chapter. Whereas the first one, from what I’ve researched for this review, is sort of a refreshing take of what’s happened to the world from a uniquely robotic point of view, this game often feels like a simple exposition dump, and not a very good one at that. There isn’t really a goal in the game, or even a connection to the previous iteration of the series until the game’s ultimate conclusion. And for dystopian science fiction, there’s nothing really at stake in this game, as the survival elements feel a little too comfortable for the player to care. I say this because a secure home with running water, pancakes, and even an accessible pharmacy and shopping mall don’t feel all that imperative or even dangerous. At least to me. There is however a sick baby, but it’s not dying as much as it is just crying and needing rest. Which for some strange reason, the group decides not to do.
The pacing is also incredibly slow, the tone forced, and the dialogue often gets lost in translation. It’s also evident how much the first game benefited from using robots as characters, as no one had to worry about conveyance through facial expressions. Dare I say that the robots made better humans in the last game in that they were at least curious about the world around them. In this game, it’s more about human infighting and disagreement for ultimately purposeless reasons.
This is No I Am Robot
Whereas the first game had a foreign element that felt natural, this game lacks both heart and direction. The dialogue is often lost in translation (as it was originally in Russian). Which wouldn’t be too awful, except that this chapter is trying its best to sell the game’s humanity. Likewise, the survival elements feel a little too comfortable in what looks like the world’s neatest apocalypse. The robots themselves don’t seem all that menacing. Most are still keeping up with their service tasks despite not having humans to serve, and like most of the stormtroopers from Star Wars, the robot police force that’s meant to feel intimidating miss their shots almost 100% of the time. When you finally get to hear the PEWs from their lasers, it actually sounds rather high pitched and somewhat adorable. Not intimidating by any means.
I think a lot of the tone-deaf moments in this game result from its lack of facial expressions, eye movements, and even body blocking. It’s also glitched to almost no end often with broken features. Still, even when it’s working properly, most of the long dialogues and discussions occur with characters that have stoic faces depicted on screen. It’s so bad that I often thought the characters were all partially blind. To make matters worse, The Uncertain: Light At The End sort of accentuates its own problems by intentionally ignoring the eyes and focusing on its character’s lip movements, which unfortunately remains highly unsynchronized for its English translation. All of these things together completely ruin what’s supposed to be the grounded emotional human side of the story. The main voice actress who plays Emily is sincere, but for the most part, most characters are written like they’re short fused or one-dimensional, both in emotional tone and line delivery. It’s not that the voice acting is bad, but rather that the scripts seem to depend on taking things to an emotional extreme, mostly for the sake of creating conflict. This means forced arguments, human infighting, and of course the inevitable bad decisions that result. Why? Because humans are emotional wrecks, especially when together, and the game needs to make it feel difficult getting there.
Perhaps the game’s biggest flaw is that they angled it as a human survival story. I’m not entirely sure it fits. I know that Emily goes on supply runs and does tasks to help the group survive, but there isn’t a primary objective all throughout this game, as it’s mostly fetch quests. Stacked on top of this “drama”, there are a lot of weird moments of trying to be human. Side quests about winning in a VR game or simple exposition to delve into a side character’s backstory to learn about who they were pre-apocalypse, even though none of it ultimately matters or even has a character arc payoff. But hey, at least the robot apocalypse is pretty to look at.
Who Needs Food With All This Sweet Eye Candy?
I honestly think the game does itself a disservice by focusing way too much on its art and not enough on its story. As a design portfolio, the game shines with a nice polish, and the attention to detail in this game looks amazing. The many magazine tablets, objects, junk, and items that you can interact with all littered throughout this world. All for excellent worldbuilding as you can touch many of the game’s interactable objects and even learn about the story’s history. Likewise, the puzzles and mini-games aren’t too bad and often feel grounded in realism (like needing to fix a broken water heater), often proving a pleasant and quick distraction from the pointlessness of the main plot.
But there isn’t a purpose to most of it. To make matters even more complicated, despite this gorgeous attention to details, the animation ultimately fails, with blurry edge detection and inconsistent visual settings on low-to-high end systems. Simply put, this game needs desperate streamlining. With motion-capture movements that look pretty at first, until you realize that it’s 100% unnecessary and shot as exposition while walking down an unnecessary street (yes, this is an actual example from the game partially shown above). Still, you can at least get a decent screenshot in.
Hey, Emily. How Ya Playin?
First, what this game desperately needs is to fix its save function because there are no pause and save options in the game. Sometimes your file will load, sometimes it won’t, and sometimes it’ll load and you’ll be at a different spot or location than you remembered. The fact that basic loading and saving is bugged in what’s actually a very short game is outright terrible. Because if a person can’t access their game from where they left off, then honestly there’s absolutely no reason to play it.
As for the mechanics, The Uncertain: Light at The End is more of an adventure game, with UI in the styles of the Telltale or Dontnod entertainment games variety. You can interact with most people you encounter. There are quick-time events, plenty of things to interact with, and many conversations to be had amongst the game’s dialogue trees. The most challenging moments meant to enthrall you are in the game’s puzzles and stealth-based mechanics. This includes scavenging areas like the mall or pharmacy while hiding from robotic drones, cops, and guards.
Though the dialogue tree seems long and diverse, none of your choices have that much of an effect on the gameplay. Which is annoying, because most of the gameplay is just listening to dialogue. Sometimes through audio recordings. Sometimes, as we mentioned before, thorough emotionally riveting dialogue that unfortunately gets delivered by visually blank-faced characters.
Okay, I’m Uncertain. Now, Where’s The Light?
For everything that goes wrong for it I will admit that there is a lot of promise in The Uncertain: Light At The End if it actually worked right. The frustrations between the game-breaking mechanics and inconsistent saves make it borderline unplayable. But if that could be fixed and optimized, the story might feel more compelling. Especially if they added better facial work into the characters. I will say that the beautiful pixelated backdrops and set pieces are the best things about this game, and with a couple of big improvements, the whole experience might feel salvageable too.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), to be released later on PS4, XBox One, and Nintendo Switch; Developer: ComonGames and New Game Order; Publisher: META Publishing; Players: 1; Released: October 8th, 2020; ESRB: T for Blood, Language, and Violence; MSRP: $14.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.