Unpacking Review: A Lot To Unpack
I found it funny that as I checked out the new PS5 release of Unpacking, I was sitting in my own new home, surrounded by boxes I probably should have been unpacking. While this doesn’t speak well to my time management skills, the timing of playing this adorable little game went a long way to help drive home what Unpacking is using its character’s multiple moves to say.
Moving is an event in life. It forces you to go through your things, analyze them, think about them. Whether you’re getting rid of things, buying new ones to fill the needs of your new home, or even just packing and unpacking them, you’re forced to consider them at least for a moment. How you respond to your things, especially things that have been with you for some time, can say a lot about where you are in life. This is something that Unpacking’s development team understands deeply.
Find The Story
Unpacking never stops to tell you a story. You never meet its characters. There are no text screens, or cutscenes, or descriptions. Instead, you meet our protagonist and the people they live with entirely through the lens of their things at eight different stages of their lives. Which makes it pretty remarkable that Unpacking still absolutely tells a story, one with clear progression and significant events that at several points broke my heart while other moments left a huge grin on my face.
Over eight levels we see a significant portion of this young woman’s life, spanning 21 years. You start out in her childhood bedroom, surrounded by toys. We aren’t given a specific age but based on what the second level represents, she’s probably around 11. The first level is simple, just that one single room for you to unpack. You’ll get her toys and books lined up carefully on her shelves, putting them just right. As you finish the level, organizing it perfectly to your liking, you’ll be told that certain items might not be in a location that makes sense. Fix them or go into the settings and enable the option to put things where you want if you want to make Unpacking more of a tool for creativity than a game, and you’ll move onto the next. It’s relatively simple stuff from a gameplay perspective, though there’s definitely a sort of zen enjoyment to getting everything just right. Anyone who has ever spent hours getting their Animal Crossing village just perfect should understand the appeal.
Things do get a bit more complex from there, though only in that the breadth of what you’re unpacking. By the second level you’ll have three rooms to unpack, with bathrooms and kitchens getting thrown into the mix. By the final level, you’ll be Unpacking a 10 room house, including walk-in closets, offices, and a few other rooms I won’t spoil.
Major Life Events
That said, if you think about the sort of things that cause people to move you’ll be able to place at least a pretty good chunk of what you’ll be going through. The start of relationships, the end of those relationships, going off to school, getting your own place for the first time. While many of us have likely moved at times just because our lease was up and we didn’t like our place or because the rent was going up and we didn’t want to pay it, a lot of moves are tied to major life events, and that’s how Unpacking tells its story. It even manages to pack a few surprising twists into the last few levels, some subtle, others obvious to anyone paying even a little bit of attention.
Telling its story through the environments is beautifully done. It isn’t just the new locations, but also what you’re actually unpacking. Like most of us, the main character of Unpacking often leaves things behind when she moves. Seeing what comes along, especially in the context of a new home, is really moving, and the new environments change how we view those items. The pig stuffed animal you see on the start screen shows up in both the first and last levels, but in very different contexts that speak to where our main character is in her life. Collections grow over time, showing us more about what she’s done outside of these moves. Some items may even disappear for a level or two and then come back, which always brought a grin to my face to see. I guess she had those in storage, or back at her childhood home, but now they’re back where they belong. We even get to see her video game collection evolve through the years. I had a lot of fun squinting at the pixelated game cases and figuring out what they were.
The variety of moves also allow you to move into different contexts, which puts an interesting spin on things. Early on you’re moving into your own space, so you have full control of things and can set everything up just how you like. Other levels however find you moving into spaces that are already occupied, either with roommates or a romantic partner. One late level even puts an interesting twist on the latter. In these cases you have to find a way to fit yourself in around the person who already lives there, adapting to enter their world. One level actually made me angry for the character, as she brought along her diploma to hang on a wall, only for me to be unable to find anywhere to hang it. I ultimately ended up having to slip it underneath something, hiding her accomplishment. Despite the next level being smaller, I was excited that this time I could proudly display her diploma.
Unpacking won’t take terribly long to beat. Most players will complete it in three or four hours. They’re good ones though, constantly putting you in interesting scenarios. All the while you’ll get to smile at the game’s charming style and enjoy its calming soundtrack. While this isn’t anything I’d likely pull up on Spotify (though you can, if that’s your thing), it perfectly sets the tone.
I ended Unpacking with a huge smile on my face. Offering a truly unique storytelling experience, one few games can really compare to, I loved seeing a developer very much go their own way and try something different, especially since it all came together so wonderfully. Combine that with the zen-like comforts of designing these various rooms and Unpacking is a game that players should definitely unpack. Now to get back to unpacking my own stuff.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PS5 (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Switch, PC; Publisher: Humble Games; Developer: Witch Beam; Players: 1; Released: May 10th, 2022; ESRB: E for Everyone; $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Unpacking provided by the publisher.