REVIEW: UNREAL LIFE

Jan
15

REVIEW: UNREAL LIFE

Unreal Life is a well presented and quirky pixel art adventure that left me with more questions than answers.

Released: Steam
Type: Single-player
Genre: Adventure, Puzzle,
Story Rich,Exploration,
Pixel Graphics
Developer: hako life
Publisher: room6, yokaze
Release date: 9 Nov, 2020

Intro

Hal wakes up from unconsciousness, lying on the side of the pavement under a traffic light.

The traffic light starts to speak to her and is concerned for her welfare. Hal cannot remember what happened. All she can recollect is a name. For some reason she remembers a woman called Miss Sakura. They decide that the only way to unravel this mystery is to locate Miss Sakura and see if she can shine any light on proceedings.

Unreal Life is a well presented and quirky pixel art adventure that left me with more questions than answers.

It is an odd and unusual title with bizarre characters and an overly complicated story. Presentation is superb with gorgeous artwork and animations but I didn’t connect with the characters as much as I wanted to.

Gameplay🕹️

Hal possesses the power of extra sensory perception and can read memories of objects she touches. Her ability to read memories helps her find use of the objects she studies. Along with the help of the traffic light she is able to distinguish between objects that have memories and objects that are useless. In other words, objects that are highlighted can be read and made use of.

Examining these objects may reveal clues to puzzles she needs to solve to progress. For example, studying the plant reveals that it has been moved and therefore reveals a hidden entrance.

Everything she does gets documented in her diary under Things she touched, things she heard or her thoughts. Things she touched shows the objects memories and gives a before and after view; Things she heard shows all dialogue conversations between characters and her thoughts are all the cut scenes she experienced so far in the story.

The three things are very helpful to remind you of the story or have a recap to try and understand what is going on.

Objects can also become discoverable by moving the cursor on them and pressing the mouse button. Once they have been discovered then they can be manipulated.

There are quite a few puzzles in the game which are sometimes quite complex and take a bit of reasoning. Usually these can be solved by examining everything but they can be quite difficult. I was quite impressed with the originality and intricacy of them.

There is no voice acting in the game but speaking is mimicked using a Morse code like sound. The dialogue is displayed neatly in a box below the characters which can be fast forwarded but not skipped.

All the inventory you collect gets put in your handbag. You must select an item which is then put in your hand to use.

Gameplay is basically going around talking to characters, examining objects to reveal memories and solving puzzles to get to destinations.

You can use the keyboard for movement or the mouse, although the latter is problematic and the menus are sometimes difficult to navigate.

The GUI was terrible I thought. The character can move by mouse movement or by keyboard input. I preferred to use the mouse for movement but it was very troublesome. You press and move the mouse right or left but doing this often accidentally initiated conversations with characters or examined objects. There is no skip button but you can fast track dialogue. It happened so much that it was annoying.

The save mechanics are also quite frustrating. On numerous occasions I turned off the sound accidentally whilst trying to save a game, including the emotionally charged ending! Inventory items are very cluttered and close together and it is easy to select the wrong item. It all added to the frustration levels.

There are quite a lot of achievements but a lot of them make no sense and would be impossible to achieve without a guide.

Characters

There are about six characters in the game. The main characters being Hal, the protagonist of the story, and the traffic light who acts as her close aid and confidant throughout the game.

We often see them having conversations but mostly it is about the puzzles or getting to a destination. There are moments of reflection and bonding between characters but there weren’t a lot of these moments and certainly not enough for me to associate with the characters.

I grasped the game was going to be weird after the first conversation with a traffic light. Other characters are just as offbeat, including a piece of moss that is a chef, a smoking penguin that drives a train, and a mouse engineer. I quite welcome a slice of oddity and quirkiness and it fits into the story quite well. The characters, although endearing and incredibly helpful, didn’t really tug at my heart strings as much as other people have suggested. We didn’t get to know much about their lives or backgrounds, apart from the main character, and they mainly served as pawns in puzzle solutions.
I didn’t feel completely disconnected from the characters but, apart from the traffic light, moments with other characters are fleeting.

Graphics 🕹️

The graphics are gorgeous and are one of the highlights of the game. They are very well drawn and often portray the mood they are trying to achieve. Cool blues for a mellow feel and angry red for dangerous situations. The characters are well drawn and again I was amazed at how pixel art can create exciting events on the screen.

Sound🎵

The music tracks are beautiful but incidental tunes are repeated quite a lot and abruptly end, breaking immersion. It just didn’t sound professional. I am sure it would have sounded better if it faded out and the new sound faded in.

Verdict

My overwhelming emotion at the end of the game was confusion. I think the story baffled me so much that it left me perplexed and it was difficult to appreciate anything else. The game actually ended three times for me and after the first time it was so bizarre and abrupt that I suspected something was wrong. It was only after a bit of research that I found there were three endings and I continued the game from my last save to see the others. I think this needs to be made clearer as the subsequent endings actually added another forty minutes to the game and revealed some crucial plots that at least made a little sense to the proceedings.

I quite enjoyed the puzzle sections. They were reasonably difficult in places but made even harder by confusing instructions. At first, we are told that objects will be highlighted if useful, but later when I got stuck, after examining literally everything in the level, it turns out you can discover objects by clicking on them! Most puzzles involved a fair bit of backtracking initially. This is alleviated later by the introduction of portals which will teleport you to areas visited.

It can get a little disorientating sometimes, working out where you need to go and how to get there, especially if you have left the game and returned later. There is no map and you have to rely on previous conversations or memories to remind you where you left off. I would definitely recommend you play the game in as fewer sittings as possible. I would also say that the complex story and reasonably difficult puzzles would steer this title away from a younger audience.

Unreal Life has a complicated and confusing story which left me wondering what really happened. It is difficult to really enjoy and connect to a story that isn’t fully comprehensible.

Characters were a bit shallow but likeable and there was a positive vibe of co-operation and team comradery throughout.

The presentation of the story was amazing and the aesthetics, music and enjoyable puzzles were enough to keep my interest until the end.

I still think there is enough here to warrant a recommendation, especially on sale, and I am sure lots of people will connect more with the characters and enjoy the story more than I did.

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