Unavowed – Switch Review

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The opening of Unavowed — a point-and-click adventure game first released in 2018 on Mac and PC and now out on the Switch — throws you straight into the action. The first shot is of a moody, blood-orange sky depicted in beautiful, high-quality pixel art (the resolution so high that the word ‘pixel’ seems redundant). Rain is falling. Tense music plays. With the exception of the main character, the game is entirely voice-acted, and we hear some dialogue of what turns out to be an exorcism.

The camera pans down to three figures on a rooftop, one of which is you: you are the one being exorcised. You don’t remember anything and you’re confused as hell. Of the other two figures, one has a knife in your back and the other a magic staff in your face. For some, a magic staff might sound off-putting, a little childish, but this is not a childish game: you learn that you have been possessed by a demon, and you have done some horrific things—with a grotesquely high body count (soon to be depicted in more high-quality pixel art). The way this is shown, along with a few other highlights, proves that this game is aimed at an older audience. There is a horror vibe throughout.

The two other figures are members of ‘The Unavowed’, an ancient society dedicated to stopping evil. Soon you have joined them—soon, you’re investigating and unpicking the damage caused by your actions when possessed in a ten-hour adventure that takes place in a fictionalised New York filled with ghosts and other dark creatures.

Unavowed was developed by Brooklyn-based Wadjet Eye Games under the direction of founder Dave Gilbert, who has been making and releasing point-and-click adventure games for over fifteen years.

Taking on Ghosts and Demons in a Team – Busting Makes You Feel Good

Unavowed quickly gives the impression of a confident game made by a team that knows what they’re doing. In no time — deftly incorporating everything into the gameplay—Wadjet Eye Games lead you through character selection moments, and unfurl the game’s interesting backstory. They establish a whole supernatural alternate world and establish a number of interesting characters.

Not everyone is into point-and-click adventure games. Sometimes the barrier to entry is a little high, the logic behind puzzles a little obtuse.

So—can Unavowed be the gateway drug for new players into the genre? How appealing might it be to you? And, if you already love point-and-click adventure games, is Unavowed worth your time and money?

Gameplay

Unavowed features the same point-and-click gameplay the genre is famous for — the same kinds of puzzles, where you have to find items and use them in a specific way, and the same emphasis on exploration and speaking to multiple characters.

The difference here is that Wadjet Eye Games seem to have refined the formula, often coming up with clever takes on puzzles, and streamlining the whole experience to remove a lot of the associated tediousness. The fat has been cut, but that doesn’t mean Unavowed is a reduced experience. On the contrary—it shines.

Some of the art is beautiful

The game is broken up into individual cases that last roughly an hour, so compared to other games in the genre, where the screens sometimes spread far and wide, each narrative section takes place in a unique setting. This focuses the number of options available to you at any one time and focuses your mind on what feels like achievable — but still challenging — puzzle solving.

There are excellent quality of life features in the controls, including a button that shows the objects you can interact with on any given screen, and functionality in the d-pad to cycle between these interactive options. They are small features perhaps but ones that keep the gameplay flowing and make the Switch port a joy to play.

The puzzles are fun and often impressively inventive. You’ll have to stop and think a few times. Sure, there are a few moments where the odd googling might seem tempting, and it’s fair to say that happened in our review, but negative instances like this are few and far between, and it cannot be stressed enough that the positives far outweigh the occasional frustrating solution. Overall, it’s easy to recommend Unavowed as the game to break new and interested players into the genre.

In fact, the list of positives keeps growing the longer you spend with the game. There’s the clever way the game expands its roster of playable characters, which would mean nothing if the writing wasn’t up to scratch — but the writing here is excellent. There’s the impressive fact that each case is a tightly plotted tale full of excellent and deft characterisation. There’s the engaging, multiple-choice conversations between the main characters that add depth to the members of the Unavowed and make you care about them and their backstories. There are the side conversations the supporting characters have in the middle of the cases—where the characters come alive, where new arrivals get to know the older hands. Half the time in one early case is spent watching one of these relationships blossom in a surprising and delightful way. Multiple techniques of world-building and character development are being used at any one time — in the visuals too, of course. Put together, the game world feels convincing and alive.

There’s the amusing way your choices in the opening—when you chose your character’s career background—come back into play and affect your dialogue options.

Things go south from here pretty quickly

It might be a reach, but Unavowed felt like some kind of spiritual — more violent, more adult — cousin to The Real Ghostbusters. Maybe it’s because The Unavowed are a team.  But also, each case — and the main character’s possession and its consequences — is an inventive supernatural mystery. The cases feature ghosts and demons and plenty of other surprising creatures, and the variety of setups feels like the equivalent of multiple episodes in a TV show.

There are emotional moments here too, and you make difficult decisions with lasting consequences that both affect the plot and the relationships with your friends.

To summarise: fans of well-written supernatural mysteries will find a lot to love in this game. And new people to the point-and-click genre will find a game that is ambitious, well-crafted and immensely accommodating without compromising anything.

Graphics & Audio

Unavowed was made on Adventure Game Maker and as a result, character animation and the general structure of the user interface feels familiar.

Getting to know each other

Its graphical DNA — and its DNA in general — is rooted in classic point-and-click adventures, but as in other areas of the game, Wadjet Eye Games have taken a well-trodden path and prettified it, and taken it to whole new levels. The art style works brilliantly. The backgrounds, created by Ben Chandler, are often beautiful with dramatic and moody lighting and plenty of enjoyable little details. The other part of the visual package is the character talking heads, on-screen when the characters are speaking. These, created by Ivan Ulyanov, are the wonderful icing on—or cherry on top of—an already fantastic cake. The character faces, just like the world they live in, are distinctive, artfully rendered and full of life.

The music is of similar quality, wrapping the whole experience in drama, pathos, and moments of calm.

The only audio-visual complaint is the slightly noticeable way the character voices are a little compressed, however, the voice acting is top quality and coupled with the game as a whole works so flawlessly. People might well feel inclined to label that as an endearing quirk.

Longevity

Unavowed clocks in at a perfect 10 hours—a sweet spot. The game neither outstays its welcome nor leaves you feeling short.

Great for fans of horror

Final Thoughts

Unavowed is a great point-and-click adventure made by a studio at the very top of their game. It’s accessible to new players without compromising anything for more experienced point-and-click enthusiasts.

A game of such constant quality, it’s an easy recommendation. In fact, it impresses so much that it has earnt our top award—the Thumb Culture Platinum Award.

Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.

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