The human mind is a fragile, beautiful and interesting place for developers to set their games.
A collection of memories that can form into huge unreal landscapes and vistas that the gamer can explore and wonder about. A favourite old book can be morphed into a mountain to scale, or the hero’s memories of a bird in the garden when they were little can become a giant beast that is guarding a secret entrance. Unknown Fate is the first game made by two brothers who have delivered mostly everything themselves, building an intriguing world that is ambitious and involving. But does it try too hard at times?
The story of Unknown Fate is set in a strange otherworld place full of manic skies and weird objects. You wake up and have no idea of who you are or why you are here. This is really handy as the main character is like a cipher for the audience, finding and discovering the story as they progress through the levels. The story is quite a good one, where the hero is basically left exploring a world which is a fabrication of his memories, and concerns. There are flashbacks to the past, abstract notions of identity, and monsters to battle. You don’t know who to believe when you meet the NPCs – who look like strange bird-like creatures – and it’s certainly a story that asks more questions than it answers. Whether you like it or not will depend on how you like your narratives served. Can you live with seeing all the exposition laid out in front of you, or maybe you enjoy trying to piece fragments together to work out your own interpretations. Some of the writing is a bit on the nose, but maybe that’s a translation thing, as the hero keeps saying “What’s going on? Where am I? What is that?”. It’s all a bit too much for my liking.
The controls however are a whole different kettle of fish and I think this is mainly to do with this being designed as a VR game and it getting moved over to that of a normal console. It makes perfect sense in VR, but here the controls are strange and it is a real struggle to get used to them, no matter how much you try. See, you move around in the first person and have a jump button with is perfectly normal, but as you progress you get access to this special gun/artifact attached to your arm – something which can shoot things or move items around. This is assigned to the handy LT plus Y. Simples? Not really.
It is things like this which make Unknown Fate on Xbox One feel a bit unwieldy in the gameplay department. It doesn’t help that the mechanics feel a bit uncertain too, like the jumping sections in the platforming areas. And there have also been a couple of times where parts of the game refused to work unless I restarted the sections completely.
The limited combat that you’ll stumble upon in Unknown Fate involves stunning some creatures and then shooting a glowing orb in their tail. It’s fine and everything, but again there have been times when the stun doesn’t work, leaving you to run around like an extra in a Tom and Jerry cartoon.
It’s a strange old game is Unknown Fate, because apart from these major problems I have been found to really enjoy both the exploration and the concept behind the world and the story. I feel there are too many things going on though, and if the brothers could have paired things down a bit, got rid of the combat and some of the puzzle elements, the game would work so much better and be much more focused.
All that said, the visual design and overall tone is really good. The world does feel a bit familiar at times – what with the colour palette used – but how the team have managed to mix up the real world items and fantasy elements is done in an intriguing and beguiling way. The monster design is brilliant too, as are the cut-scenes that take on a black and white hand-drawn quality that is quite beautiful. In the sound arena, and much like the rest of Unknown Fate, you have the good and the bad; the good being the effects and the mournful soundtrack that is used intelligently throughout. The bad though is that of the voice-over work, which feels disconnected from the actual text at times; delivered a bit half-hearted. This is a real shame as it the big selling point for the story and I’m afraid you lose interest every time someone speaks.
Unknown Fate on Xbox One is a mixed bag. I love the concept, the world, and the experience that really has compelled me to keep playing. On the other hand, the control system and the game-stopping bugs have ruined things multiple times; thankfully the overall experience has a strong enough lure to make you want to go back. The visuals can be very clever and intriguing, while the voice-over at times ruins the story, but I would love to see what these sibling developers do next, because it’s clear that they are very talented.
I just hope that it is something a bit simpler.