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UNABLES Review

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I get an unpleasant sensation when playing UNABLES. It’s the feeling that I’m constantly doing something wrong, that I’m not getting it. It’d be too convenient to reach out for the game’s name to explain the feeling. Everything suggests that I should love UNABLES, from the top-tier presentation to the ludicrous rag-doll physics. I deeply want to be welcomed into its inner circle with the secret of loving it, but I just can’t.

Someone clearly loves it, after all. You only have to play it for five minutes to realise that the art, audio and UI team absolutely threw themselves at UNABLES. Not since Persona 5 have I played a game that’s just so polished and coherent in terms of what it’s trying to achieve artistically. This is a crazy, channel-switcher of a game, like we were skipping through the best content that Netflix has ever produced – just with the actors fumbling about like they’ve got no skeletons in their bodies. Film Noir, Fantasy, Sci-Fi and so many other genres all get tugged on, but with the same hi-octane, hyper fidgety style.

You can’t invest that much care without a belief that the game is good, right? That’s the insecure statement that keeps bubbling up into our temples while playing UNABLES, because we very, very rarely enjoyed it. It’s a concept that must have looked wonderful on paper, but the transition to actually, you know, making it into a game has left something behind. 

UNABLES review 1
Ready to GO with UNABLES?

What you’re getting here is a series of levels that can best be described as snow globes without the snow. More personally, we were taken back to some old Tomy toys that were filled with water, and we had to pump a button to get hoops or balls into mini basketball hoops. But we’re not convinced everyone had the same childhood as us.

These snow globes are lovingly themed around a high concept. One is Godzilla and a city. Another is the fall of the dinosaurs. Very abstractly, you ‘play’ one or more of the characters in the scene: it is your focus, the entity that you are trying to nudge and bounce about the level, completing the objectives that you have been given.

The objectives are clearly marked and highlighted on the screen. You will then turn and flip the snow globe to move your character towards them. The only controls you have are the analogue stick to tilt the world, and LT to pull off some level-specific shenanigans. A Gravity-inspired level shoots a burst of air out of the astronaut’s suit, propelling him in a direction. The dinosaur will munch what’s in front of it.

Complete the objectives and you get all three stars. Complete them partially and you will get fewer. With stars accumulated, you can unlock more levels, so there’s a nagging pull to return to older levels and exhaust them. A mislabelled ‘Easy Mode’ is effectively a Practice Mode, allowing you to understand the puzzle of the level, while a ‘Hard Mode’ is what you need to earn stars.

Even writing this, it sounds fun with a hint of hilarity. And it really should be. Even the interactions lean into the absurdity of it all: a body flies out of the dumpster when you turn the level upside down. Objective complete: you’ve found the victim. A cat rolls onto a button in the prison level, opening the doors for everyone. Neat-o: who knew escaping was so easy?

UNABLES review 2
This should all be fun!

Part of the problem is that UNABLES can feel like an in-joke that you’re not party to. The audio layers on top of itself, making it hard to understand what’s being said (and we were distracted grappling with the level, which probably didn’t help). When we did hear these audio snatches, they were often ripe and not all that funny. How someone could miss the open goal of applying humour to an already funny game, we don’t know.

The items in the world aren’t clear at all, and there’s very little suggestion of how they weave into the scene. UNABLES might be astute or hilarious in terms of what we were collecting or smashing, but it’s all so chaotic and small that we couldn’t tell. The lack of understanding leads to a particular play style: you just toss yourself at things and hope for the best. The optimal play is often to turn the level upside down for a few seconds and then right it again. That way, everything’s out of its boxes and you can start chucking your cop, knight or dinosaur at it. Which isn’t all that fun.

The other part of the problem is that the simple joy of tinkering with the snow globe isn’t much of a joy at all. Turn it upside down and you can’t actually see anything. That’s fair: when you’re turning an actual, real-life snow globe there’s much of the same phenomenon. But it leads to unsatisfying interactions as you’re desperately trying to understand if your ragdoll is approaching the objective. Again, UNABLES resorts to chaos.

Worse still is when some precision is needed. Our least favourite level had us controlling some women lounging around a pool. If even one of them falls into the pool, they drown and it’s game over. So we were spinning three floppy plates, trying to complete the objectives, only to be interrupted by a game over when someone falls off their lilo. But there are other contenders for worst level: a ball-robot that needs to be taken through a fiddly space-station maze; the film noir level with a building that’s too difficult to enter; a fantasy level where the key that opens the final door is too opaque. There’s the glimmer of promise in each level, but they are too obscure or obscured to reach. 

UNABLES review 3
Shake it like a snow globe

Not that there are many levels to begin with. We reached the end within a couple of hours and looked back on the hit-rate of the levels that were actually there. Fewer than half had a moment that raised a smile, made us nod in appreciation or – the lowest of bars – didn’t piss us off. 

We can feel the pang of insecurity again. Because UNABLES just feels like something that we should have enjoyed. The presentation is meticulous, reminiscent of the PS3 and 360 classic Pain in the way it drags thrills out of ragdoll physics. Care has been lavished on UNABLES, yet we can’t reciprocate with care of our own. We just didn’t like it much at all, and we can’t fathom how things got to that point.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Gorgeous presentation
  • Ragdoll physics raised numerous chuckles
  • A few levels worked well
Cons:
  • But most levels didn’t
  • Objectives are too opaque
  • Scripted humour didn’t land
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Forever Entertainment
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch, PC
  • Release date and price - 14 March 2024 | £TBC
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Gorgeous presentation</li> <li>Ragdoll physics raised numerous chuckles</li> <li>A few levels worked well</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>But most levels didn’t</li> <li>Objectives are too opaque</li> <li>Scripted humour didn’t land</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Forever Entertainment</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch, PC <li>Release date and price - 14 March 2024 | £TBC</li> </ul>UNABLES Review
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