Touting itself as a story-driven action/puzzle game Unknown Fate, by Marslit Games, is set in a fantasy world with strange and whimsical creatures, all things that are usually right up my alley. I was also immediately grabbed by the visual style of the game after looking at some quick trailers and images, so I was excited to start playing. The game took me just under five hours to complete, and every hour I played my excitement dropped and my confusion grew. It also became increasingly evident that this game had a case of mistaken identity.
This is a platformer masquerading as a puzzle game
I am notoriously bad at platformers, and I generally avoid them unless they possess some truly unique or intriguing quality. One example is Ori and the Blind Forest; I’m terrible at the game but it’s just so beautiful to look at that my constant deaths and attempts don’t get to me as much. The deeper I got into Unknown Fate, the more I felt lied to and my frustration built. What the game called “puzzles” were really just using the abilities of this magical “artefact” you are given early on in the game to arrange the platforms you then have to traverse. Once in a while, there would be unique puzzles involving activities like trapping some of the exotic creatures in this bizarre dream-like world the game is set in, and those were probably some of the , out moments.
Those puzzles were few and far between however, and the game rapidly became a repetitive scene of me leaping from one strangely shaped surface to another. If I had gone into the game knowing its’ true genre, perhaps this wouldn’t have frustrated me as much as it did. In the end though, it sapped a lot of my enjoyment from the game.
The second major shortcoming for Unknown Fate was the storytelling
The game starts with so much promise, as you’re drawn from a realistic looking world into this abstract and geometric yet beautiful dream by these menacing looking clawed hands. The player’s mind is immediately filled with questions, for the main character is also suffering from memory loss and has no idea what is going on — all so you can discover the world and the story together with the protagonist. It’s like the game is trying to do what Amnesia: The Dark Descent by Frictional Games perfected so long ago, but Marslit games have a lot to learn before they even come close to the same level of storytelling that game possesses.
As the player meets new entities, creatures that are both ominous and adorable (and beautifully drawn), and rediscovers their own memories, their backstory and purpose for being there remains annoyingly mysterious. In a game like this, the devs need to think of their players like Hansel and Gretel and leave a solid breadcrumb trail of information for them to slowly piece together over time to keep the players from just feeling confused, frustrated, and irritated. This was not the case here.
For four and a half hours the clues you discover as a player are a lot of non-information and often just led to more questions. Halfway through I could tell this game was going to fall victim to my least favourite kind of story-telling: the dreaded “info dump” right at the end. But then it didn’t even deliver on that! I was playing the game live on stream, and after the final cutscene played and the credits rolled, I tried to work out with my chat what had just happened and what the plot had been all along, AND NONE OF US COULD TELL YOU! The ending was very convoluted and vague, and left far too much up to the player’s discretion and imagination, leaving me with a very unsatisfied feeling and I eagerly clicked that uninstall button – ambiguous endings can be great when they give you just enough information to piece together everything, but this simply doesn’t tell you enough and leaves everything up to you to make up.
The game world, however, was a treat for the eyes
One of the main things that drew me to play this game in the first place was the graphics, and they did not disappoint. Throughout the game, it is slowly revealed that the various parts of this world you travel through are shaped in some way by the main character’s memories, but in the most interestingly abstract way. The first world you are in ties back to his childhood, and there are children’s toys and playground items and other memorabilia scattered throughout but all have been twisted into this darker more menacing place in a way I found very appealing. The final world is like a combination of the planet of Crait from Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the set of The Office. Just writing that sounds crazy, but it was so interesting to play in. The world appears snow covered but has all these pops of red throughout, and things like cubicle and cigarette butts and extension cords become the vegetation and structures of this icy tundra landscape. The whole time as my frustration built with the story, I never got tired of looking at the world around me.
It was also the perfect balance of realism and this geometric surrealism that at times almost reminded me of a painting by Dali or Picasso. The game also swapped colour palettes as you progressed through, meaning you got both the dark, threatening, and dreary worlds as well as a brighter and more vibrant worlds. My favourite thing about the game design was the creatures and inhabitants of this world for sure. The “good guy” characters that do their best to guide you through this game are called “Guardians” and they all had gorgeous character design, and there were a few other small creatures that I would have loved to pull out of the game and keep as a pet. My personal favourite was this glowing bunny-like creature with a long tail that basically looked like the pokemon Mew if he had longer ears and a little horn on his head.
Unknown Fate is also compatible with the HTC Vive, and I definitely could tell that the game was optimized for VR in the way you controlled the “artefact” (your combination of weapon and puzzle solving tool). There were moments where trying to traverse the narrow and weirdly shaped platforms seemed to not quite line up with my mouse and keyboard controls. I would have to click a little bit away from where I wanted to when interacting with certain objects. I put this down to its’ VR optimization, but it didn’t get in the way too much. The visual style of the game would be even more enjoyable to look at and take in through VR I’m sure – I can just imagine.
The other thing of note was the music and sound design in Unknown Fate. Occasionally, the game had these really emotional and poignant piano tracks accompanying you and they are the perfect fit for what was going on. But, most of the time the music felt a bit repetitive and heavy-handed. In the early stages of the game, the music was very ominous and foreboding, and felt like it was trying to turn the game towards the horror genre – not in a good way. My biggest grievance however was the very jarring and choppy sound editing. Whenever the game was transitioning between a flashback and in the moment gameplay, or from one cutscene to another, the tracks would just abruptly cut off unfinished and then jump into the next one or back to what was previously playing. It felt very unfinished and lacked all finesse, and always pulled me right out of what little immersion I had in their attempt at conveying a story. By the end of the game, it was driving me nuts and really kept me out of the game world.
Overall, I feel like the game promised me one type of experience (story puzzle game) and gave me another (platformer). While it definitely had some strong aspects, it took all of my willpower to force my way through the game to the end so I could give it an accurate review. The creators could do with a crash course in storytelling and narrative structure, and I’m still looking for someone to explain what actually happened at the end of the game to me. If I had paid the $17.95 price tag for this game on Steam, I definitely do not think the game was worth it at all, which really annoys me.
- Great Graphics
- Cute and Interesting Creatures
- Quick to Learn/Play
- Very Confusing Story
- Bad Sound Design/Editing
- Not Much Content for the Price