Developer: Coldwood Interactive
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, PS4
Date of play: 9/02/16 – 10/02/16
Play time: 5 hours
Unravel is more known by this point for how adorable its E3 presenter is than the game itself. From his shaking hands, to his stuttering, to the fact that he brought along a doll he made on a camping trip with his family, the game seemed to represent the opposite of everything embodiment of corporate evil that is EA. But all that cuteness aside, how does the game hold up? Pretty well, it turns out. Unravel is a touching game that, while a little rough in level design, makes up for it with a touching story, gorgeous environments and a beautiful soundtrack.
While not having a running theme throughout, Unravel is instead a touching look at a person’s life. The highs and lows, the joy and sadness, Unravel captures it all with only a few scenes and words. There is some text to drive the main messages home, but it’s not pretentious like Rise of the Tomb Raider. It doesn’t do anything to try to sound profound and all of it feels honest. The lack of dialogue helps you feel invested in the story personally, because all you get are scenarios – memories of happier and sadder days. The protagonist, Yarny, travels through areas of importance to his unnamed owner, and witnesses these moments before finding out why these moments are important to his owner, and that’s it. It’s honestly beautiful in its simplicity, and I teared up at the ending. The game doesn’t tell you how to feel, it nudges you in that direction with a few choice words.
Another way it nudges you is through the game’s amazing soundtrack. It sounds very folksy, with lots of violins and drums. Think a less intense version of The Witcher 3. It’s sweet and peaceful when Yarny is casually manoeuvring around the beach or snow covered trees. But when action picks up, joyous yet frantic music plays, which wouldn’t sound out of place at a dance or festival. It adds a lot of urgency, but doesn’t take away from the happy tone of the game. What does that is the softer, sadder tracks, when Yarny witnesses memories that call for them. I won’t spoil anything, but the music in these scenes does more than any dialogue ever could.
But what about the gameplay? Well, players will be using Yarny and his abilities in order to solve physics-based puzzles and move through a level, in order to reach a token important to his owner. There’s your basic stuff, like moving boulders and cans to reach higher platforms, but where the game really works is in how it implements the yarn itself. Yarny can toss and then climb it to reach higher platforms, use it to swing, use it to pull objects down, use it to make bouncy bridges, it’s all really solid stuff. At the same time, Yarny’s progression through a level requires players to pick up more yarn, lest he unravels. It’s actually kind of sad seeing him unravel, and it’s a nice, subtle motivator for finding mroe yarn, as well. The game has a Toy Story-esque vibe, with Yarny’s small size making any environment more difficult to navigate. Something basic like a fence becomes a puzzle to solve. The game is at its best when the puzzles appear simple, but are actually fairly difficult, or even just moderately difficult. When this is the case, the game has a great flow to it. It’s at its worst when the levels get very convoluted — and weirdly, when technology starts to play a role — and that’s when it just becomes trial and error. Most of the scrapyard level is like this, unfortunately, but the good levels that make better use of the environment — such as the snow, beach and bird (you’ll know what I mean) levels — more than make up for it. Surprisingly, the water levels were always the best ones. And occasionally, Yarny will run across enemies, which are well implemented, aside from the cockroaches in the aforementioned scrapyard level.
What makes the levels really enjoyable to navigate is how beautiful they are. Everything just looks so photo realistic. From the water to the snow, it all looks amazing. The level designs themselves really help tell the game’s story. Without spoiling anything, the harsher levels represent the harsher times in the unnamed human’s life, and the brighter, prettier environments represent the positive. There’s a lush forest, a scenic beach, but also murky waste disposable plants. The game has much more variety than you’d think, and it helps the game from getting stale.
This one was a hard one to review, honestly; Unravel is a game that just has so much heart. It says what it wants to say then scampers way. It doesn’t outstay its welcome, it doesn’t try to be profound. It’s a beautiful game that does everything else so well that its failings become all the more apparent. While it begins to lose itself in its complexity, the simplicity of the game overall — from its mechanics to its storytelling to its story itself — and its beautiful visuals and soundtrack make it a game well worth playing.