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SummaryMagic, Monsters, and a Metropolis
The Good* Well written characters and story
* Awesome setting
* Appealing visual style
* Great main cast
* Great replay value for a point-and-click game
The Bad* Puzzles on the easy side
* Some minor plot issues
* Some poorly recorded voice acting here and there
The Bottom LineEverybody thought adventure games were dead, but a quick look at the state of the genre shows that they are in fact quite alive and well. One of the best current developers of adventure games is Wadjet Eye, a small studio based in New York. They have been publishing some really well-written and engaging retro-style point and click adventure games for well over a decade, including the Blackwell series, and their newest release, Unavowed, is one of their most ambitious yet.
Unavowed combines narrative adventure with light role-playing elements. Unlike the Blackwell series, which mainly centered around the predetermined character Rosa Blackwell, Unavowed gives you more of a blank slate to work with. You can choose either a male or female character then choose one of three professions: actor, cop, or bartender. This will affect how you handle certain situations and the relationship your character has with other characters in the game.
One year ago, your character ended up getting possessed by a demon, who then carved a path of murder and magical unrest all across New York City. You remember very little, but all you know was it was terrible. The game opens with the demon being excized from your body. This is only partially successful, as the demon gets away before it can be captured. As the police are tracking you down for all of the crimes you committed while under possession, you have no choice but to join the Unavowed, a secret underground society which protects the world from all manner of supernatural and magical threats. The Unavowed themselves have lacked a new recruit in decades, and with supernatural threats escalating in New York, which your demon was responsible for, you couldn’t have arrived at a better time.
The universe this game concocts is fascinating, combining the grit of urban noir with the enchantment of fantasy. You’ll meet characters and monsters from folklore and various mythologies. Since the game takes place in the Blackwell universe, there are a few Easter eggs and characters from those games which show up here. Longtime fans will certainly appreciate the nods, but the game is designed so you don’t need to know anything about the previous games to enjoy it.
The structure of the game is reminiscent of BioWare RPGs like Mass Effect. At your hub area, you can talk to your fellow Unavowed members to learn more about their backgrounds and their opinions on recent events. After this you are briefed on your next task, then head out to investigate whatever threats you’ve just learned about. You can choose 2 characters from your party, though not every combination is actually allowed - you must choose a character on your right and your left on the character selection screen, which is cleverly disguised as a subway car. The characters that make up your party include Eli, a former accountant turned fire mage, Mandana, a half-human half-jinn, Vicki, a tough-talking, no-nonsense cop and Logan, a man who can speak to ghosts and bring them to the afterlife. Initially you’ll only have the first two available but you’ll get the others as you go through the game.
Depending on who you choose for a mission, certain routes to complete it will be open or closed. For example, one character, Logan, can speak to ghosts, which are found on virtually every mission and offer clues about how they died. However, if he’s not in your party, you’ll have to investigate using other methods instead. Each character has special abilities that can be used during missions. For example, the fire mage Eli can interact with hot objects, throw fireballs, and read documents which have been burnt, while Mandana can use her strength to climb buildings and pry open locked doors and cracks in walls, as well as detect when someone is lying. Regardless of who you choose, however, you’ll always be able to complete a mission.
Each mission usually ends with a moral choice. Many of these dilemmas are morally grey even if they come down to letting someone live or not. Nevertheless, there were more than a few times where I had to stop and think about my actions. Depending on what you choose, certain aspects of the ending area will be different, though the overall narrative structure isn’t affected. More importantly, the game never shames or rewards players for the choices they make, allowing them to feel that they have made a choice which reflects their own moral values.
In terms of puzzles and adventure game mechanics, Unavowed shouldn’t give you much trouble. The puzzles are generally very easy, and the one time I got stuck was due to me not noticing a certain object in the background because the characters kept walking in front of it. The puzzles in the Blackwell games were pretty easy as well, so if you’ve played those games then you know what to expect here. Nevertheless, some of the puzzles are quite clever in how they are implemented. Further streamlining adventure games, every item has a description when moused over, replacing the need for a separate “look” command as in other games. I could see some people being disappointed by how relatively easy Unavowed is overall, but the rest of the package is strong enough that it carries the game past this.
As you might expect if you’re familiar with Wadjet Eye’s games, the game was developed with Adventure Game Studio, meaning that it graphically resembles a DOS game from the mid 90s. Within the confines of AGS, however, this is a good looking game. The moody backgrounds are draped in orange, purple and red hues, providing a uniquely fiery noir look to nighttime New York. Effects such as fire, rain, and colored lighting are used sparingly but effectively to create a bleak, yet inviting atmosphere. Character portraits are very detailed with different expressions but don’t move their lips when speaking, which is mildly distracting at first, but you’ll get used to it. On the technical side, this runs at twice the resolution of previous Wadjet Eye games, making it one of the company’s best looking titles, though you shouldn’t expect a powerhouse by any means.
In terms of acting, the main cast is uniformly top notch, embodying each of their characters with warmth and humanity that feels appropriate. Some might feel that Mandana is a bit off, but I think her acting fits her half-jinn, half-human character really well, as she never sounds completely human. I particularly enjoyed Eli and Vicki’s voice actors. Some of the characters that you meet during the missions are also great, though there are a few bad or disappointing performances here and there. Some characters are a bit too melodramatic in terms of their acting. You can also hear low quality voice recordings for some lines, which can be distracting at times and does betray the game’s low production values compared to more mainstream games, even if this has the highest production value of any Wadjet Eye game. Your own character does not have any voice acting, which can be a bit jarring, though it does give the game the flavor of an old-school western RPG.
While I loved most of the individual stories, I found the ending to be slightly weaker than the rest of the game. The villain’s motivations don’t seem well-fleshed out, and although there are multiple endings there was really only one that made any sense to me. Some players are going to find certain twists to be polarizing. Despite these issues, the story as a whole ends up being really engaging, creating a darkly magical vibe that’s also very fun and fascinating. More importantly, when it was done, I actually began thinking about all of the things I wanted to do differently on my next playthrough, which is something most adventure games of this type don’t offer.
Unavowed is an extremely fun ride from start to finish. I had been looking forward to this game for years and I can honestly say that the wait was definitely worth it. Anyone who enjoys urban fantasy, horror, and point-and-click adventure games is going to have a great time with this game. There are some minor plot issues, and the game may be too easy for some, but beyond that there’s little to fault here.