Sometimes you just need a fresh start – a switch in lifestyles. To pack your things and go. Sometimes you just need to take the risk for your own sanity or to better yourself. A new start, wiping your history, forward thinking is human nature – we run. But no matter how far you run, the past will catch up and come to terms with; for your own sanity… or to better yourself. Jack Boyles reviews Uncanny Valley…
Uncanny Valley has you playing as Tom who is starting a new job as a nightshift security guard in an isolated, abandoned facility. At the start of the game, Tom is a man who appears to be running from something in his past, evidence from the decision to work for this employer and the nightmares that inhabit his dreams.
Though Tom is not completely alone, he has the company day shift security guard, Buck who is rather a lazy man and Eve, a woman who keeps the facility clean and is reminded of someone in her past when she sees Tom. And that my gorgeous reader, is all you are going to know about the story because the less you know, the better the experience.
Uncanny Valley is a narrative-driven survival horror game that states in the opening:
‘Every action you take within the game will lead to different outcomes. To fully experience Uncanny Valley, multiple playthroughs are recommended’.
There is much to uncover in Uncanny Valley. However, do not be put off by the multiple playthroughs, as a playthrough can last anywhere from 20 minutes to roughly 3 hours maximum. It’s this short length that makes Uncanny Valley compelling to play multiple times.
Moreover, the story-driven game will make you play it several times since, in my opinion, this is one of the better horror narratives out there. It may not have the symbolism and subtext of Silent Hill or the Hollywood budget of Resident Evil. What Uncanny Valley offers is a more grounded and thought-provoking horror experience.
You routinely (well you don’t have to if you don’t want to) go to work, this repeated mundanity gives you time to explore the facility. Picking breadcrumbs of information scattered across the facility, finding out what happened there. If you are like me, you may figure out what’s happening before the reveal. But when I saw the reveal for the first time, it didn’t stop it from being impactful; it was more impactful. It’s kind of Hitchcockian in that way; let the audience know to build the tension and it’s that slow build of tension that makes Uncanny Valley’s narrative compelling.
Furthermore, your actions really alter the game, with many of my playthroughs having different events, scenarios and endings. It’s in your second playthrough you start to realize how these actions really do affect these outcomes. As one new small change can alter your previous conception of coming events. A small detail you may have forgotten about in the first playthrough may have a much bigger impact.
The developer Cowardly Creations, not only make you think about the decisions you can make but how your knowledge of coming events may still influence your current playthrough.
Additionally, it’s not only narrative consequences you must think of when playing Uncanny Valley. The gameplay can be affected by the consequence system as Tom can get injured in various parts of the body stopping him doing certain actions. A knee injury will stop Tom from crawling in vents or an injured arm will affect him using a weapon.
Marketed as a 2D pixel art story-driven survival horror game, I feel the game takes its cues from adventure games. Gameplay is more about solving puzzles using lateral thinking to progress the story or get you out of situations.
Also, there is a slight stealth mechanic, requiring you to hide more than fight due to the enemies withstanding bullets. Hiding spots such as vents are advisable due to Tom’s lack of stamina – making him easy prey if spotted.
Credit is due to the sound designer for making the enemies terrifying. Hearing the loud bang of the enemy’s movements will instantly set a sense of dread within you as you know if they see you… Tom’s physique is no match. The loud grunted speech when they spot you will jolt you with fear, making you panic.
Added with the raw pixel art aesthetic, it tonally hits its mark. The pixel art, with its limited fidelity mirrors that of the narrative, uncertainty; enough detail for you to know what’s happening but with the finer details missing.
The game isn’t for everyone though. Many players may dislike having to start again and not loading saves at various points to change story outcomes. Another issue I could see some players having is that Tom struggles to defend himself even with a handgun — not being able to run for long period of time; as the result in death can see you starting from the beginning of the game.
I did encounter a glitch where Buck went home from his shift for him to reappear at the end of my shift. It was nothing game breaking and didn’t affect anything storyline wise; though hopefully, nothing like that will come at important times within the game.
Uncanny Valley is a narrative based survival horror game that rivals other indie horror titles and some AAA horror titles. The story twists and turns like a great thriller novel.
Added with the sense of foreboding atmosphere and some terrifying moments executed by its tension building techniques. For me, it’s a great horror experience, throwing away the generic jump scare an opting for an unsettling experience.
As the game is relatively short, it goes hand in hand with the Switch’s pick up and play design. There always feels like there is more to uncover and you will want to keep starting afresh to find what else Uncanny Valley has up its sleeve.