Among a certain part of the gaming community lies a distinct focus on whether games should be more reliant on pure gameplay or cinematics to succeed. Especially in regard to the games that try to evoke a certain type of atmosphere, the prioitization on cutscenes most typically tend to clash with the standard gamer’s interpretation of what it means to play a “video game.” Unknown Fate will undoubtedly garner some pushback with its dedication to making itself feel more like an experience than a challenge; what saves it from being completely scene-heavy is the balance of genuine gameplay schematics.
If this title, from its synopsis alone, sounds too avant garde and ambitious in its attempt to sound deep and impactful, that’s because it is. There is little I, personally, can say to defend the game from being one of “those games” that video game purists will avoid at all costs due to its cinematic nature. Even so, within the last few years—where technology has allowed access to a brand new scope of possibilities for games—a new hybrid of immersive storytelling combined with invigorating button-mashing tasks has arisen with notable regularity. It is in this regard, though not without its faults, that I believe Unknown Fate manages to replicate with its course.
Unknown Fate is available on Steam (and Steam VR) for your regional pricing.
As hinted at before, Unknown Fate tries just as hard—if not harder—to be a cinematic expression as it does a challenging puzzle-platformer. Much of this is evidenced through its dialogue (with full voice acting) and numerous cutscenes, which permeate the game at regular intervals. Its notable art direction, which changes dependent on the situation or state of the main character, also impacts the tonal shifts that pop up in this game. The decision to have the game played in first person only makes the immersion all the more easy.
With a bit of irony, the title of the game, Unknown Fate, is fairly appropriate for a number of different aspects that accompany its body of work. Story is one such detail, which is constantly shrouded in mystery. The main character, whose name is revealed as Richard, is plagued with amnesia. The events that occur as he travels forward all seem to happen by complete chance and suddenly. Closing in on any answers behind what he’s doing and why are shot down under the guise of “It isn’t yet time” by the characters one comes across. Each player, as it often seems to be with these introspectively dark titles, is tasked with analyzing the events on display and the memories Richard finds to establish their own answers. Many times in the script, the word “truth” is thrown around as an enticing reward for Richard’s perserverance, yet what “truth” is there but whatever the player wants it to be? And would knowing the “truth” even matter? At certain points, especially near the end, I wondered if even the game cared at all to explain this conundrum.
Playing through the game to its end point, I feel, without spoiling anything, that whatever “point” the story is trying to make is better left up to interpretation, as anyone truly vying for straight answers will leave disappointed. Richard’s memories, the confines of his mental stability, his relationship with those he cherishes and fears, the world he eventually ends up in—none of these are given concrete definitions. Only through memories and the player’s interpretation of them can one make assumptions as to the “truth” of Unknown Fate. To some, this could be considered a copout, similarly to that of another indie game in Axiom Verge, whose storyline is plagued with inadequate answers to its fantastical settings and plot twists. To others, it makes the journey all the more intriguing with multiple possibilities. It encourages critical thinking and empathy, two things I believe improve a game’s content, so long as it’s handled with care. I could see the perspective of both these inputs, as I felt inclined to agree with either or; Unknown Fate is, for the most part, a mentally-stimulating game, but also a game that relies a little too much on keeping the player in the dark to remain mysterious or omniscient.
While I could put this later on in “Graphics & Sound,” I feel the voice acting should be noted here as it directly affects the immersiveness of the story and can, in turn, benefit or hinder a narrative’s effectiveness. Putting it bluntly, the voice acting is awful. Richard’s vocal performance sounds more like someone trying to sound frightened and confused rather than just frightened and confused. Its incredibly amateurish and very rarely matched what I would expect someone in a traumatic situation to sound like. Other characters aren’t all as poorly matched as Richard, but there were definitely a few that were good at one vocal range and struggled outside of it. Such choppy acting across the board absolutely brought me back into reality and reminded me that I wasn’t playing an AAA title.
The moment of “truth,” at least from a gamer’s perspective, is the quantity of input the player will actually have when playing a game. Of course, this is only something that will come out of playing something like Unknown Fate, which promises a surreal cinematic atmosphere more than anything else. I’m pleasantly pleased to announce that there is a relatively balanced amount of gameplay aspects and requirements necessary to advance, somewhat reminiscent of The Thin Silence. In some ways, its focus on provoking tension through bizarre instances to come in cutscenes, followed immediately by having the player venture straight onto that same path, reminds me some of Metroid Prime. Of course, that is hefty praise for many, though don’t let it be indicative of the quality of puzzles or control this game allows, as it’s unfortunately far between.
One of my first experiences with playing Unknown Fate for the first time was encountering a floating leaf that impaired my forward movement upon contacting it. This, of course, made me instantly dread what kind of broken abomination I was in for. Thankfully, it ended up being one of very few blatant atmospheric glitches. Going through the game at my own pace, I came across a collection of different scenarios—particularly ones involving platforming—where the environment had me slipping and sliding unnecessarily, if not having me get stuck on an edge and having me fall to the ground at lightspeed. These instances aren’t enough to label the game a glitchy mess, but there’s a definite need for further polish in the future. Improving structures’ priorities and ensuring that the game doesn’t register the player getting “stuck” between things that aren’t really that close. It makes the physics of the game a tad trickier than need be.
Unknown Fate‘s key to gameplay prowess is the introduction to “The artefact,” a device that allows the player to shoot bursts of energy, move certain objects, and even slow time. Puzzles attributed to these tools aren’t particularly diverse, but plentiful, which is likely the biggest drawback to the game’s gameplay features. There should be more to do with the artefact, but what’s currently there consists of many of the same puzzles only in harder circumstances. For what is there, I ended up enjoying the puzzles the further along I got in the game, with a few audible “Ohhh!’s” from me upon discovering the capabilities of my person. There’s a nice dependency on utilizing every technique at one’s disposal (albeit very few) to advance comfortably.
With how few things one can really do, it likely wouldn’t be too surprisingly to learn that the game isn’t particularly difficult. Frustrating spots occur, though mostly involving the tricky platforming sequences, but most puzzles are rather straightforward, and the game outright tells the player how to use each artefact upgrade upon receiving it—which essentially makes problem-solving much easier. Leaving the player to figure out the more complex problems revolving around a certain artefact feature remains the most rewarding part of the game, even if it probably won’t take very long or very many lives.
One final aspect of the gameplay I find to be a lost opportunity is the incorporation of combat. Every so often after obtaining the artefact, distinct bipedal creatures will appear on the map as antagonistic obstacles for the player to defeat. Every single instance for me went as follows: Let the creature get in range, right-click to stun, left-click three times to defeat it. Every single time. It feels incredibly clunky, from the repetitive nature of battle to the reaction of the creature being hit (their bodies are pushed back slightly as if they’re clipping through the ground). This is another thing that, if not here in future titles, that should be polished to be more creative or free-flowing.
Graphics & Sound
When a game tries to be deep, surreal, and bizarre, what better way to do so than to make everything bleak, littered in out-of-proportion real-life objects, and not make sense? Unknown Fate has a very distinct style to its characters and creatures, especially, but its environment definitely takes the half-eaten, gorilla-sized cake with how off-kilter it wants to be. Better yet, it wonderfully establishes the aspect of making everything, from the events shown of Richard’s life to the places he eventually ends up in, connected in some sort of way. While it won’t win any awards for graphical detail, it’s certainly enough to make the different styles of visual storytelling all the more interesting. From rough blacks and whites to complementary colors of a different variety, each environment stands out for whatever reason, all in mind-twisting fashion.
What the game evokes with its musical score, however, isn’t quite as splendid. Not to say it’s wallowing in a place of darkness, never to be extracted for its putridness, just that in comparison to everything else, it’s fairly limited. I can only recall a few main themes dedicated to specific worlds, all of which were broody and slow. Some themes have a distinct hint of hopefulness, which I like, but it only does the bare minimum of establishing what’s already heightened from the visual representation of the game. Honestly, I wonder how much the game would’ve been affected if there was nothing but natural ambiance playing in the background. Something to consider for future playthroughs.