John: Hello. I’ve brought you here today to plan our next hei… I mean discuss the surprisingly involved point and click adventure game, Unavowed. A game by Wadjet Eye that I, in my review, argued advances the PnC genre forward in ways that few will ever be able to successfully copy – a blending of RPG and adventure to create a narrative-driven game that you’ll want to play again. But instead of playing it again, I made you two play it instead. So who did you play as, and what did you think?
Alice Bee: I played once through as the bartender, then a third as the police officer – and then I did the opening again as the actor ‘cos I wanted to see what it was like. And I thought it was marvellous!
Matt: I played as an actor, and was … pleased but unwowed?
Alice Bee: [panto crowd booing, hissing]
John: I was a bartender too, because I’d already seen the actor’s opening at GDC, and didn’t fancy being one of the fuzz/pigs/etc. And like Alice, I correctly thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game. So Matt, as a wrong person, where did it fall short for you?
Matt: I think it’s got a lot to do with the way I haven’t practiced much pointing and clicking. I’ve got fond memories of chatting with all the characters, but my most enduring one is agonising over how to heat up a cup of hot water.
Alice Bee: The puzzle that called on you to make magic tea was, I think, the only one I did agonise over.
Matt: I had a walkthrough open almost the entire time. My brain is not wired up for adventure in adventure games.
Alice Bee: But the rest of the game is, I found, really free from the worst thing about classic PnC games, i.e. puzzles without a logical solution where you have to USE: Pizza Slice WITH: Owl or something silly like that. And it’s so impressive that you can have completely different experiences if you, for example, don’t have a fire Mage with you. Or brought the spirit medium instead of the burnt out detective.
John: So Alice, I have a theory, and Matt does rather suggest it might be right. I wonder if point and click adventure games are so routinely bad these days, that someone showing a glimmer of inspiration, or simply avoiding doing things that are egregiously bad, can cause us to get a bit over-excited?
Alice Bee: That could be true. I have a similar theory about films (i.e. watching Wild Wild West in 1999 was a completely different experience compared to watching it 10 years later). I do think Unavowed does some genuinely fantastic things, though! It’s very finely crafted. And there’s so much story – but a lot of it is optional, things you only find if you go looking for them. For example, I didn’t really find out much about Mandana’s mother, but I know you can because the character is listed in the credits.
John: Ooh yes, I did find that, without really knowing I was finding something avoidable, which is how you know it’s been done well. That sort of stuff when it feels like an Easter egg is rubbish, but when it’s a natural part of the experience, and then you find not a natural part of someone else’s experience, it feels special.
Alice Bee: Who was your default Unavowed team on a mission?
Matt: I was going to ask you guys that! It’s interesting, with BioWare games I tend to latch on to a couple of characters and tow them around everywhere, but here I mixed and matched as much as I possibly could. I think Logan might have seen a little more of New York than anyone else.
John: I was the same. Like Matt I fall in love with two BioWare chums, but here I found myself wanting to pick who felt most relevant. And then immediately regretted if I ever didn’t bring Logan because of missing out on all the ghosts. Although the counter-effect of that was it’s really made me want to play the whole game again to find out how on Earth it’s possible to solve most of the missions without him.
Matt: Logan is the cheat pick, because you get two characters in one.
John: Yes, but one IS dead. And an idiot child.
Matt: I’m not allowed to call KayKay an idiot after she laughed at me for forgetting I needed her to open doors that one time.
Alice Bee: I latched. I absolutely latched. I was always torn because I wanted to take Logan to save the ghosties, but I just really liked Vicki and Eli. Playing as the cop character was less fun because you have essentially the same abilities as Vicki – which is just knowing anyone who was ever a cop at any point in the last decade – so it felt a waste to bring her. Vicki solutions are maybe less… puzzly? Because she mostly goes “Eh, we’re old buddies, you can trust me, tell me the answer to this thing I need” to, like, a transit worker or whatever. Although Vicki has a gun, too. There’s a scene early on where you need to break a window, and with Vicki you can just shoot it, which made me laugh quite a bit.
Alice Bee: I did really like the bartender specific “tell me your troubles” ability. That was a nice pairing with Vicki because we had a natural good cop/bad cop vibe. And I would usually take Eli because his ability to read anything that has ever been burnt is amazing. I just always felt bad if I left a ghost in limbo…
Matt: Yeah, I’d be interested to see how some of those puzzles work when you can’t fire read. I really liked Eli as a character, too. Though some of his thaumaturgy gobbledegook was a bit ‘what if La Forge was a fire Mage’.
Alice Bee: He maybe poured it on a bit thick with the family stuff. Every mission there would bit a bit where he went “Family is the most important thing in the world! Never leave family behind!” like a supporting character from Lilo & Stitch.
John: You know what? I think Eli was my least favourite character. I found him just a bit too much… I dunno, the same reason I always struggled to like the ghost PI in the Blackwell games. Too over-confident and smary-right.
Matt: Speaking of overconfidence, let’s talk morality. Your review mentioned you found those decisions tough, John – were there any you were particularly torn over?
John: I think not. Because in the end they came down to choices between revenge and redemption, and that’s never a choice for me when I’m playing games if the latter’s on offer. I know BioWare likes to get all clever-clever about saying, “Aaaaah but aaaaaaaahhh, when you saved that guy, it had all these terrible consequences!”, but that’s because they do rather forget that these decisions are made by a player who believes the other characters have a right to agency in a world in which they do not. So the notion becomes anything that happens after your interaction becomes your responsibility, which is silly and wrong. I think Gilbert wanted to do a bit of that with the way things come back at the ending, but I was still, “DON’T CARE! DID THE RIGHT THING!”
Alice Bee: I am one of those idiot players. The characters in games are my friends for real. But having said that, I didn’t struggle with any of them, but I didn’t pick the redemptive option for all of them either. When it came to Robin Goodfellow the baby stealing corporate prick-a-ma-boob, I revenged him with no hesitation whatsoever. I revenged him good.
Matt: I’ve actually forgotten how I resolved that one, apart from the way I left a baby out there who’s going to burst into flames whenever he feels threatened. That’s not ideal.
Alice Bee: Ah it’s fine, that’s basically Incredibles 2, isn’t it?
Matt: The Incredibles 2 doesn’t show you the awful suffering left in that baby’s wake.
John: But it should.
Matt: My biggest regret was leaving that old muse dude alive. Maybe that ending reel of consequences didn’t have much of an impact on you, but it reminded me that I’d let someone go who’d driven people to suicide through mind domination. I think letting him keep kicking around might have done a lot more harm than offing him.
Alice Bee: Ooh actually I did struggle with that one. Because Calliope was really happy being human rather than a muse. But on the other hand her poetry was deeply, deeply terrible.
John: Yeah, he was particularly challenging. But, again, wasn’t malicious in his intent.
Matt: Even if someone with an extinction-causing plague bouncing around in their pocket doesn’t intend to end the world, I’d still say the moral thing to do would be to stop them.
John: Would you be able to?
Matt: Ahh, well there’s an interesting one. If there was a button in front of me that did it, I’m pretty sure I would.
John: Gosh, I wouldn’t. What about you, Alice?
Alice Bee: Well I definitely can in video games, which I suppose is sort of like putting a button in front of me that does it. But if I knew it was a real person, I don’t think I could. So basically, Matt is a monster.
John: A terrible, terrible monster.
Matt: Who could save the world!
John: Not the monster we asked for, but perhaps the monster we needed.
Matt: What video game were we talking about again?
John: Yoshi Vs The Evil Man