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State Of Xen: A Story About My Uncle

Ooh, what's this in my wheezing inbox? Why, it's a free first-person platformer from Sweden, made in the Unreal Development Kit, promising fun with a grappling hook within a dramatic, otherwordly landscape. I like it already. I liked A Story About My Uncle even more once I'd played it.

A 400MB download gets you something that makes up for what it lacks in any graphical options whatsoever (even resolution, grr) with ingenuity and a certain atmosphere. What with its initially people-free world, hand-based magi-gun, leaping tall buildings in a single-bound and unseen narrator, it's hard not to cry 'Portal' at it, but A Story About My Uncle is very specifically and very openly about jumping rather than spatial manipulation.

There are three key powers - powerjump (up, up and away!), powerleap (er, forward, forward and away) and the grappling hook (whee!), which are combined in assorted forms to navigate your way across an unearthly world of giant floating rocks and strange runes. From a staccato start it rapidly escalates into flying through the air with the greatest of ease, lauching an energy hook into an orbiting boulder then pinging off that onto a far distant ledge. It's Half-Life's Xen, if Half-Life's Xen wasn't incredibly frustrating but did have a grappling hook.

The narration, concerning the exploration of a strange land in pursuit of the titular lost uncle, is a bit hit and miss and could do with more vim and vigour. Then again, let's not be churlish - this is a free student project and at least the voiceover doesn't actively irritate, as did the vaguely similar (but far more ambitious, of course) Quantum Conundrum's on occasion. I dig this more than QC, I think, even if the comparison is admittedly a forced one.

Narration, and occasionally imprecise-feeling controls aside, A Story About My Uncle is a confident, rewarding slice of puzzle-action. It's often claimed that first-person platforming is inherently flawed, but A Story About My Uncle demonstrates that if you can get scale, momentum and flexibility of solution in the bag, you can do great things.

Haven't finished it yet as a thousand other tasks call, but I'm confident in recommending it based on what I've played so far. Download it for free from here, and find out more about the Södertörns University team who made it here.

Oh, and if you want to change the resolution, you'll need to search for "resx=" and "resy=" in defaultengine.ini and/or (I haven't worked out which one actually does it) UDKengine.ini inside the UDKGame/Config folder where you extracted the game too.

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