Review: Unsighted by Studio Pixel Punk

 

Artwork showing a variety of characters from Unsighted.
Source: link

For my first official act of Sci-Fi Month 2021, I played the new indie game Unsighted by Studio Pixel Punk (check it out on Steam here). While I played the PC version, this game is also available on Switch, X-Box, and PS4. Unsighted is an original game with a science fiction setting where the majority of characters are automatons, including the game's protagonist, Alma. Veteran gamers will notice subtle references to the Legend of Zelda series: in the music, sound effects, collection of items, and especially in the fairy automaton companion who travels with Alma in her journey to save her friends. References to other games and even to gaming culture abound, and my favorite reference is to @CanYouPetTheDog, which is apparent in achievements you receive when you, naturally, pet the dog. 


Screenshot of a hand petting a dog on the head.
Screenshot of a dog being petted by Alma.

I was not able to finish the game before posting the review, but in the approximately 9 hours in which I played the game I got a very good feel for all of the important elements you may need to know (According to HowLongToBeat.com, it should take most players between 7 and 15 hours to complete the main story of Unsighted, but if you know me you know I am usually the most leisurely of players and I take my time enjoying the story, characters, and environments so I tend to fall on the longer end of the play-time spectrum, meaning that I played maybe about half the game.)

The rest of this review will be divided into categories, in the order of which I think the game did best. My personal feelings about the game lean strongly on the positive side, but there were a few areas where I thought the game could be improved.

1) Characters

If there were a game of the year award for best characters, I would give it to Unsighted. The developers clearly put a lot of work into creating a wide variety of individual characters with their own personalities and attributes. The secondary characters are just as important to the story as Alma herself, since a main goal of the game is to save as many of them as you can. Alma's friends will truly tug at the player's heartstrings as they tell you about their past with Alma, their lives before the war began, and their goals for the future. It is also important to note that even though the characters are automatons, and were canonically manufactured by humans, they still represent a range of body types and racial features, showing players that there is no one "generic" look for humans or for automatons. My personal favorite characters, and the ones I first gave my meteor dust to, are Samuel and Tobias.


Samuel saying, "But... I... really value the time we've spent together."



2) Story

As you may have been able to tell in the previous section, the story is simultaneously heartwarming and sad, almost like a Pixar movie. This makes the game hook players in, as we want to reach the end to find out what happens to the characters and world we've grown to love. Some parts of the story do seem overly dreary from time to time -- a war is actively taking place and there are horrors roaming the land -- some of which were previously automatons who could even have been friends with Alma. These dreary parts are simply part of the overall picture, however, and if you are able to focus on the good parts (reuniting with Alma's friends and meeting new ones, collecting and crafting tools, etc.) you can easily get through the more scary parts. Think of the Fallout series, but with fewer zombies and more cute puppies. 

3) Accessibility

In terms of accessibility, I can't speak for everyone's accessibility needs. I can, however, speak for my own, and this game certainly has better accessibility options than most games. There are some areas where I feel the game could be improved. First, the difficulty settings are great, and even greater: there's an invincibility mode. There are also settings to make a lot of other aspects of the game easier for disabled people, including text size options (I'm glad these exist though I feel the difference in size for the three size options could have been greater), font options, and the ability to switch between keyboard/mouse and controller as needed. The biggest issue I faced as someone with low vision was that the environments were difficult to navigate, and I believe this would have been difficult even if I didn't already have vision problems. I'll talk about this more in the level design and graphics sections of my review. See the screenshots below for the option pages. 



This is not exactly an accessibility problem, but I will say it here anyway. The title of the game comes from the tragedy that occurs to automatons whose time runs out: they become "Unsighted." This is where they lose themselves and their personalities and basically just become killing machines. The wording used for this tragedy unnerves me -- is it ableist against blind people to equate loss of sight to loss of self? I don't want to be the definitive voice on this matter as I myself am not completely blind, but it is something to think about.

Edited on 11/30/2021 to add: Fernanda Dias, one of the developers of the game, messaged me on Twitter to clear up my confusion about the word Unsighted. She said, "UNSIGHTED in the game means "missing", not "blind". When an automaton is about to become unsighted, they often flee and hide in order to not hurt others around them."

4) Graphics

Graphics, of course, are a very subjective category. Personally, I have grown especially fond of 16-bit style graphics in recent years, in large part due to my love for Stardew Valley. While some players may not love the art style of Unsighted, which falls into the pixel-graphics category, it is still quite clear that the game's designers put a lot of work into the art of the game, from the individual characters who each have their own unique look, to the architecture of the setting, like the old gothic cathedral that is central to the main city in the game. Even the weather looks spectacular -- there are many instance when it is raining, and yet the characters and backgrounds stand out among the raindrops. The only problem with the graphics is that sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between the floor and the roof of the building next to you. Is that a building, a platform, or a pit where Alma might fall to her death? Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and just... find out, and with the *very* unforgiving HP bar you have in this game, testing a black section of the game and falling can mean game over. Thankfully, the game has that aforementioned invincibility mode, so if you're in an area (like the city) where there are a lot of deadly pits, you can just turn on invincibility as you navigate your way through the world.

5) Controls

The controls are... fine. They're fine. But they could be better. I am always happy when a game allows for controller or keyboard/mouse input on PC. That said, I feel like there are some things you have to do manually that could have been mapped to the controller/keyboard better. For instance, I couldn't find an easy way to switch between equipment quickly. It got really frustrating in certain parts of the game where I needed to switch between three or so different things on a very regular basis. Alma only has two hands, so of course she is only able to hold two pieces of equipment at once (including her sword, which I used for most of the battle in the game). I would have liked a quick switch feature like the one you find in most Zelda games, or in Animal Crossing New Horizons. Otherwise I had few gripes with the controls. They're generally pretty basic and easy to follow. 

6) Level Design & Puzzles

I hear some people really like puzzles in their adventure games. For some people, it's really exciting to push giant boxes around and try to figure out how to get to the next room (even though you have bombs and/or grenades in your inventory and... couldn't you just blow a hole in the wall?). If you didn't figure it out yet, I am not one of those people. This may originate in the fact that I was a "gifted kid" growing up and from an extremely young age I was constantly forced by the school system to complete puzzles and brainteasers, and that got tiring. But I digress. There are a lot of these types of puzzles in Unsighted, which you might expect from a game that is heavily inspired by The Legend of Zelda. And of course, I can handle a puzzle or ten in my games -- I do play a lot of adventure games, after all. But when I have to do several puzzles that are difficult to figure out, I get tired, and I feel like Unsighted lands just over the line of what constitutes "too many puzzles." Unsighted's puzzles may not be so frustrating that I rage-quit the game, but they are often frustrating enough to deserve a mention. You will have to work your brain with this game. Whether that's an exciting prospect or not is up to you. And as I mentioned, there are issues with the perspective in the game's level designs that may have you confused about where Alma can and can't walk -- this in itself is a bit of an unwanted puzzle. 

A few notes to conclude my review: as I was playing the game the developers were regularly releasing patches, so if I mentioned an issue that you can't find in the game, it may have been patched before or soon after this review was published! This is one of the wonderful things about playing indie games whose developers really care about the game and its players. 


I received a copy of Unsighted for free in exchange for an honest review.


For more information about Sci-Fi Month, click here



Introduction to Sci-Fi Month 2021

 

Banner that says 1-30 November Sci Fi Month

Once again, November is here and with it comes Sci-Fi month! If you're unfamiliar with this yearly event, you can read more about it here. This month I will be focusing on some indie science fiction games. Early in the month I will be reviewing Unsighted, a new release from indie developer Studio Pixel Punk. I hope to also catch up on some sci-fi games from my infinite backlog. Depending on how I'm feeling and on how busy I am I may also try to fit in some book reviews? Nothing too ambitious. 

The artwork for this year's promotional material was made by Liu Zishan.

Thoughts on the new Far Cry 6 Trailer

Official artwork for Far Cry 6, picturing the villain and his son.


Last week a new "story trailer" for Far Cry 6 was released, revealing a bit more about the game's protagonist and, more importantly, its villain. As I have discussed at length before on this blog, the unique beauty of the Far Cry franchise is the way that it handles the trope of "good versus evil," or more specifically, evil versus extremely evil with some "good" qualities. In other words, the Far Cry games are nothing if not complex when it comes to the characters. There is no such thing as a purely good human in the Far Cry universe, and players are constantly being confronted with complex moral dilemmas. 


In this trailer it is revealed that the moral dilemma that drives the game involves using slave labor to grow tobacco which, apparently, can treat cancer. It looks like the game will delve into the issues surrounding the pharmaceutical industry, which is certainly a real-life moral minefield. The trailer also looks at the perceived innocence of children, as the villain's young son is central to the story as portrayed in multiple trailers (the reveal trailer released a year ago shows more of this father and son relationship).


It should be mentioned that the Far Cry franchise pretty consistently blurs (or crosses) the line of racism and what stories are appropriate for white/western creators to tell. Many of the games take place in countries that are not considered "Western" and the villains are often people of color. It is questionable whether it is okay for European game developers to tell stories about the evils of humanity while using people of color as their examples. In Far Cry 5 the villains are very much stereotypical white American characters, but was that one game enough? As I myself am a white Westerner, I prefer to defer to those who are culturally closer to the subject at hand, though upon searching for sources I am finding that a lot of the discussions about racism in Far Cry are being led by apparently white men. (Here is one such article and here is another.) I did finally find an article written by a woman of color, but she leaves the discussion of racism open for individual thoughts and opinions. Basically, this is a subject about which we should all think critically.


In the meantime, I am very excited to get my hands on and play Far Cry 6. I absolutely loved entries 3 and 4 in the series, and was less than happy with the fifth game, but not to the extent that I have sworn off the whole series (don't get me wrong -- I was very excited about the premise of Far Cry 5 -- I just had some issues with the gameplay that kept me from completing the game). What do you think about the upcoming game? Let me know in the comments!


Book Review: Fierce and Delicate by Renée K. Nicholson

 

Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I'll start by saying that the moment I heard this book was coming out, I knew I had to read it. I, myself, was a ballet student when I was young, and the experience shaped my whole life, even though I had to quit at a young age. I still have pretty much the entire Nutcracker Ballet memorized. When I was in ballet it was my whole world. Like the author of this memoir, I had to leave ballet (and gymnastics, which I also loved) due to my progressing chronic illness, though in my case my illness was life-long and I had to quit while I was still a kid.

Reading the early chapters on Nicholson's early experiences in ballet felt like someone writing about my own life. And then reading about her early struggles with learning that she had arthritis and trying to cope with it... well, my experience was a little different because I always knew I was sick, but it was still extremely identifiable to me.

In later chapters she discusses her experiences in academia, as a dance teacher and as a writer. Once again, I can identify. I don't know enough about dance to teach it, but I have worked in academia most of my adult life.

Basically, I feel that I have such a close personal connection to the experiences shared in this book that it is impossible for me to look at the book objectively like some other reviewers have done. And that's okay because I feel like I might be the one person in the world for whom this book was written.

So if you, too, have personal experiences with ballet or with quitting your passion due to disability, this book may be just right for you. I enjoyed it and found it very readable, though as I said, I was eager to read it because it felt almost like I was reading my own life story.

There are a few trigger/content warnings: as this book is about ballet, there is some mention of disordered eating. There is also some description of medical procedures, surgeries, etc. and there's a bit of ableism (I felt like the author was going through some soul searching and internalized ableism). There's also a chapter where she mentions visiting Russia and talking to Romani people, but she uses the common slur used to describe them.

This review can also be found on Goodreads.



Final Fantasy: Hamlet

Recently, I finally got around to playing Final Fantasy XV. After about 100 hours of play (not having yet beat the game) it has dawned on me that Final Fantasy XV is a direct retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Okay, so I've been making jokes about similarities between FFXV and Hamlet (and, more specifically, The Lion King) the whole time I've been playing, but I was slow to realize that this was intentional on the part of the game's writers. I've got to say, I'm a little upset that no one pointed this out to me in the four and a half years that I put off playing this game. Anyway, once I actually finish the game I will write my full thoughts on it and its correlation to Hamlet. But without further ado, here is a fun little cast listing for Final Fantasy: Hamlet.

Final Fantasy: Hamlet


NAMES OF THE ACTORS

HAMLET, son to the late King

Screenshot of Noctis from Final Fantasy XV sitting on a rock, posing for the camera.

HORATIO, ROSENCRANTZ, and GUILDENSTERN, friends to Hamlet

Screenshot of Promoto, Gladiolus, and Ignis posing for the camera, with Noctis hidden behind them.

OPHELIA, betrothed to Hamlet

Screenshot of Lunafreya from Final Fantasy XV, appearing to sink into water

LAERTES, brother to Ophelia

Screenshot of Ravus Nox Fleuret from Final Fantasy XV

SCAR CLAUDIUS, King of Denmark

Screenshot of Ardyn from Final Fantasy XV.

Ghost of Hamlet's Father

Screenshot from Final Fantasy: Kingsglaive of King Regis
Source: https://www.gamesradar.com/kingsglaive-final-fantasy-xv-review/

Understudy for the part of HAMLET

Concept art of Richard from Tales of Graces.
Source: https://aselia.fandom.com/wiki/Richard

(I had to include Richard from Tales of Graces in this because he bears more than a passing resemblance to the Prince of Denmark, and also Howl from Howl's Moving Castle. I've always intended to write a little something about him but never got around to doing so.)

Sources: