Review: Unravel (PC, PS4, XONE)
All’s wool that ends wool…
There’s something rather charming and endearing about Coldwood Studios woolly little fellow, aptly named ‘Yarny’. I admit the first time I became familiar with this anthropomorphic bundle of string, I was captivated by how wonderful its world looked. Unchallanging for the most part, it was comparable to a quiet walk through the countryside, aesthetically beautiful with an emotional sentiment.
Your adventure begins in the most typical yet warming environments, a house occupied by a somewhat weathered elderly lady. The house serves as the vessel to facilitate the very memories and life of a woman, who seemingly embodies a sense of familiarity. As you explore further, its your interaction with photographs scattered throughout which provide you with a memory and new environment to delve into. With every level, Yarny is faced with multiple obstacles to circumvent, by which he can only succeed in conquering through unravelling yarn. These obstacles may require Yarny to build a bridge by tying off parts of his yarn onto nails and twigs, or to create a platform to jump from. Ergo, Yarny can only succeed by sacrificing a part of his very essence, one of the more subtle parallels suggested.
This felt fresh and innovative, even therapeutic to a degree, employing a relaxing manner as I progressed. Whilst this mechanic was enjoyable for the most part, it was only towards the end that it became slightly tedious, when I felt I’d over familiarised myself with the novelty. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy my experience, I just found it relied heavily on similar concepts, without variety at times. I also felt Yarny was particularly awkward to control, akin to platforming in Little Big Planet (The very reason I dislike that franchise), which I will discuss in further detail.
Each level encapsulates a memory we may have all shared at some point during our lives. Herein lies the secrets and premise behind Unravel. For what has an a appearance of a simple platform puzzle adventurer, actually managed to engage me through deep and affectionate metaphors. This probably isn’t the case for everyone, but for me it just felt like a labour of love. Furthermore, despite Yarny’s role as the silent protagonist, his expressions prove more than capable of humanising and conveying personality. As you experience these brief but enticing memories, you are accompanied by incredibly detailed environments. They are beautifully crafted and a real marvel to explore, working hand in hand with the ambience provided by a truly delightful soundtrack. I would go as far as to say its this attention to detail that kept me thoroughly enthused throughout my time.
Where Unravel’s threads appear loose, is within the core of it’s game-play. Platforming feels awkward, and there were times where I was forced to restart my progress in a level, due to Yarny bumbling into areas and subsequently becoming cornered. This happened few and far between with easy resolve, as simply holding ‘down’ returns you to a previous checkpoint, a forgiveable concession. However, controlling Yarny still feels inherently clumsy and without a steady flow of movement. This clunky and unintuitive feeling distracts from an intriguing verisimilitude harboured within. A real shame, as I really love the sentiment behind Unravel, but feel I can’t quite overlook my personal displeasure and feeling towards controlling Yarny. Perhaps this was with purpose, it is a bundle of wool of course and this clumsy demeanour certainly adds charisma.
The puzzle solving elements remain centred around Yarny himself, using his wool to solve physics based challenges. Whilst these were moderately satisfying, they were particularly effortless. This is not a criticism, after bashing my head against a wall with The Witness, it was a relief to meander and observe the beautifully crafted scenery, without being distracted by frustration. The only times I can recall ever becoming particularly unstuck, was if I had performed a task in an incorrect order, resulting in me having to start over. This remains core to the game-play, as Yarny only has limited wool at his disposal, replenished at each checkpoint. I found these puzzles to be enjoyable at times, however, there was element of experimentation that I didn’t fully appreciate, often resulting in instantaneous death.
There was the odd occasion where I also felt slightly cheated. One instance in particular had me traversing an area attached to a kite, I distinctly remember failing three times, simply because I had no idea what was being asked of me. There was no indication I was supposed to do anything. Don’t get me wrong, I love a challenge, but when mechanics are addressed in one area and not in another, it can be slightly irritating.
Overall, I really did enjoy my experiences with Unravel. It’s a thoughtful and charming, employing both character and emotion, something of a rarity in any game. If I hadn’t contested so much with clumsy nature of the platforming, it might have been one of my favourite titles of this year so far. Saying that I would definitely value it as an essential purchase, it’s passion alone is more than enough to warrant experiencing it for yourself. It’s certainly worth your time, and it’s not a bad price too.