Uncanny Valley Review
The term Uncanny Valley came from Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970 and describes our natural instinct to be repulsed by things that appear nearly human, but not quite right. This term particularly applies to human-like robots and dolls. In Uncanny valley you play as Tom, a security guard working the night shift at a robotics plant out in the middle of nowhere. As the days go by Tom starts to have nightmares where he is chased by mysterious shadowy figures. Will you be able to untangle the mystery that surrounds the Melior robotics factory, or is this a game that promises a lot but fails to really deliver?
No hand holding here – From the very start of Uncanny Valley you will quickly realise that there is very little in the way of tutorials or tips to help you progress. There is an initial start up screen that shows you various inputs for your controller, and after that you are pretty much on your own. There is a scripted sequence at the start of the game which cannot be avoided, but once you’ve done this you can pretty much do what you like. Each day is broken down into roughly seven minutes and how you spend the majority of your day is entirely up to you. You can be a good employee and carry out your daily duties (handily listed on a clipboard found in your inventory) or you can wander the factory. Exploring the four floors will help you fill in some of the blanks of the story as there are computer terminals full of emails for you to read, as well as old video tapes and audio cassettes that can be played. I found this approach initially a little daunting as I was unsure whether I was actually making progress, but after a while it wasn’t an issue.
Multiple playthroughs recommended – One thing that is made abundantly clear to you from the start is that in order to get the most out of Uncanny Valley multiple playthroughs are recommended. To know that a game has so many potential endings is great; however figuring them all out will take a lot of time and some considerable knowledge of the locations of some key items. The first couple of days are always the same (an option to skip forward to day one would have been welcomed), you arrive off the train station to be greeted by Buck, a massively overweight security guard who delights in reprimanding you if you are ever late for the start of your work shift. He’ll drive you to the factory and give you a little tour of where everything is, and leave you to complete your shift. Once you have done this you can return to your apartment and go to sleep or you can choose to wander around and see what you can find. Eventually you fall asleep regardless and enter another nightmare. These revolve around the shadowy figures that give chase to you in the introduction and are some of the best bits of Uncanny Valley. The lack of hand holding here means if you know where to look you don’t have to endure Buck and his constant moaning, you can instead choose to cave his head in with a fire extinguisher! Find the right access card and you can explore the secret underground section of the factory. Down here you’ll encounter cyborgs that relentlessly pursue you if you happen to run in their vicinity, and you’ll also find some darker secrets. The only downside to how open Uncanny Valley is for me is that I still don’t know if I found all the endings possible. I managed to get three different endings but it still felt like there were more. A menu or option screen that gave some sort of indication would have made life a whole lot easier.
Pixel art problems – I’m a big of the pixel art style that seems to be making resurgence over the last couple of years. The Final Station used this style very well last year and ended up being one of my favourite ID@Xbox titles of 2016. Uncanny Valley seems to have a bit of a problem visually, the graphics themselves are mostly fine but I found that whenever I moved the screen blurred too much for me to really see things. I also had a lot of problems with the overall darkness of the visuals, even boosting the brightness of my screen failed to alleviate this. Finally I found that although the in-game text was a decent size because they used the same blocky pixels for this text it made some of the words rather hard to read. For the longest time I was convinced that one of the characters you encounter was talking about random huggings until I eventually realised that it is a m and not a h. Tidying up the text with a different font style would soon sort this issue out, but I am very surprised that it got through testing without anyone picking up on this.
D-pad disaster – The one thing I truly disliked about my time with Uncanny Valley was their insistence on making you use the d-pad for controlling Tom. The left analogue stuck has instead been mapped to controlling a cursor which only appears when you have your inventory open even though you might only use it once or twice (if at all). Even after several hours of playing I still found myself occasionally gravitating to the analogue stick before realising that it is pretty much obsolete in this game. It’s a rather weird design choice and one that I really didn’t appreciate.
Who ate all the pies? – The first 20-30 minutes of Uncanny Valley require to shuttle back and forth between several different areas. I already mentioned earlier that you have to repeat the opening sequence every time you start a new game, which is bad enough. To add to this Tom moves around at a ridiculously slow pace. You cannot travel from one end of the screen to the other without getting out of breath which quickly gets annoying. I understand that the developers probably want you to take in your surroundings which is fine, but when you are having to play the same part of a game over and over just to try and discover new endings the slow movement is rather off-putting.
As much as I enjoyed my time playing Uncanny Valley I could never shake the feeling that there was something missing. The setting and the story are great but I would have liked to explore more nightmare sequences as they were the parts I found the most interesting. What we’re left with here is a game that has a lot of potential but sadly falls a little short and leaves you wondering about what it could have been.
Uncanny Valley was developed by Cowardly Creations and published by Digerati Distribution. The game released on Xbox One on February 10th, 2017 and is also available for Playstation 4 and Steam. A press review copy was provided for The Hidden Levels. Many studios submit copies for site review but this is in no way factored into our review scores. Games are scored on their individual merits and our rating system is explained here.
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