The pixelated style of graphics in video games is a bit like marmite. Some people love it and feel it pays perfect homage to classic games gone by, while others might feel the style of game should remain in the past when you take into consideration everything that can be achieved with games today.
Whichever way you look at it, a pixelated aesthetic definitely helps to make a game stand out, whether that’s in a good way or a bad way depends on how you perceive them. Cowardly Creations’ Silent Hill inspired Uncanny Valley has adopted this style and accompanied it with a creepy story and survival horror type gameplay, but is this a winning combination?
Uncanny Valley: PS4, Xbox One [Reviewed], PC
Developer: Cowardly Creations
Publisher: Digerati Distribution
Release Date: 10 February 2017
Price: £10.39 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
Uncanny Valley tells the rather peculiar story of Tom, a man who needs to get away from it all, for complicated reasons you don’t find out until later on in the game. He takes a job as a night security guard at an abandoned facility, working with fellow guard Buck, who is on hand to guide the player through their first day.
Tom appears to suffer from a form of night terror which occur every time he falls asleep, these night terrors while bizarre and confusing also serve to tell the player a little bit about Tom’s backstory. The problem is you are never quite sure what is real and what isn’t, what did actually happen to Tom and what was in his imagination, unfortunately, the game never really clues the player in on these questions. The story is far from straightforward and, although very intriguing, with androids, gangsters, black shadow monsters and people who may or may not be real, to say it’s a bit confusing would be an understatement.
Uncanny Valley‘s gameplay is very simple, with your aim to monitor the corridors and the rooms in the abandoned building, and although Buck assures you there isn’t anything strange going on, the game suggests otherwise. With your trusty flashlight, you wander room to room, interacting with various items which may or may not explain what is going on, and completing little mini games such as drawing a shape to bring the power back on and playing Anarchy Man, a form of arcade game where you set off car alarms. You will also have to learn to handle a gun at some point potentially, depending on where your story takes you, but its gameplay is largely basic, choosing to focus on story with multiple endings available depending on player choice.
Uncanny Valley tells you at the start to play through it more than once to experience all of the endings, and that is definitely good advice. The game’s endings can appear anytime from half an hour into the game, to when you’ve spent a couple of hours exploring. Your time is split into shifts and days, and certain things are scheduled to happen on pre-determined days, so in this sense, you can’t change what happens in the game. You can, however, choose to do things you aren’t meant to do, such as instead of turning up for your shift, go and investigate why the room next to your bedroom has a red light shining through it. With the simple gameplay at hand, Uncanny Valley really needed its choices and storytelling to shine through, and on some level, it does, but not enough in my personal opinion.
The game will have you constantly on edge, and even though you’ll go periods where nothing actually happens, you’ll always have the feeling something is about to. The setting mirrors this, placing you in a typical snowy scene where everything seems calm and serene, but obviously isn’t. This is accompanied perfectly by eerie music that will help enhance that edgy feeling, that makes the game uncomfortable and exciting to play all at once. It is never really scary, apart from the odd moment where the lights go out or something appears out of nowhere, so marketing the game as one with a horror aspect should not put any potential buyers off.
I have nothing against pixelated graphics in any game, but Uncanny Valley‘s text can be often hard to read, with conversations straying too far off the screen that you can’t quite see it all. Generally, the world looks fine, although sometimes you might not be entirely sure what item you are picking up or what inanimate object you’ve just walked past. Straining your eyes to be 100% sure what you’re reading or just witnessed does not make for an enjoyable experience. These problems are repeated with the awkward controls, that see you using the D-pad to walk and RB button to pick up items, which all feels a little disjointed and ultimately awkward.
Uncanny Valley sets out to be weird and a little different, and it definitely achieves that. The story, although a little confusing and disjointed, is an interesting one, and different endings encourage you to play through the fairly short story at least a couple of times. The creepy setting and music work perfectly, and give you that uneasy feeling while playing that many horror fans will be familiar with. Sadly, bad controls and overly pixelated graphics let the game down, because no game is fun when you can’t see what you are doing. All that being said, I have never played a game quite like Uncanny Valley, so if you are looking for a gaming experience that is more than a little bit weird, it is worth picking up.