Indiewatch: Uncanny Valley - A rough hidden gem
Welcome to Indiewatch, a series where I take a look at good yet unknown, unappreciated and overlooked indie titles. It is time to give some appreciation, attention, and love to those games that deserve it but never got it. In order for a game to be covered on Indiewatch, it must fit into the following criteria:
- It must be an indie game
- It was not covered or gained minimal coverage from mainstream video game websites and YouTubers (Destructoid, Polygon, IGN, Totalbiscuit etc.)
- It must be good! Nothing below 7 out of 10 will be covered.
Today we are going to take a look at Uncanny Valley, a pixelated survival horror game, developed and published by Cowardly Creations. It released April 23rd, 2015 for Windows (watch the review above for a deeper look at the game).
Welcome to the Night Shift
You take on the role of Tom. It is his first day at his new job, as a security guard at a shutdown research facility in the middle of nowhere. The only others at the facility are Buck, a lazy, overweight security guard who does the day shift, and Eve, the cleaner of the employee apartments.
Tom suffers from nightmares every time he sleeps. The nightmares generally consist of him being hunted by shadow people. Time away from the city and a new job seem like just what Tom needs, or at least, that is what he thought.
The plot to Uncanny Valley is an interesting one. Essentially, you have three different stories that all become connected into one big plot. You have Tom’s nightmares, the history of the facility and the present day.
The first half of the game is mostly piecing together Tom’s nightmares and the facility’s history. The latter half focuses on the present day events. It requires multiple playthroughs to get the entire story from beginning to end. As you play the game, the choices that you make can change what part of the story is told to you.
There are two issues with the plot. The first is that the dialogue literally gives away the main plot twist, well before the event takes place. This giveaway does lessen the impact of it, but not all is ruined because of it. The second issue is that the storytelling can be the game's highlight and bane. This form of storytelling is certainly not to everyone’s taste.
For me, it definitely was a highlight. I enjoyed its clever and deep story along with how it is told. I love how the story and its conclusion changes in accordance to your actions. Indeed it has its issues, but if you see past them, there is an excellent story to be found.
Turning from mystery to survival horror
The first half of the game takes place around the main part of the facility and its surroundings. This can be for a total of up to five days, sometimes less depending on your actions. It is through your actions during this time that ultimately determines the ending, assuming you survive.
There would be one thing I would criticize about this. That would be that some of the actions required for certain endings are... quite out of place. This is due to the actions being very out of character for Tom’s personality.
The second half of the game turns from a mystery game to a survival horror game, very often with you thrown in, unexpectedly. I feel that it is really well designed with you suddenly being put into a life threatening situation. It causes panic as the sense of vulnerability hits you.
Your actions up until this point also determine how you are placed into this scenario. This is your typical survival horror, run from or fight enemies (if you have a gun), solve puzzles, if damaged receive injuries that hinder you, and ammunition and healing supplies are extremely scarce. It is classic survival horror done well.
While being suddenly thrown into the lion’s den may not be to everyone’s appeal, it is extremely effective. There is, however, one major issue with this design. That issue is that while it is effective the first time it isn’t so much on multiple playthroughs.
I enjoy the gameplay of Uncanny Valley, even with its major shift halfway through. It is something that I feel will only appeal to a niche audience. It is a game that you would need to play, with a very open mind to appreciate its design.
A brilliant build-up of atmosphere and dread
While there are faults to be found with most of Uncanny Valley’s features and mechanics, there is one thing done brilliantly, the atmosphere. The first half of the game is a brilliant build-up of pure atmospheric dread and that makes you stew in it.
As each day passes throughout the first half of the game, things begin to become darker and stranger. Unusual occurrences happen and the nightmares each night intensify. You know all of this is going to lead to something, you just don’t know what, when, or how.
Even when the build-up is over and everything goes to hell, the atmosphere does not dwindle, instead, it intensifies. This is helped by the amazingly atmospheric soundtrack that fits perfect with every scenario.
Whether that is being chased by an enemy, surviving to an ending or meeting your gruesome end it always fits. There are few games out there that can say they have achieved atmospheric perfection, but Uncanny Valley is one of them.
A rough hidden gem
Uncanny Valley is a game that has the characteristics of a genius’ mind; it is intelligent, unpredictable and borderline insane. It is far from being a perfect game mechanically, but what it attempts to do is simply brilliant. Its consequence system is a testing of the water, but for a first time attempt, I appreciate and respect it.
It is a game that I feel will only appeal to a niche audience or those who are open minded to attempting new, unusual and imperfect games. It isn’t a traditional modern horror game that will scare you with jump scares but with the atmosphere. It has a great story, but its telling of it would not be to everyone’s appeal, not to mention the half way curveball with gameplay.
Its gameplay does feel like two different games in one. While that may be off-putting to many, I enjoyed it and feel that both gameplay styles, while not brilliant, were done relatively well.
It is a wonderful little title that is very dependent on the players taste in video games, and storytelling, as to whether they will enjoy it or not. If you are open to trying new yet imperfect things, Uncanny Valley may just be that unusual horror game you were looking for.
Uncanny Valley is available to buy on Steam for $9.99.