Review: Unmechanical

The balance between quality and quantity is a tough one. Nobody wants to slog through hour after hour of average-ness inserted for the sole purpose of padding between the awesome bits, but is a bit over three hours of quality gaming really enough to be satisfying? Unmechanical is an unbroken string of quality action puzzling, with a lovely visual design made all the prettier by the Unreal Engine, but it ends almost as soon as the really clever puzzles appear.

A little robot is trailing along after his little robot swarm when it gets sucked into an underground complex of some sort. The unnamed robot can fly, has a tractor beam, and is apparently indestructible, and while that seems like a limited set of skills they get used in dozens of different and creative ways. Most puzzles center around moving things and activating switches, and the “one button plus joystick” controls work perfectly for this. It doesn’t take a lot of control complexity to pick up and move things, but it allows endless ways to interact with the world.

One of the early puzzles, for example, has a switch in a hole blocked by rocks. The hole is too small for the rocks to drop through, much less the robot, but it’s still pretty clear they need to be moved out of the way. A little ways back there was another switch that caused a small orange ball to shoot through a broken pipe, out one shattered end and into the other. It’s an early obstacle, not meant to be super-complicated, but the same kind of logic used to clear this will be needed later to solve the huge number of puzzles that activate a giant mechanical heart. For a while it looks like the level design is going to take a page from the Metroid school of design, zipping from one level to another and earning a new skill to enable further exploration in previous area, but then the final level shows up, relatively linear, and all of a sudden the credits are rolling. Sure, there’s two different endings, but a single choice at the end means you can reload and see both.

Closing Comments:

Despite its abrupt stopping point, Unmechanical is a really satisfying experience while it lasts. Every single puzzle had that lovely feeling of “Oh, I get it!”, and no two used the same type of solution. One section will require a series of switches to be activated by bombs in a specific order, while another has you figuring out the pattern on a giant wheel of colors to unlock a door. One area has you exploring the lovely underwater terrain to find a rock to weight down a switch, while another has you figuring out an icon-based numbering system and using it to place blocks in the correct order on a series of switches. The only real problem with the length is the pacing, with no indication given that you’re on the last area and solving the final puzzle until, surprise!, end credits. It’s analagous to reading a review that, while technically it’s said everything it needs to, simply comes to a stop.
 Platform: PC