by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
An Indian Adventure
I don’t think it’s unfair of me to say that Indian themes are rarely explored in games. Developer Pyrodactyl is looking to change that with Unrest, a story-driven, mostly text-based game set in a fantasy version of ancient India. Think of it as a gamified version of one of those choose your own adventure books you read as a kid.
I played a short portion of Unrest at the Rezzed festival earlier this year. It was an odd fit for the event because there’s no action in the game. All you do is select text options to further the story. In the hustle and bustle of a game event where you’re constantly looking to move on in order to see as much as possible, it’s hard to show a game like this. As a result, I was intrigued at the event, but not blown away. Now, having had time to sit down and play the game from start to finish, it’s easier to see what it’s all about. It also gave me the benefit of seeing how my decisions would alter the game's story.
Not as dead as you think
In Unrest, you play as multiple characters in the same city, who forge their own stories but contribute to an overall narrative. In one scenario, a young girl is arranged to be married to a merchant’s son. However, he’s not exactly marriage material, and the girl soon discovers that the merchant may in fact be using her family to further his own goals. In one playthrough, I bit the bullet and got married to the merchant's son for the good of my family. In another, I tried to get out of the marriage any way I could, and ended up dying.
If the character you’re playing dies, it’s not game over; they’re simply dead and you move onto the next part of the story. Of course, this can have repercussions. Being dead, they won’t be able to take part in the rest of the story as a whole. It's a bit like Mass Effect in that the overall narrative doesn't deviate that much, despite the goings on in between.
The character I enjoyed playing the most was a priest, as whom I had to make moral decisions about who to hand out food and medicine to. At all times the high priest would look over my shoulder and judge my actions. Unfortunately, as interesting as the priest's story was, it seemed to have no real bearing on the story as a whole.
When you’re not talking to other characters or making choices, you’ll be walking round the city of Bhimra and its outskirts. It’s a city in crisis, with famine, violent slums, and an incursion of lizard-like creatures called Naga. The majority of Bhimra's population are not happy about the presence of these lizard creatures, but the Naga do provide a much-needed source of food.
While the fantasy elements spice things up a bit, they seem rather unnecessary. The Naga provide nothing that a simple incursion of foreign humans would. It almost seems like they were added in to provide more black-and-white moral questions for the player to answer. Do we drive out the vile beasts, or let them stay and help the poor survive?
The story intrigues rather than excites, and never seems to gain or lose pace throughout. It should’ve been more high-tempo towards the end, with the prospect of riots and political revolution. Instead, it just seems to be peter out, and ends very abruptly. It would’ve been nice to see visual changes throughout the city as the story progressed, but for the most part I was just treading the same ground over and over again.
Another thing the game could’ve done without is the physical act of walking in between text encounters. While it allows the player to explore and see the sights of the city, the act of walking feels slow, and the map system isn’t great for finding your way around. Instead of switching from walking to text, they could have been combined. The text boxes could have been made smaller, and the art could have been displayed in the background. The art style is nice, but it is let down by the poor animation. On the plus side, the authentic Indian music accompanies the visuals well. Again, you don't often hear this sort of music in games, so it’s a nice touch.
A second playthrough? Maybe
You’ll probably get two or three hours out of Unrest on your first playthrough, depending on how quickly you can read. Early on I was expecting to want to jump straight back in after I’d finished and see how much the story could change. However, as the game went on, the prospect of a second playthrough became less appealing. While Unrest explores locations and themes that aren’t often touched upon in games, it merely intrigues rather than excites. That just isn’t enough when there are better story-driven games out there.
Fairly branching storyline, contains themes rarely explored in games
Story never really gains momentum, walking around is tedious