Unravel: Technical Review & Analysis
Welcome one and all as we are transported into a familiar but sad world with the latest release from EA and Swedish based team of 14 Coldwood Interactive.
But this is not simply another Indie game but a passion from the developers to create a story, world and experience over just platform for platforming’s sake. With the games rather mortal undertone’s resonating from the opening beautiful pre-rendered cinematic the game does not dwell on long intros or leading you by string to your next target.
Instead it slowly incorporates simpler challenges with on-screen prompts to get you accustomed to the games core mechanic and then use this for all the logical puzzles that follow. Being comprised of a ball of yarn slowly unravelling as you wander, explore, swing and generally leave your mark across this sun bathed Swedish landscape that is lovingly realised here. The main character, painstakingly named “Yarny” sets of to mend broken bonds and heal hearts. All the time leaving a trail of where he has been, what he has touched and is always tethered to this, if I was an arty type I would describe this as such “ The intrinsic bond between the character and his travels, tied back and held back by prior choices is a metaphor of life and consequence. With ever chose and action possibly affecting the next, with your path through live visible for all to see. But luckily I am not so it all means that the constant Yarn that is being unravelled needs to be replenished by handy nearby balls that you can grab as you venture further.
This also means that you can run out of Yarn needing back tracking if you take the wrong route, this also is woven (ok sorry last one I promise) into the puzzles with you strands needed to create pivot points or pulley systems to overcome the given obstacle. Then nature comes in from wildlife like crabs being used as bait or a ferry service. Water is another hurdle to overcome and if caught in the tide will mean instant death and restart from the last point.
But the way the puzzles are presented and increase make it a very engaging title that leads you early on while you get your bearings and then very quickly leaves you to work them out for yourself. It gets the balance right of capturing some old school platform timing, momentum and skill within its artistic vibe. The constant trial of each new lateral conundrum hooks into your competitive spirit making you want to move forward, from the trial these are never that taxing but they are sure to increase in both complexity and exigency as the games levels open up, all these “Zones” are accessed through pictures in the main house as you work through each memory to bring back the happiness and good time feels.
Visually the game was when shown at E3 2015 a stunner with its 2D in a 3D world not new but the gorgeously rendered scenery really stood out then. And here on the XboxOne we are presented with a 1080/60 as its core metrics which does look lovely in play. Surprising for some this game is built with Sony own PhyreEngine, probably best known for Journey or Flower. But the team have modified this a great deal to realise their vision of this daydream inspired world. But unlike some of the other games the dreaded texture Filtering is not an issue here, offering up a very clean display from the oblique angles that you regularly view your surrounds from. As the engine also incorporates physics with black box solutions from Nvidia and Havok it means although it is a Sony engine it is Free for use across platforms and one of its benefits is that being designed for the PS3 and its SPU’s it is accustomed to multi-core and therefore threaded design making it ideal for modern CPU use, whilst also being multi-platform so both consoles and PC can share as much code as possible allowing simpler game design and creation.
With the aesthetic being one of real world design the familiar look of Pikmin meats Little Big Planet is immediate. But the quality of the textures, animation and post effects are its biggest win, highly important in a game you spend so close to the detail. With the 2D scrolling reminiscent of older parallax scrolling days to create a 3D effect, here full 3D geometry is used both in the foreground and background, even if you may not be able to see the detail as it is filtered with a Bokeh Depth of Field pass and its CoC is very good and gives the objects both scale and clarity helping it look like toys being controlled under a squinted eye, the return to childhood is ever present in the games DNA.
With the smooth update allowing the controls to feel fair and responsive even though it is never a fast reflex based affair at any times so far it only helps the games sell. Using a broad and bright colour spectrum with corrections used in various stages to accentuate mood it never lets itself down from swaying grass to looming waves, hungry hedgehogs to snapping crabs it all works and blends superbly. Animation although not a vast game of characters within the levels or at one time is just as well done, with high key frames and blending along with idle animations as you gaze in awe of your new surroundings, or dust yourself down from a heavy fall, it gives Yarny the charm of his own even if at times when unwound and emaciated he can look a little scary and zombielike. The intelligent use of techniques within the engine allowing it to create such impressive visuals at these levels. Splitting the water into separate geometric bodies for instance convinces whilst lowering the computation needed for its physics calculation, the particle system allows taps to pour water and fill small puddles to ghostly images to appear in the distance of the children in question. As far as Indie platformers go it really is of a very high level as much from its Artistic design but the team’s use of the engine means that it displays a high quality usually associated with a Nintendo title and has the same family friendly aroma alongside it.
Sound wise it again relies heavily on the ambient sounds of your surroundings all channelled through your chosen sound system to feel like you are lying in a field or by the sea-side in the height of summer. This is backed up with a folk music melody used to describe the word in place of any words, the ranges from strings, pianos completing the earthy toned soundtrack that is a perfect accompaniment for the green and organic vibe; you can just relax and admire the view as it bubbles along and sooths your soul.
This is not an area to dwell on and as you have seen throughout parts in the video it stick very close or at the 16ms target throughout play in both these levels, throughout the trial only 1 area that looks to be taxing the engine more with streaming causing only very small dips but they never over step a 33ms time and are so brief and infrequent that I would guess that majority of players would never notice them when they do. And it is great to see a game target such high standards and achieve them, I know some may argue it is not doing much but that is not the point. It means the team have kept the target goals in mind throughout development and not allowed the contents of its presentation to affect its solid performance which is commendable, 16ms is a very small window.
I have enjoyed my play of Unravel, as I am a totally honest reviewer I do stress that like all reviews they are a subjective piece in many regards. The entry price of £15($20/20Euro) or £1.50 less if you have an EA access subscription is very good and it would most certainly offer up a decent amount of enjoyment for that price and at all times the productions values seem to come from a much larger team than the small one that put this together. That said I do not feel it will be long time returner and you may return to some parts when done but most of the impact will be lost once you have completed the puzzles for the first time. If the full game offers up multiple routes or secret zones and sections could extend this further but we will have to wait for the full release on the 9th February to find that out. In the meantime you can relax and “unwind” with this trial on PC or XboxOne to tide you over till them.