5 Reasons You Should Play (or Not Play) ‘Unravel’

Video games have a problem with boring heroes. The games that top the charts tend to star battle-hardened soldiers who carry guns and wear standard issue armor. They’re almost always white men, and they’re usually humorless. In other words, we need more heroes like Yarny.

Small, unassuming Yarny is the main character of Unravel, a game that sends this stringy hero out into a world filled with peril. Unlike many games, Unravel takes place in the real world. But because Yarny is so small and fragile, a puddle spells death and a tall rock becomes an obstacle you’ll have to work to overcome.

The game is obviously interesting, but is it worth playing?

1. The presentation is incredible

Unravel is one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played. The natural environments like beaches and forests almost look photorealistic, thanks to the phenomenal lighting effects, depth of field, and high-quality textures. When mosquitos begin buzzing around you in a level that takes place in a marsh, don’t be surprised if your skin starts itching.

The audio side of the game is no slouch, either. The music, composed mostly of strings and light percussion, is minimal and unassuming. Sound effects like a bubbling brook and creaking wood are crystal clear, setting the mood for a low-key gaming experience.

2. Effective environmental storytelling

The game doesn’t have words, but you’ll piece together themes and a vague story as you play. The game starts in the house of an old woman, whose framed photos act as portals to each level in the game. As you traverse the world of each photo, you get the sense that you’re reliving the memory of the day the photo was taken. Spectral versions of the people in the photos appear at some point in each level, only to blow away like dust as you pass by. The meaning of it all may be elastic, but it’s a poignant way to tell a story.

3. Yarny is great

Yarny is cute as hell. He’s also a capable outdoorsman, thanks to the string you’re constantly trailing. You can tie knots at certain points in the environment to pull levers or swing from hooks. You can set up a taut line of string that acts as a springboard, sending you soaring through the air. And if you fall down a pit, you can use the string to pull yourself back up.

4. The controls can be finicky

Despite all of those things you can do, it’s occasionally difficult to pull them off. Tying and untying knots doesn’t always work on your first try. Setting up complex webs of string in the environment often takes a good deal of time and hassle to do. Swinging from hook to hook can feel like a crapshoot when the yarn you toss doesn’t always hit its mark. This can lead to frustration, especially when the levels require pinpoint precision.

5. The puzzles can be annoying

Yarny may look like the mascot of a game made for kids, but make no mistake: Unravel is tough.

The challenge comes from the environmental puzzles, many of which I found more frustrating than fun to solve. That could be due to my shortcomings as a puzzle solver, but all too often I’d find myself stumped for 15 or 20 minutes while looking at the same screen, wondering if I was wasting my time with the game.

Here’s what I mean. You’ll often find your path blocked by an obstacle like a pool of water that will kill you if you fall in. If you climb a nearby tree, a branch breaks off. The branch floats on the water, but there’s no obvious way to convey yourself across the pool on the branch. So I would set up a series of knots wherever I could and try to pull my way across, which often wouldn’t work. Eventually, after a becoming more and more frustrated, I’d backtrack and find some key thing I’d missed when I passed it way back when.

The real issue is that the game has no hint system, so when you’re stuck, you’re stuck. Walkthroughs on YouTube may help ease these frustrations for players willing to seek them out, but it would be nice if the game offered a little nudge to players who were obviously stuck.

Still, it’s worth it

In the end, I was glad I played Unravel. It might not have lived up to my high expectations, but it does plenty of things right. If you’re looking to play something that doesn’t star a boring old soldier, give it a try.

Follow Chris on Twitter @_chrislreed
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