A prettier and somewhat lengthier take on the PC game of the same name, which released back in the mists of 2012, Unmechanical Extended is as much a straight-up, relatively no-frills puzzler as you’re liable to get these days. Still, you shouldn’t hold that against it as beneath its distinctly po-faced veneer and single-button inputs is a game that’ll provide a decent challenge for anyone who fancies straining the old grey matter a bit.
The first thing players will immediately notice is that there is no sort of narrative set in place. Thrust into an alien subterranean realm of discarded scrap, jagged rock and rusty tubes, our robotic, propellered protagonist (who is never named), must escape its current predicament with all due haste. Sure enough, fleeting glimpses of other robots and characters occur but the player never gets to interact with them as they seem just out of reach, or flee as you approach, thereby cementing a palpable feeling of loneliness and isolation rarely seen in puzzle games.
It’s a curious odyssey certainly and one which, when seemingly so utterly bereft of a storyline and cast of characters to keep players engaged, must first fall back onto the puzzles that form the crux of the game’s appeal. Luckily, these conundrums are both challenging and entertaining, if a little on the difficult side for folks who don’t usually dip their toes in such waters.
Very much a meat and potatoes style physics puzzler, Unmechanical tasks the player with overcoming a number of different obstacles and situations through generous use of the protagonist’s only ability, a rather handy tractor beam. With a one-button input responsible for this singular action, Unmechanical’s learning curve is such that anybody can get stuck into the game from the get-go and as such, the game neatly evokes the mantra of ‘easy to play, difficult to master’, with due aplomb.
In subscribing deeply to the physics puzzler template, Unmechanical embraces all of the usual types of challenges that one might expect. From pressure pad puzzles, to timing based problems, mirror puzzles where you have to redirect lasers and just about everything in between, developer Grip Games essentially runs the gamut of what the genre has put out in recent years.
Sure, there isn’t really anything here that hasn’t been done before but what is present is challenging and whether you’re a new or veteran puzzle solver, Unmechanical certainly taxes the brain in a way that belies its initially simplistic seeming, single-button approach. Thankfully, for those who struggle with some of Unmechanical’s more difficult problems, a visual tips guide is occasionally available to nudge folks in the right direction.
Where the puzzle-solving element comes unstuck however, is in the inconsistent quality of the numerous conundrums that the player will face. While some are well-thought out puzzles, others tend to be frustratingly obtuse and worse still, they so often require a fair whack of back and forth exploration to sort out.
One such example is a scenario that requires the player to raise the water level by dropping rocks into a pool. The issue though, is that our protagonist’s tractor beam can only snag one item at a time and with five or so rocks to pick up at some distance from said body of water, the process can get tedious pretty quickly indeed.
Similar to its deceptively cunning problems though, Unmechanical’s hidden depths can be glimpsed in other aspects of its craft. While the lack of a true narrative or characters proves to be a blow for player engagement initially, developer Grip Games attempts to make up for such shortcomings with an audio-visual presentation that pointedly errs on the atmospheric in an effort to immerse folks instead.
Unmechanical’s Unreal Engine rendered labyrinthine caverns and underground industrial wastelands are often a sight to behold; their mostly silent wonder bolstered by detailed textures, buttery smooth animation and some great looking lighting effects as our propellered hero glides through its substantial depths.
Elsewhere, the audio side of the equation fares well also. With a deft mixture of tonally haunting sound effects and music, it’s clear that developer Grip Games have elected to tell as much of Unmechanical’s story through the game’s environment and its accomplished aural presentation as it possibly can and it proves rather effective too. The end result is an atmospherically isolated experience that provides pangs of loneliness and melancholy in a way that very few games (especially puzzlers), really manage to achieve.
In case you’re wondering about the ‘Extended’ suffix to Unmechanical’s title, it exists to highlight the additional chapter that developer Grip Games have stuck on the end of the game for this console release. More than just an uninspiring extension of the game’s existing level selection, the additional content in Unmechanical Extended instead introduces new situations and challenges that meaningfully expand upon what has come before with the player having to deal with two new robots among other surprises that I’m loathed to spoil here.
If anything in fact, the quality of the additional content is such that it actually stands superior to much of the main offering; giving rise to the hope that any potential sequel hopefully cribs more from the extended content than from the main campaign.
In eschewing a traditional narrative in favour of a haunting audio-visual presentation and some frustrating puzzles, Unmechanical Extended might prove to be a little too offbeat for some folks, especially those who aren’t usually partial to puzzlers. Those who do look past its unconventional facade however, will discover a enjoyable puzzler that has charm and challenge in such volume that it stands at almost complete opposition with the game’s outward simplicity.