Pixel games will always have a proud place on the Vita and the PS4, and we’ve seen some cracking ones over the last couple of years from a variety of genres including building games, puzzlers, platformers and the occasional horror. Now developer Cowardly Creations have released a new title in the form of a creepy, multiple-ending pixel horror, adding to this very underused genre. Uncanny Valley is the disturbing story of the unluckiest security guard in the world.
Moving to a new home and a new job, Tom finds himself living in an oppressively lonely apartment block. His work place isn’t much better. In fact, it’s a hell of a lot worse. I don’t want to give away any more of the story because this forms a major part of the game. Uncanny Valley presents its narrative in an interesting way. Not only will you need to play through flashbacks and night terrors, but depending on what choices you make during the game, different events will happen and the hope is that you’ll eventually piece the entire story together.
It’s a perplexing game at first. In order to get the full story of both the past and the present you’ll need multiple playthroughs. Once you get into the swing of things, your objectives become a lot clearer but it’s unfortunate that your first playthrough is marred by befuddlement. One minute you’re in one place, then suddenly you’re in another and things start to get surreal. Aside from the flashback gameplay, the game is actually quite open. Once you start your shift you can do whatever you want. You’re told to patrol an office block, but that really is it. On the first try, I thought perhaps I’d missed something, that I was meant to be doing something specific, and it wasn’t until the second playthrough and knowing what the first ending was that I started to realise not what I needed to do, but what I wanted to do.
Every shift only lasts for a short amount of time. During that time you can go riffling through all the offices, reading emails and collecting cassette tapes. You’ll find areas that are closed to you and begin to wonder how to get to them. For example, the lift to the basement area needs two keycards. Well, off you go. Find them. You can also wander back to your apartment and explore there. Even when Tom tells you he needs to sleep you can keep going until he literally collapses. There are also some scripted events that change outcomes depending on how you deal with them and whether you’ve found certain things. The idea is to keep playing through scenarios to get the picture and to achieve an ending that isn’t disgustingly gruesome and terrible.
While you’ll no doubt get the gist of the story early on, the game’s selling point is trying to deliberately affect the outcome. What happens if I do this? What happens if I don’t do that? What happens if I run left instead of right? In addition to your deliberate choices, the game will also change depending on Tom’s physical health. You won’t get instadeath if you come a cropper, but a broken leg means you can’t crouch which means you can’t access vents and you can’t hide. You’ll need to find a different tactic and a different way into that room.
Each playthrough can take a couple of hours to complete depending on what ending you find. It’s worth working through as many as possible because some playthroughs completely miss parts of the story. Even the flashbacks differ. Because the playthroughs are so short, it makes this the perfect game to play in bite-sized chunks. You can easily make it to the end of each variation of the story in one sitting. I’m not sure I would want to sit and play all day. The game’s main mysteries are revealed quite quickly so although there is more to the story, the narrative has unfortunately played its hand a little too early on. The desire to learn more isn’t perhaps as powerful as it could be.
Uncanny Valley is a cross-buy title. It’s not cross-save because it doesn’t need to be. There’s no reason why you can’t play through on the Vita and then swap to the PS4 for the next one. Now there are pixel graphics and pixel graphics and Uncanny Valley has a pretty authentic old-school design. Even the sound bites remind me of something I would have heard on my C64. Aside, from a couple of scenes, the graphics generally do look better on the Vita’s smaller screen. So it’s no Resident Evil 7, but even with its beautifully archaic graphics it still gives all the required goosebumps. In places it’s creepy as hell and has a good couple of jumpscares that sent me through the roof.
Uncanny Valley has atmosphere. It’s got a touch of the macabre and a horribly lonely tone. This dark ambience only increases after you witness your first grisly ending and you twig what’s at stake. A horror game with a difference and a great little addition to the PlayStation’s pixelated catalogue.
S J Hollis Rating – 7/10
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