During my tenure with KeenGamer, I played a fair number of games from indie developers. Interestingly, many developers ended up being one-and-done, that is to say that someone created one game and didn’t do anything else afterwards. One of the few times where this didn’t occur was with Armaan Sandhu of Frostwood Interactive, whose second game Forgotten Fields ended up being a rare follow-up title from a developer I had experience with. Now, third time’s the charm.
Unwording is the latest attempt at harnessing an energy of positivity and hope often nestled at the core within Sandhu’s games. Specifically, it is bringing awareness to a concept known as cognitive distortions, or more simply “negative self-talk.” Through a combination of puzzle gameplay and a short, sentimental story, the intent is to make something both engaging and fun.
“Unwording is a short but powerful exploration of overcoming negative self-talk. Solve word puzzles, explore the neighborhood through multiple perspectives, and help Tom have a better day through a challenging yet cathartic experience.”
Prior to the actual review, I’d like to acknowledge that I was provided a review key for this game (unexpectedly). Thank you to Frostwood Interactive for doing so. It was not necessary to do so.
I did have some foresight to the full game due to playing the demo back when it was available in a prior Steam Next Fest. Thus my expectations were already founded on the idea that it will only get bigger and better with time. Indeed, time—that ends up being the brunt of it all.
In the press release emailed to me, it approximated the playtime of the game at two hours. It took me less than 90 minutes. Some of this is likely from experience with the demo, but the process nevertheless seemed to be over and done with in a flash. Those descriptors do not lie when it says this is a short game.
This is where the evocative emotions of support tend to fall through for me. With the developer’s prior games in Rainswept and Forgotten Fields, there was a lot more time to harness and develop the wholesome values lying underneath the central plots. Through circumstance and visual storytelling, with a varying amount of exposition and dialogue, they managed to make a feasible impact. Such cannot be said with how little there is to Unwording.
In some ways, this seems more akin to a commercial than a story, though I do not wish to sound too patronizing. An effort to bring attention to a serious issue with negative self-image is something I applaud on its own. I don’t exactly have the best self-esteem, myself, and some of the things presented within the story resonated with me. There’s just not enough detail, not enough engagement to provide that gush of fulfillment that typically comes with emotional climax.
Generalizing to some degree, I would surmise that half of this game consists of puzzles and the other half consists of walking or watching cutscenes. Walking around the environments doesn’t yield much activity, especially early on. It’s not until a certain point where players can actually become more (voluntarily) proactive, perhaps a purposeful implementation to show the progression of the main character’s mental state. Once the game became more open, it was on the cusp of ending.
Puzzles fared somewhat better, though like many other aspects, seemed to come and go whenever the game felt necessary. Sometimes one is taking phrases and morphing them into negative versions; other times the goal is careening the camera at just the right angle to spell out something else. The latter method was less fun but more visually stimulating; the former was more fun though also more simplistic. It ends without much of a “puzzle” at all.
There is one minor gripe I have with the last portion of the game, which I will mark as a minor spoiler. Do not read the following paragraph if that is your desire.
At a certain point, one is able to input commands to further interact with environments. However, the first implementation of this is somewhat vague about its intention. My issue is that the rest of the game was more related to internal dialogue. Then, you have a prompt that wishes for you to input commands. I spent a few minutes beating my head over what I was supposed to say to alter the events of an incoming tragedy. The solution left me feeling quite dumbfounded. More clarity at that point would be appreciable.
This is not to say that this was a complete flop, negative as I have been thus far. There are aspects of Unwording that do stimulate the brain in ways that the best of games do through simplicity of immersion. The musical score, for example, is appropriately moody and hopeful, something that goes a long way to instilling emotional power. Aesthetically, especially initially with the illustrated drawings of the world, also has enough basic charm to carry intrigue through to the quick end.
For what it’s worth, there is effort placed in variety over repetition when it comes to player input. Two types of word-based puzzle-solving and some roleplay elements near the very end, however minimal. A sense of evolution courses through the game at consistent points, leading to a conclusion that is as necessary as it is expected. If only there was more of it.
In order to unword my review for its bare essentials, let me say these pivotal points: needed more time, lacks necessary impact, and deserves to exist. Unwording serves as something of a spark of motivation brought upon by a dubious condition of self-loathing that is commendable in its attempt. Only the term “spark” is appropriate in all ways, including how small its lifetime is in hindsight when the present becomes tangible. Was hoping for more of a shock.
Final Score: 5/10
Unwording is available to purchase via Steam (link above).
The rating for this title and most others can be found on GG|.
For more reviews on this topic, be sure to check out the associated archive.
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Thank you for your time. Have a great rest of your day.