A lot of games today, especially RPGs, present you with a series of moral choices that will have an effect on the outcome of the story. To me, this is one of the more interesting recent mechanics in games, so when I heard that Pyrodactyl’s Unrest was a game that was made up entirely of moral choices, I became intrigued. If someone were to take Mass Effect’s Citadel, cut out the combat, and add in bigger stakes and satisfying payoffs, you have the recipe for a great game. While Unrest has these good intentions in mind, where it fumbles is in its execution.
Unrest takes place in a fictionalized version of India where the once great city of Bhimra is struggling to feed its citizens due to a prolonged drought. The city resorts to signing a trade agreement with a rival capitol (comprised of a race of lizard people called Naga) who agreed to provide food in exchange for goods. The citizens of Bhimra, fueled by the fear and ignorance of the Naga, are in protest of this trade agreement. Unsurprisingly, the trade agreement does not go off without a hitch, and a new political war begins. Since the game is literally all story, I won’t go into any more detail than that.
Pyrodactyl clearly put the most effort into writing this story, and it shows. The story is complex and is generally well-written. The characters that you speak to are mostly sympathetic and can be somewhat relatable, and the scenarios you are given are pretty interesting. There’s not really a “good” or “evil” choice to be made in this game and that definitely works to its benefit. The issue here is in the way the story is presented. Throughout the game, you play as multiple different characters on opposing sides of the politicking. In a game about moral choice, this gives you a serious conflict of interest whenever you switch to a new character. Whenever you start a chapter as a character, you are given an extremely short backstory on that character’s motivations and why you should care about them. This does a poor job in actually getting you to care about the characters. What’s worse is that, since you can end up playing a character that’s on the opposing side to a character you played early on, you are forced to either roleplay as that character based on the backstory you are given or intentionally try to screw up to help your other character out. This gave me a serious disconnect with the choices, and I would have much rather have seen it played out in a more linear fashion. Also, the ending is easily the most abrupt and unsatisfying conclusion I have seen in years.
You’re probably curious how the game is actually played. Well, as I alluded to earlier, the game is comprised entirely of dialogue options. You will walk around from character to character and resolve issues using your words. There is an inventory, but it serves absolutely no purpose other than to remind you what your character is holding. You cannot use the items until you are given a very specific task to do so, and even then, it comes up as a dialogue option. While you are speaking to other characters, there are three meters that indicate how they feel about you: Friendliness, Respect, and Fear. These meters are changed based on how you respond to them. Each dialogue option is given a general description: for example, if you are being brutally honest, the response might be described as “Blunt,” which could lower Respect and raise Fear. I would tell you how these meters affect the game, but I honestly don’t know. From my experience, they changed literally nothing. There aren’t really any relationships to speak of in the game, so it doesn’t really matter if you treat a particular character poorly. The only thing that matters is the choices you make. My guess is that they are there to give the illusion of more gameplay depth, because without those meters, the game comes down to being a slightly more elaborate Choose Your Own Adventure book.
I realize that art is subjective and I don’t really want to insult anyone’s work, but I found the art in Unrest extremely difficult to look at. The whole game kind of looks as if it was made from cutouts of an educational book about India written for children. With that in mind, it’s also a bit of a stylistic clash. The story is very dark and adult-themed while the art would have you think that the game is bright and lighthearted. The animations, what few there are, are extremely awkward and almost comical. The music, too, is extremely underwhelming. There are only a few relatively bland Indian-style tracks in the game, and they are extremely short and loop in a very noticeable fashion – the songs will literally stop and start again from the beginning. In terms of sound effects, there really aren’t any to speak of except for a few feedback clicks when you click a dialogue option.
The only way I could recommend Unrest to somebody is if I wanted them to see how much potential a game like this has. There really are some good ideas in place and I do think Pyrodactyl had good intentions when making it. Perhaps as a result of pressure from Kickstarter backers or overexcitement, the game was clearly rushed and, as a result, feels more like a proof-of-concept than an actual game. If you’re curious about the somewhat interesting story, go look up a playthrough on YouTube, otherwise keep waiting and hope that this game doesn’t deter anyone from trying this concept again.
A PC Copy of Unrest was provided by Pyrodactyl for this review.