The Uncertain: Episode 1 — The Last Quiet Day opens with captions that provide the historical context; in the 22nd century, humans had driven themselves into extinction by remaining constantly at war. The technologies they created remained very much intact, however, including artificially intelligent robots. These robots continued to thrive in absence of human life, forming their own intricate society that closely mirrored the workings of a human society; they created jobs for themselves best suited to their design and programming, like construction, law enforcement, and medial. But they progressively become more human, doomed to repeat the mistakes of their creators.
The first episode of The Uncertain begins here: You are a robot, model number RT-217NP, who does not have a primary purpose. You are not designed for physical exercise nor construction, but you are efficient with electronics. In fact, you are one of the few robots of this world who can repair itself and assign itself daily, independent tasks. All of this you will discover in the opening of the game, as you walk down a dirt road to your secluded residence, passing rusted Aerocars and other remnants of humanity. The inside of your home is a contradicting meld of simple country living and high-end technology. You work from here, building various items in exchange for money.
But your immediate problem is not an angry client who did not receive his plasma cutter on time; a ship crash lands on your property. Inside is one broken robot and two surprises that throw your entire view of the world into chaos. Police immediately surround the area and close in to disintegrate you — you have seen too much. An EMP grenade falls from… you’re not sure where, overloading the circuits of the police and yourself. What follows is a surprising turn of events that sends you on an impromptu investigation to explore different parts of the city to help a small band of rebel robots whose primary function is to discover “the truth.”
The crash landing of the ship is the catalyst that sets the rest of the game’s events into motion, into what is turning out to be an intriguing narrative. It’s hard to talk about the premise without giving away key plot points, but based on the description of The Uncertain on its Steam page, it went in a direction that I did not expect. The way that it sets up the mystery in tandem with suggesting evil-doings on the government’s part ends the first episode on a great cliff hanger, as well as setting up subsequent episodes to be able to handle more “meat” of the story. The “why” is a major driving force of this narrative all the way through the end and, even though this narrative structure is common, it would have failed if it wasn’t for the clean linearity of the story.
Getting from point A to B in the story, mechanically, can be cumbersome, particularity when interacting with objects and other characters. Light gray circles will appear over objects and characters you can interact with, expanding to a larger circle with four smaller circles of different colors intersecting, like an Xbox controller. Interacting come in a variety of ways. RT-217NP can walk up to an object and talk about it with no further options, like the bathroom in his home. Other times he’ll have the option to physically interact with something to further along the game or call his buddies back at the secret headquarters for assistance. If you can pick something up, you’ll see a green hand.
The problem is that the game does not give RT-217NP the ability pick up items for a future task, yet the green hand will still appear. Your character will say something along the lines of “I have no use for this,” and move on. It’s moments like these that stunt the progression ever so slightly; identifying important items with some kind of marker is commonplace in games, but this game can be misleading in that sense. You often have to interact with everything multiple times to trigger an option that you did not have before.
In an attempt to shake up the mechanics, you find yourself navigating a forest as you speed through in your Areocar at some point. At first, this is a welcome change of pace — literally — from walking around as RT-217NP, who moves very slow. But, a drone will soon be hot on your tail, shooting you in an attempt to take you down. While this part is not hard, it’s cumbersome; the camera will reverse so you can see the drone behind you instead of the forest ahead. To compensate for this total loss of sight, the developers put red squares at the bottom of the screen to signify where a tree was in relation to your trajectory. While this was helpful to some extent, the enemy drone was high enough on the screen that I had to rely on my peripheral vision to avoid crashing into trees. Gliding through the forest was fun, but I can’t help to think that there could have been a better way to do that sequence.
Despite an overlay of that well-known monotone, synthesized robotic voice, each of the characters had their own distinct voice; subtle hints of emotion were conveyed through inflections in their voice, making it easy to grow attached to these sentient beings. Humor was also an added quality to these robots, particularly RT-217NP. As he interacts with his surroundings, he often has some curious commentary on everyday human objects, like bicycles, exposing his lack of understanding of human culture and efficiency verses pleasure. However, because his voice does not have the same human qualities as the other robots, his voice comes across the most monotone of all. While his commentary is enough to make you chuckle every once in a while, his disposition to commentate on literally everything you can interact with can grate on your nerves.
While there isn’t much player agency in The Uncertain, there are a few puzzles that you will encounter — none are terribly difficult, but there is a variety, such as matching shapes, musical codes, and one puzzle that reminded me a little but of Minesweeper. These puzzles were a nice added touch and represented the technologically advanced world well. However, if you have decided that you are not going to interact with everything because the game has been misleading in that sense, there are some puzzles that you will have a hard time figuring out because you weren’t extra thorough in your search.
Ultimately, some of the most beautiful moments in the game were the cut scenes and the music that went along with them. They were not intrusive and made transitions from one scene to the next seamless. The music matched the mood of the scene without being over-the-top.
There are several little things that can dampen the experience for some players, chiefly in the way of mechanics and voice over, but you’d be hard pressed to pass up an intriguing story that lays the foundation for what could be a really interesting government conspiracy case. All flaws aside, I’m looking forward to episode 2.
The Uncertain: Episode One – The Last Quiet Day was reviewed on PC with a copy provided by the developer.
Developer: Common Games| Publisher: Common Games | Genre: Adventure, Indie | Platform: PC | PEGI/ESRB: NA | Release Date: September 22, 2016