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Review

The Uncertain EP 1: The Last Quiet Day Review – The Humans Are Dead

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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.”

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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.

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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

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Joanna is drawn to sci-fi and post-apocalyptic worlds, and games with a generous amount of gore. When she's not gaming, she's convincing her friends it's a good idea to go into abandoned buildings.

Review

The Sinking City Review — Sanity is Optional

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Video games based on tabletop games seem to be in vogue at the moment. With Vampire: the Masquerade — Bloodlines 2 and the announcement of Baldur’s Gate III generating a lot of hype, the time seems to be right for The Sinking City, an atmospheric horror-themed investigation game. Based on the lesser known Call of Cthulhu board game, The Sinking City sees the player taking the role of Charles W. Reed, a private investigator and veteran of the First World War as he travels to the fictional town of Oakmont, Massachusetts to seek reasons why he is plagued by horrific visions. Reed quickly discovers that the citizens of Oakmont are also troubled by the same visions, as well as other threats of a sinister and supernatural nature.

The game is set in the 1920s and unashamedly embraces the hard-boiled themes of that era of fiction while blending in a strong dose of creeping, Lovecratian horror. The city of Oakmont absolutely drips with ambience, from the murky lighting to the semi-constant rainfall and the looming, old-fashioned New England architecture. The graphics are extremely impressive, and the animation is very fluid. Even the horrific monsters are fascinating to look at. Getting caught up in the many mysteries lurking about the beautifully well-realised town leads to quick and easy immersion.

The town itself is half-inundated after an otherworldly event known only as The Flood. This means that many of the streets need to be traversed by boat. Doing so can be a little awkward at tight corners, of which there are many, but the other option is swimming in waters infested with any number of nasty things, so taking the time to learn how to steer is worth the extra effort.

At times, the player may need to don an old-fashioned diving suit and take a trip underwater. These are some of the most unsettling sequences in the game, as the ambient sounds, underwater lighting effects, and the shadows of things twitching just beyond the edge of vision give a profound sense of claustrophobia and helplessness as the player lumbers slowly towards the destination.

The main gameplay elements recall other investigation or detective games, such as L.A. Noire or developer Frogwares previous work on the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series. The developer has used that experience to good effect, as the outcome of the quests depends on how well the player has managed to pick up on various clues hidden in the crime scene and evidence. The developer has said the goal in each investigation can be reached in multiple ways, so if the player gets stuck at any point, they have the freedom to move on to a different quest. Sometimes, evidence for the problem quest will pop up, or the player will have a sudden epiphany on what to do next.

The visions experienced by the protagonist have a gameplay application as well, as Reed can use his visions and investigative powers to reconstruct crime scenes and gain insights into the events. However, doing so costs Sanity. Some disturbing scenes or monster encounters can also drastically cut the player’s Sanity, and this, in turn, can affect perception of the environment, causing the player to overlook or completely misinterpret what actually happened. Total Sanity loss is fatal, as the protagonist descends into suicidal insanity.

In addition to conserving Sanity, players need to also conserve ammunition. Though encounters with supernatural creatures often involve the need to unload a gun into them, bullets are also used as currency in Oakmont, as bullets are more valuable than gold in the nightmare-infested town,. The player can barter for useful tools or weapons, but will need to remember to keep some bullets aside for those inevitable run-ins with tentacled horrors.

The result is a balancing act with the player trying to conserve Sanity and ammunition while delving into the secrets hidden within the town. The Sinking City has many layers, with much to be unravelled in the dark, dripping streets.

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The setting is well-served by the music, which is mostly subdued and ambient, serving the mood well. Of particular note is the voice acting, which is great, particularly on the part of the protagonist. Reed’s voice actor does an excellent job of portraying his various moods, giving a convincing performance of a troubled, world-weary war veteran.

The Sinking City is one of the best Lovecraft-inspired games available and, despite some slightly awkward controls in places, the game is brilliantly crafted. Fans of horror will love its atmosphere and those who enjoy investigative games will quickly become absorbed in the depth offered by the gameplay. Those who loved L.A. Noire or Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, and players of the tabletop game, should definitely give thought to picking this title up.

OnlySP Review Score 4 Distinction

Reviewed on PC. Also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

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