This review is my call to all action RPG fans to prevent UNSIGHTED from becoming a hidden gem. Hidden gems are excellent titles that have gone unnoticed for a variety of reasons. In today’s climate, most indies struggle against the torrent of other games coming out, most of all AAAs. Frequently, a few indies float to the top and amass a significant fanbase, hitting mainstream. Compared to the overwhelming percent that go unnoticed, these are certainly rarities, even though you and I can cite several in existence. UNSIGHTED wasn’t even on my radar until the developers reached out to us, and I could tell this was a title in dire need of marketing and attention after doing a little research.
Alma is an automaton in a rundown, apocalyptic future in which humans largely died out in a massive war, leaving behind android-cyborg-robot-esque automaton contraptions. Waking up alone with a touch of amnesia in a depowered facility, Alma has to make her way out into the world. Upon doing so, she’s welcomed by old friends she doesn’t quite remember. During the game, memories come back to her in the form of brief flashbacks largely involving someone named Raquel. The fate of automatons becomes clear, as every person has a timer associated with them. Without anima, automatons will go unsighted, a condition similar to going hollow in Dark Souls, where once-civilized people become monsters. Alma must retrieve each of five meteor shards to create the meteor sword and slay the monstrosity that has plagued the good automatons of this world.
UNSIGHTED’s story is well-delivered, but not perfectly so. While the premise is intriguing enough and the intensity of losing friendlies over the course of real time is appealing, most of the dialogue is pretty simplistic and smacks of casual anime vibes, minus the chibi cuteness. The plot is effectively relayed and relationships between characters are clear, but I never felt a strong connection between anyone; this includes Raquel, who is supposed to be the one Alma has the strongest bond to. That said, UNSIGHTED boasts some interesting story elements interwoven with gameplay, such as finding a random bench in the world with a subtle glow to it that offers a brief snippet into Raquel and Alma’s backstory. Though short, the easter egg is a fun little secret to add some flavor to the relationship. I wish more games included secrets like this, and while several other examples exist throughout the game, I won’t spoil them here.
Part of the charm of UNSIGHTED is the artistic direction. As I’ve commented in recent years, minimalistic pixel graphics just don’t cut it anymore. However, UNSIGHTED adds tremendous detail in the pixelwork, animations, and amenities scattered around that bring the world to life. For obsessed retro fans, these visuals will do the game justice, but those wanting a more modern touch will be left wanting. What excites me most about UNSIGHTED’s visuals is how each character’s appearance changes across flashbacks. I’ve played a slew of games that take the lazy route and use the same outfits or regurgitate environments, but here the developers go a step beyond, making the characters feel more natural by frequently changing attire and creating entirely novel parts of the world for a brief cutscene. This finer touch doesn’t go unnoticed, and even if players aren’t consciously aware of this, it innately makes the experience more authentic.
Another charming quality of UNSIGHTED is the music. Wow. If you love piano, you will find a home here. The astonishingly composed and produced tapping of the keys here blew me away. Almost every track in UNSIGHTED is an absolute joy to listen to, not only accenting each scene or location but just on its own. If I wasn’t playing the game co-op, I likely would have stopped to listen to the music. Then again, every inhabitant being on a death timer might have prevented that, as well. At any rate, while the music is exquisite with its deep bass and chill vibes, it sometimes feels out of place. This is hard for me to say because I truly love each track, but I would say the visuals clash the most with the music. When I look at this world with its bright colors and pixel art, I don’t think jazzy keyboard or somber piano. Sometimes the intensity of a scene just doesn’t gel with the music, either. I can look past this inappropriate matching because of the sheer quality, but if I’m being honest, this music would fit another game better.
Okay, now what everyone’s been waiting for: gameplay. How does UNSIGHTED play? Overall, the entire experience is phenomenal. What’s achieved here is expert-level design, fantastic puzzles, secrets almost everywhere, dungeons that feel like they genuinely would exist in this world, outstanding combat, and inventive boss encounters. I adored nearly the entire journey because of the gameplay alone. UNSIGHTED proceeds in top-down fashion in large segments of the world that scroll along with the main character (sorry, co-op buddy). At certain points, characters can walk off screen down a road or path and move to the next location; nothing seems to significantly determine when one zone ends and another begins, but it seems as if each area has a puzzle or theme to it that transitions to the next.
Alma fights enemies in standard action RPG fashion with a weapon in each hand; most players will likely opt for a ranged and melee weapon. Dodge or parry enemy attacks typically forecast with flashing red bars or whatnot, and then go in for a blow, consuming stamina. Parrying can oftentimes leave enemies open for critical attacks as they’re stunned or knocked prone. While combat isn’t a new invention, what’s accomplished here is excellent enemy and level design. UNSIGHTED never overwhelms players but offers just enough variety and tenacity to keep battles engaging. I was almost never running through areas hacking and slashing without a care in the world. If too many mistakes happen, characters can and will die. The consequence appears to be dropping half of the game’s currency (bolts), which can be retrieved if Alma returns to where she died, but the real penalty is time because, remember, your friends are dying.
This is probably one of the biggest factors at play in UNSIGHTED: the death timers. Every friendly you meet has x amount of hours left. The hours appear to go by as real-time minutes, but I can’t say for sure — they seem to last longer than a singular minute, but not more than ten. So, while UNSIGHTED has secrets everywhere and boasts a world that begs to be explored, this comes at the cost of precious time. I could see myself complaining about how the ideas clash and how can a game try to woo players into hunting for loot off the beaten path while also putting them on a timer, but that’s actually exactly why it’s incredible: the developers have created a world and secrets so enticing that I was almost salivating at the prospect of finding more loot, but always with the anxiety of time passing in the back of my mind. Establishing a balance was a fun challenge. Keep in mind, the timers only kill NPCs, so the consequence is possibly losing a shopkeeper or changing the ending slightly. Completionists will fuss the most.
New Game+ and New Game Extra both exist after beating the game. Extra allows players to venture into the world with all blueprints available, meaning that one can play in a massively non-linear fashion. If sequence breaking is your thing and you want to see what the world holds if you did x before you were ever supposed to, then have at it — UNSIGHTED was built specifically with this in mind. New Game+ is what one might expect, meaning that players can carry over most of what they’ve currently accrued into a fresh run.
Although I appreciate the constant attention UNSIGHTED demands and the incredible boss encounters, it unfortunately has a host of small problems. Most of these issues involve controls, particularly when doing local co-op, but some are game design related. For instance, players can equip two weapons. Fantastic. What isn’t so grand is that to complete some of the late-game dungeon puzzles, players have to constantly swap weapons out to use a tool. So, if a lava dungeon requires ice grenades, but players use both their primary weapons (pistol and axe, for example), then prepare to do a lot of needless menuing. This issue would quickly resolve with a utility item slot or a quick equip control scheme. Speaking of late-game dungeons, while the first half of the game is addictive and seamless in its puzzle and dungeon navigation, the latter two dungeons are taxing and tedious with regard to their puzzles. So much backtracking and repetitive navigation using tools appears lazy.
Probably the most egregious combat offender comes in two parts. First, the game slows down when a player is hit or parries, which in most games is a welcomed reaction, but in UNSIGHTED, this has a tendency to eat inputs. As a result, if my partner is doing a great job working the boss over and I’m trying to dodge an attack, I end up spamming my jump button to avoid damage. The consequence is that I engage the spinning top move, which sends me flying around the arena with little control, because it’s executed by jumping again in mid-air. Needless to say, this has gotten me hit more than a few times and even cost me my life. Several other small design and control issues exist, but I don’t want to go on and on about them because, in the grand scheme of UNSIGHTED’s design, these pale in comparison to the excellent product. When I experienced a brief instance of frustration, I quickly returned to the immersive intensity and fanfare after a job well done.
UNSIGHTED deserves recognition and exposure not only for the crisp design, beautiful world, hypnotic tunes, and abundant secrets, but for the unique concepts it introduces to great effect, namely the NPC death timers. The stakes in games often lie in winning or losing a fight and having to expend more personal time on a fight that bruised our egos. Here, we have the added layer of humble automaton friends’ lives hanging by a thread. Even though I found several secrets throughout my initial trek, I am absolutely certain more can be uncovered; I just might take a rare plunge into New Game+.