You can download the game for free here.
I’d like to clear the air about something before getting into this review. I love a good experiment. I’m not in any way against deviating from the norm. Whether it’s an indie game like Dear Esther, a triple A title like Mirror’s Edge, or even a mod like The Stanley Parable, I’m open minded and inviting to all kinds of games. I don’t discriminate. I simply play it, and then judge it. But with anything, you get experiments that fail. And that’s alright. You don’t always succeed the first time. However, at the very least a failed experiment should have a few positives to take away from it, or alternatively some lessons you can learn. But now we get to one step below that. That would be Unnamed, an experimental indie game from developer Anothink that aims to deliver something different to the same old we see often in the games industry. To rip the bandage off extremely quickly, I can barely classify this game as an experiment at all. Why, you ask? Because by definition an experiment tries to do or prove something. Unnamed does neither, and ultimately does nothing at all. Let’s take a deeper look into why that is.
I was cautious about this game before even playing it, and that was because I had a reflex reaction to the game’s description. It brings forward the idea that games are the same nowadays, and people have no imagination to develop games. A very weird statement to make to the indie crowd, who are all about imagination, innovation and creativity, but I’ll let that slide. The real meat of the matter is that the description announces firmly that Unnamed is something different to all of that. Now, alarm bells went ringing because games that are different generally don’t need to announce that. Players will see it, and praise it if deserved. Much like, for a random example of the same concept, someone who genuinely has nothing to hide feels no need to state it, and doing so is almost like an admission of guilt. After playing Unnamed, that’s sadly how I felt. That it says it’s different, but that’s just it trying to cover the fact that it really isn’t. I know I’ve gone on for quite a bit before getting into the actual game, but I’m attempting to put you on the right train of thought so you’ll know where my criticism is really coming from, and that it’s in no way because I reject experiments or dislike games trying new things.
Unnamed puts you in a series of corridors with a voice narrator to tell you what’s going on. All you need to do by means of gameplay is use the left click to interact with the handful of things you can use. And that’s alright. There are games with even fewer elements that end up doing well. It’s all about design and execution. However, Unnamed puts you straight into it and from beginning to end, it gives no explanation, makes absolutely no sense, and is so random it feels like it was concocted during a drug-induced coma. The absolute best way I can describe the experience is that stuff just happens. I’m serious. I don’t really have a better way to put it. At one point you’re on a chair with a button, and you’re watching a big screen with some pretty green things on it, and the narrator tells you to push the button when you get bored. The next moment you’re walking through some obscure, weird, brightly lit corridor. Then you’re falling down into a black abyss and there’s a flashlight on the ground when you land. In another moment you’re seeing Slender Man, but the game quickly reveals it’s trolling you and that horror’s spotlight creature right now is overdone and tired. Then you’re walking down a corridor where the walls resemble planet earth, and the narrator is going on about something pretentious.
If my descriptions made no sense to you, then I feel bad to say join the club. That’s how random the game actually is. At times while playing I could sort of see what the developer was trying to do, but the game lacks any substance to bring it forward. It’s not that I don’t get the game, it’s that there is nothing to get. This type of narrative that the game is going for is captured so well in another indie title, The Stanley Parable, which is a Half-Life 2 mod. That game is also an interactive story with a voice narrator, but it has so much substance. It keeps you curious, it keeps you engaged with things to do, places to explore and decisions to make, it’s interesting and witty, it’s paced well and you have an influence over the path you take. In Unnamed, you’re just spectating a series of things that make you question whether you’re sober. You can’t just shove a whole lot of disconnected elements together and expect them to work. You need to set up your narrative, inform players of what’s going on, allow them to become immersed and, once you have their attention, start building up towards your point. You don’t confuse players first, then try to make a point when they’re clueless as to what the material is about.
Picture this briefly. You pick up a movie. It’s about a guy named Joe. The movie opens by telling you that you’re probably bored of films, as they’re all the same. But this one is different. So, for the first little bit, Joe is just walking around doing ordinary boring things. Then he gets drunk at a bar. Then he’s on an island, reading the newspaper while it’s snowing. In the next scene he chats to a random person in an elevator asking about the most important ingredient to make tasty chicken. Then it cuts to him sitting upside down on a chair and watching television. Next moment it shows him running from a demonic bear. Then he breaks the fourth wall and wonders out loud why people are watching this movie. Then he’s in an aquarium weeping in front of a shark tank. Suddenly, the screen goes black, and the movie starts right from the beginning again, and all of this repeats. Except, when it gets to the aquarium scene, Joe breaks the fourth wall again and asks if you’re entertained by this. That, you wouldn’t still be watching this movie if you weren’t. That curiousity makes this movie work. Then he shows you the middle finger and the movie ends. That’s the creative equivalent of an experience with Unnamed if you make certain choices at the end. Honestly, I didn’t think after the dreadful horror title Evil that I’d stumble across another game like it so soon, where I just have absolutely nothing good to say.
I could sort of say that the visual style can get interesting, but it’s sloppy unfortunately and, most of the time, it just looks unpleasant. The camera control is buggy, as any movement of your mouse weirdly moves the whole camera, so it can get seriously bizarre. Movement is sluggish, and I found it quite funny that the game still plays the footstep sounds if you jump and hold forward. It’s really buggy, and you can pretty much endlessly loop the game or skip most of it, by either just repeatedly clicking on objects you can interact with, or going forward and clicking on the next door or object to cut the narrator short. I encountered also a strange launch bug that I know others have been getting, where opening the game from Desura simply causes Steam to open. The reason is because the target location is strangely set to Steam rather than the game’s executable, and you need to manually go to the game’s folder to launch it. While it’s not a big deal, it’s just another clumsy mistake among many.
Unnamed tries hard to be profound, but it ends up being pretentious, unrewarding and devoid of any sense or lasting impression. It makes a few statements, but without any substance at all that’s all they are. Just statements any gamer can make. It completely fails to achieve what it strives for, and gives you nothing to take home. I always hate bashing an indie game, but they’re games at the end of the day and this one is seriously of the lowest quality. There’s no reason to play it. Avoid it.