When one looks back at the previous year in gaming, you’d be hard pressed not to remember 2018 with a sense of mild disappointment.
True there were some standout gems like God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2 but for the most part, the year was characterised by sparse, tepid releases and even more examples of Triple-AAA excess to add to the pile. No, the bulk of 2018’s best games lay not in the Triple-AAA space but in the indie scene, and few were as widely acclaimed as Wadjet Eye’s Unavowed.
The spiritual successor to the acclaimed Blackwell Epiphany series, Unavowed is the latest in a long line of point and click adventure titles created by developer Dave Gilbert. Despite experiencing something of a renaissance at the start of the decade, adventure games have never quite recovered from their fall from popularity towards the turn of the century. Through Wadjet Eye however, Gilbert has become something of a torchbearer for the genre, and the years of practice and experience tell in Unavowed.
As many games become increasingly feature laden and cumbersome, Unavowed offers the kind of structured and intimate experience that is becoming increasingly rarer.
Set in New York City, Unavowed takes place in a world steeped in magical realism, wherein all sorts of fantastical oddities such as elementals, ghosts and dryads exist behind a thin veil separating them from our mundane reality. The game follows the titular Unavowed, a ragtag vigilante organisation dedicated to keeping us ordinary safe from the supernatural world, sort of like the Scooby Doo gang minus the Mystery Machine and the talking stoner dog. And much like the Scooby Doo gang, the game is defined by its cast of characters.
You start off with Eli, a fire mage and resident dad of the group and Mandana, a centuries old half-Jinn and sword-wielding badass. Later you pick up Logan, a super chill recovering alcoholic who can communicate with the dead and Vicki, a former Staten Island cop who could deck you with her accent alone. Many have noted the similarities between the Unavowed and the party system in BioWare games.
It's an apt comparison, not only insofar as you take two of these characters with you on missions, but much of their characterisation stems from banter between other party members or conversations with the player which slowly reveal a deeper backstory.
Much like the Scooby Doo gang, the game is defined by its cast of characters.
Another strength of Unavowed is the way it utilises its environment. As the genre suggests, the player interacts with Unavowed by clicking on details in the environment. Where Unavowed differs from its peers however is the use of party members in overcoming its obstacles, as depending on what combination of characters the player has with them, the resolution to puzzles can differ drastically. Logan for instance can interact with and tease out clues from ghosts.
The setting of New York is also more than a stylistic decision (though to be fair a magical adventure in Darlington or Hartlepool sounds decidedly dodgier). As a native of the city, Gilbert infuses local knowledge and a sense of place into the game that would be impossible to an outside observer. This is done through charming little details like characters bantering about the gentrification of Brooklyn or using the subway to travel between missions.
As a game, Unavowed isn’t particularly expansive or long, being beatable in a day or two. But in many ways I think that’s one of its strengths. As many games become increasingly feature laden and cumbersome, Unavowed offers the kind of structured and intimate experience that is becoming increasingly rarer.
And it is this simplicity, I think, that allows Unavowed to rank among the best games of last year. Plus at around £10 on Steam it's more than affordable, so pick it up if you haven’t already.