Unsighted is probably the best game of 2021 that you haven’t heard of. Where other games like it would be content to deliver a very carefully crafted and strongly guided experience to the player and leave lot of people satisfied, Unsighted opts to do the unthinkable: It just lets loose.
This top-down action game see you explore a world, beat up some enemies, solve some light puzzles and find ways to travel to your destination, not unlike Zelda. After a short prologue that shows you the ropes of combat and sets up the narrative and world, you find yourself in an overworld where an NPC marks the five McGuffins you have to find on the map. And then you can just do whatever you want. Yes, absolutely whatever you want. After I collected the first traversal item (a pair of high jump boots), I was apprehensive and thought the game might lead me through a predetermined sequence of events, just taking me along for the ride while actually orchestrating everything itself.
Stubborn as I am, I looked at my options and set out, determined to do the last dungeon first and to fall on my face in that endeavour. I did not. While the game would not let me just waltz right into the hardest dungeon, I just happened to stumble upon an item which let me traverse the overworld map in ways that clearly skipped the normal sequence of events, but the game did not do so begrudgingly, it openly handed me this weapon with a wink and told me to wreak havoc. This was the moment I knew I was in for something special. Instead of just heading to each dungeon, I largely explored the overworld map and I was thoroughly fascinated with the fact that I was very clearly just circumventing all the Zelda-esque traversal puzzles with my new-found weapon.
While there is a clear intended progression order and reliance on some dungeon items, it is also almost always possible to circumvent any given traversal block with some path you haven’t found yet. There are always multiple paths to your destination, and you probably can take half of them. But the true genius of Unsighted lies not only in the map design or the availability of items that let you just skip things, no. The game even has hidden movement techniques that let you further skip puzzles and obstacles in the overworld. At this point, a comparison to Super Metroid is inevitable: Yes, these optional movement techniques have the same versatility and sense of discovery that a shinespark and a walljump in that game grant you. A comparison between these games ends up making Unsighted see eye to eye with the search action juggernaut - that is a highly impressive feat in itself. You can legitimately play this game and explore its dungeons like you would for one of the classic Zelda games if you follow the intended progression sequence, but you can also play it like me and just blow caution to the wind. I am impressed how well the game manages to deliver on both of these types experiences, depending on which you opt for.
Another feature immensely helping the game’s openness on replays is the crafting system. While anybody who has played any video games in the last 10 years will probably just roll their eyes at this particular phrase, Unsighted surprises with another great idea: What if you could, on future playthroughs, just craft the dungeon items? This game does the unthinkable and lets you – as far as I know – craft almost all weapons and items at the crafting table, and that includes the dungeon items that are used for traversal. You just need to know the recipe. Not only does this mean that you could access the whole map from the start if you wanted to, it also means that you can make a choice on future replays. Do you want to abuse the crafting system or do you want to have another exploratory playthrough? Almost every facet of this game facilitates its openness, and that isn’t even going into how keys and key doors are designed and placed in this game, which gives you another layer of choice for your traversal of the map.
The combat in this game plays like a mix between Dark Souls and Hyper Light Drifter. You can do melee attacks or shoot with a gun. The weapons all have different attributes, and there are a multitude of viable strategies to approach combat. The equivalent of the estus flask, the syringe, fills up when you hit enemies. You have a stamina meter and you can dodge or block/parry enemy attacks. You can also equip “chips” that increase different attributes like number of bullets or weapon strength, as well as some with more specific effects, like a chip that makes the syringe fills slowly on its own. Weapon and chip choice leads to a lot of customizability and this customizability is what makes combat (theoretically) very satisfying and varied. My main strategy was to equip a machine gun and an axe so I could stunlock enemies with the gun while selectively doing big damage. One of the main problems here is that for stronger enemies parry and countering is such a disproportionally easier and quicker strategy than everything else, that the game turns into parry fishing on many of the bosses and mini-bosses - the parry counter also results in your stamina recharging and syringes being filled quicker than with normal attacks, making it an even better option. It’s a shame too, because only 2 of the bosses don’t let you fish more parries much, and that showed me what exhilarating combat the game is capable of when you don’t feel the need to parry everything to do any sort of substantial damage. I would have preferred a system where the moment-to-moment combat with normal attacks was the focus while making the parry feel more like an optional mechanic.
The last large facet of the game is the timer system. This game not only has a timer for your exploration, but for every NPC, so if you bumble about for too long in your adventure or just die too often to the enemies and bosses, you will be left with a barren world without shops or people to talk to. Even your small Navi-like companion can die after some time. The only way to alleviate this is to give these people (or yourself) the meteor dust that has been distributed in copious amounts across the map. If you extend an NPCs life three times they will give you a special item that fits their function and character. This can range from gaining new chips to acquiring things like a portable forge that lets you upgrade weapons anywhere as long as you have the money. The timer system does make exploration more stressful, but also more rewarding. The meteor dust is really hidden everywhere, and you will likely not feel helpless in the face of the time limit (even if I lost 3 NPCs to this system). On the difficulty I played – normal – the timer was just generous enough, considering how often I died and how many detours I made.
Other than my single qualm about the parry in combat, Unsighted’s gameplay comes together beautifully, and additionally to the great gameplay, it is also just visually stunning and the soundtrack is a treat, setting the mood for intrigue and action during exploration and combat segments. The all-female main cast is also inherently a big plus, because you just don’t see it very often in this medium.
This review has gone on for long enough, and what else can I even say? This game can measure up in all regards to explorative titans like Super Metroid. It is just as replayable, speedrunnable and enjoyable in all modes of play. If you like exploration in games, you will very likely love this game, and it’s a unique blend of different genres that will make me remember it fondly and replay it just as often as I do with my other favorite search action games.
Reviewed on Nov 30, 2021
1 year ago
This review finally convinced me to pick it up- seems like a great combination of some idiosyncratic design elements.
1 year ago