STAFF REVIEW of Uncanny Valley (Xbox One)


Thursday, February 16, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

Uncanny Valley Box art I’ve never quite played anything like Uncanny Valley before, a game developed by the people at Cowardly Creations. Sure, I’ve played my share of horror games, narrative driven mysteries, and retro inspired titles, but never one that combined all these elements quite like this. Now, if survival horror games are not quite your cup of tea, don’t despair, as Uncanny Valley isn’t your typical take on the genre; completely different from what I expected to be honest.

The very first screen you read is a message about how it’s suggested you play through the game multiple times to get the most out of the game, as the choices you make have consequences that change the outcome. So, to see and experience everything you’ll need to replay the game a number of times, hoping you learn from your mistakes to work towards a different outcome. While I’m unsure of how many endings there are, I’ve experienced just two in my handful of playthroughs, seemingly always being funneled into the same section in the latter part of the game, but more on that later.

You are Tom, a new employee at a mysterious remote facility, working as a night shift security guard. Buck, a heavy set security guard that works there is the one that shows you around and explains your job to you, explaining where you need to patrol and what areas are off limits. Eve is the other person you’ll meet, seemingly a maid, but for a whole apartment building consisting of just two people, you and Buck. You can tell from the get go that something isn’t right in this place, as the whole facility and surrounding area seems desolate, yet you need constant security and a maid. It doesn’t help that Tom is having nightmares every time he sleeps, dreaming of being chased by some ghoulish shadows, eventually waking up in a panic.


Tom’s story starts out very creepy, as nothing particular happens, but as you snoop around during your shift and read random emails from various computers, you start to piece together a bit of backstory that starts to paint a very eerie picture. For the first half of the game this is all you’re essentially doing before your nightly shift ends and you need to go back home. You are simply exploring and snooping in staff’s personal emails and listening to recordings.

Uncanny Valley doesn’t reveal its overarching plot in a linear way either, so you may get a glimpse of what’s really going on during one playthrough, but it isn’t until subsequent playthroughs that you’ll really start to understand the bigger picture. This non-linear approach to story telling is something I enjoy, but you do need to actually play multiple times or else the context will make absolutely no sense at all. There are even a few things I still don’t fully grasp, and I’ve gone through the game a few of times.

During your shift you have a set amount of time before you need to go back to your apartment go to sleep, thus beginning a new creepy dream sequence. Since you only have a limited amount of time to explore per shift, this is why you’ll need to play multiple times if you want to learn everything. For those that don’t have the patience, or are not able to piece together the strings of information on their own, you might become frustrated, as the story isn’t blatantly explained at any point, for the most part. You need to read a lot of emails and explore to understand most of the context, along with the who, what, and why, but even then it’s a little muddy at best, even after the most shocking mysteries are revealed.


One of the best things Uncanny Valley has going for it is its' consequence system that’s in place. Every action you take seems to have a reaction, and more importantly, a consequence. Usually in most games choosing ‘wrong’ results in "game over", but during Uncanny Valley the game continues to play out, but you may have a slightly different path ahead of you based on your choice(s). I don’t want to really give much away, as finding the subtle differences while taking these branches is what makes the experience compelling. This system also makes things confusing the first few times you play, as during one playthrough you may skip a whole scene because of a choice, while a next time you may experience something quite different. This experimentation is part of its charm, but it’s also quite mundane the 5th or 6th time you’ve done the beginning parts. This also makes the story muddled at the best of times, as almost every time I played I kept encountering a group of people that forced me into the ending I’ve seen numerous times.

Every time I play things always seem to go awry in the latter half of the game and I never really got an ending I was truly happy with. Granted, I’ve not been able to figure out how to see all the endings, but the ones I have seen left me unsatisfied, wanting to know more, but unsure how to do so. For example, the time I found Buck’s room and his car keys, I decided to leave, only to be thrown into a situation that I didn’t see coming at all. Lesson learned, so I played again only to eventually get to a point where I’m thrown into the same situation, almost as if it somewhat shoehorns a few sequences to occur, but I’m not sure as to why or the context. I know this sounds very vague, but I want to leave it a surprise for you, as it was quite shocking to see the first time.

The biggest problem Uncanny Valley has though is its controls. I couldn’t figure out why Tom wasn’t moving when the game started the first time I played, only to realize it forces you to use the D-pad to control Tom through the game world. This feels awkward at best, but to make things worse, you need to only use the Left Stick when navigating the inventory menus. Interacting with doors with ‘A’ was fine, but you need to use Right Bumper to converse with people and to pick up items. It’s unnatural and simply doesn’t make sense and overall the strange control choices make for quite a rough control scheme in general.


As for its aesthetics, I really enjoyed Uncanny Valley's retro pixel graphics, as the world seemed to have a mood and feeling of its own. The choice of art style also means that there’s not much detail in the world, as it all kind of blends together, but any items that are able to be interact with at least highlight when you are nearby to help identify them. I really enjoyed the charm of the retro graphics, as the animation is quite decent, although not perfect and there were some graphical glitches, but overall it definitely felt like it was from a different era. While there’s no voice acting, aside from listening to the found tapes hidden throughout, the sound design is very mood fitting with eerie noises, especially in the last few sections where the story takes sudden turns.

On one hand I love how Uncanny Valley’s story is told in segments that require multiple playthroughs to figure it all out, but on the other hand, even after a half dozen times doing so, there are some parts and reasoning that still elude me. The segmented approach works for those that want to have a quick run through the game, but to fully understand everything you will need to dump a few hours into it with multiple plays to learn everything, and I’m not sure many will have the patience to do so with the questionable controls.

Given the time I've had with Uncanny Valley, I admit that I always felt like I got the ‘bad’ ending. Granted, I’ve yet to experience all of the different finales which I know of, but I never felt satisfied with any of the endings I witnessed. Maybe there is no ‘good’ ending that I’m hoping for though, but after being coerced into the same ending multiple times through actions not entirely my fault (or that I can figure out), the lasting power of replying the game will eventually diminish. Once you’ve learned what you can about the ‘twist’ after a few playthroughs, and the 'aha' realization wears off, there’s little reason to continue playing unless you’re working towards specific achievements or you really want to see every ending possible.




Overall: 6.2 / 10
Gameplay: 5.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 6.5 / 10

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