Future Unfolding bring back some of the innocent pleasures of exploration and experimentation, and in doing so, it seems to actively set itself against the flood of open-world games that, in reality, consist of a small number of tasks repeated ad nauseum. There are no collectibles, no side-quests, no towers to climb in order to unlock the map, just the promise of a world to explore with flora and fauna to interact with. In stripping away all of the handholding that is also characteristic of many modern games, it also seeks to encourage the player to just try things out.
There is no backstory to introduce the game, no tortured personal history for the player character and there’s actually no formal beginning at all. The game places you in a mysterious world and pretty much leaves you to it.
The controls themselves are stripped back and minimal, easily adapting to play on a 360 controller I plugged into my PC, with the face buttons simply used for interaction and bringing up the map. The game will fit perfectly well on PlayStation 4 when it releases on the console later this year. This extreme minimalism is daunting at first when compared to the standard modern open world game, but after the first few minutes, it’s this simplicity that becomes one of Future Unfolding’s real strengths. Instead of item lists or menu wheels containing powers that may or may not ever be useful, you quickly realise that the animals populating the world are the key to progression.
Despite the surreal, dreamlike environments of the game, the animals are quite comfortably familiar. Early in the game, you’ll find yourself kneeling to stroke bunnies, riding on the back of antelopes and working out how to make best use of teleporting sheep. Not all the creatures you will find are friendly, however. Snakes, lion-like big cats and bright red swarms of what look like locusts need to be negotiated. Every so often, at the end of a section – the world isn’t really defined by levels in a traditional sense – you’ll find a large creature which will reveal a cryptic message and highlight an area on the map to head towards.
Somewhat ironically, given the lack of a story or background to the game, it is difficult to discuss without risking spoilers. Because the gameplay revolves so much around simple acts of immersive experimentation, describing more than the basic outline of interactions feels almost like enforcing a particular approach to the game on other players. With that in mind, you may wish to skip the following story and head to the review’s conclusion.
As I started in a new area, I found myself in a strange landscape, littered with lush trees and bright vegetation, but boxed in by mountainous walls on three sides, giving me just one clear direction in which to go. As I weaved through the vividly pink trees, I occasionally disturbed birds that would gracefully fly from their hiding spots amongst the branches. Each time I encountered a creature, my map would update with their location, and as I entered a clearing I saw several white rabbits hopping around. Interacting with them resulted in my character sitting cross legged and seemingly talking to them before they would hop away. When I stood, however, the rabbits now started to followed me, keeping me company in this weird forest.
As I broke free of the wooded area a while later, the landscape was instead dominated by large grey boulders, obstructing my path and causing me to take lengthy detours. During one of these expeditions I glimpsed the unmistakeable slithering of a snake. Innocently believing that this was some kind of paradise, I approach the snake to interact with it, with its responding by shooting out some kind of laser wave that went straight through my character, evaporating them and causing a single tree to grow on the spot of their demise. The wave didn’t just destroy my character, as it also cut a new path for me through the boulders. As my character respawned at the start of the area and I made my way gingerly towards where I had died, hurriedly making for the gap in the rocks to explore further.
Such moments of emergent narrative are the bedrock of Future Unfolding. I tend to prefer narrative games and am happy to accept linear progression for the sake of a half-decent story but found myself taken in by the freedom of exploration to be found here. The occasional snippets of text provided don’t always manage to be as profound as they are aiming for but they successfully caught the meditative feel of the game. This refreshing approach, combined with the soothing audio and beautifully understated graphics, results in a game that is as joyful as it is meditative – it’s as playful as it is philosophical.
I haven’t yet ‘completed’ Future Unfolding, and am not really sure what finishing it will involve – or indeed, how I will know when it happens. It is only the presence of a Steam Achievement for such a feat that tells me that it will be possible. I do know that I will be revisiting the weird world for a while to come, looking for the next exit, seeking the end of the game but also hoping that another novel interaction will occur before then. Future Unfolding doesn’t compete with the open world delights of this season’s big hitters like Horizon: Zero Dawn or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but instead offers a wonderfully relaxed and immersive combat-free alternative. It’s a safari rather than a big game hunt, but one that deserves to be explored.
Version tested: Windows PC