Unmechanical: Extended is a reworked version of Talawa Games’ award-winning 2.5D puzzle game that originally appeared for the PC all the way back in 2012. The game subsequently made the move to iOS and Android before making the jump in this extended form to the three current PlayStation formats and the Xbox One. The question is, given the three year gap, whether it’s been a worthwhile effort and what the console exclusive content actually adds to the package.
There is no storytelling in Unmechanical: Extended. Realistically it’s left up to the player to discern what is occurring, and indeed what place your character has been taken to. You play a small floating robot, who I for the purpose of the game named Whirly. The game opens with Whirly and some robot friends travelling across a meadow, with a dark city in the distance.
Suddenly, a metal pipe surfaces from the ground and sucks Whirly down into the depths of a biomechanical underground labyrinth, which he then spends the vast majority of the game attempting to escape from. And that’s it. You glimpse other creatures and robots during your travels but barely interact with them, and indeed are never sure who to blame for your calamity, but in this isolated, uninviting place I couldn’t help but become attached to this lonely little droid.
Part of that is due to the beautifully realised graphics, which despite the obtuse nature of what it is you’re supposed to be experiencing really help create a very strong sense of place. There isn’t necessarily a huge amount of variety given the setting but it’s all incredibly cohesive, from a giant pulsating heart that’s guarded by spidery electronic sentinels, to travelling through the innards of some otherwise unannounced underground reptile, all adjoined by the internal workings of a huge machine city.
The secondary key ingredient the game uses to draw you in is the excellent sound design. The musical themes that run throughout the game are quirky and distinctive, whilst managing to be moving and emotionally resonant. It’s an impressive balance to have achieved. The aural presentation genuinely adds a great deal of character to the game as well, both musically and in the various sound effects, with Whirly’s clangs, pulses and wooshes giving life to a mute piece of metal.
Gameplay-wise, Unmechanical: Extended is a relatively straightforward puzzle game. Whirly is capable of freely floating through the landscape thanks to the rotors on his head, with movement controlled by either of the analog sticks. Beyond that you have one distinct ability; that of your tractor beam, with which you can lift objects such as rocks, girders and explosives, and carry them wherever you feel they need to go. Most of the standard puzzles involve using these objects to press buttons, push levers, or sabotage machinery, but there’s enough variety and thought gone into them that they don’t outstay their welcome.
There are some stand-out puzzles that move beyond these simple mechanics, including working out how to get a bomb past a field of lasers, and a beat-based puzzle where you have to match the pattern given to you with the stamping rhythm of a trash compactor. More complicated puzzles range from the obvious to the ridiculously oblique, and herein lies one of the problems with the game. The open nature of the narrative and setting presumably informed the lack of signposting within the game, and whilst that hands-off approach is in some ways welcome, at times it felt like the developers had just flung a puzzle at you with absolutely no indication of how to solve it.
The longevity of the game is really derived by how long some of the puzzles take you to solve, and I could see someone in the right mindset completing the main campaign in three to four hours. There were times where I could be sailing along quite happily before hitting a brick wall for twenty minutes, and whilst in some cases the solution made me feel like I was very clever indeed, there were a couple of times where I was cursing the developers. I also found myself occasionally at a loss of where to go next, with some entrances to sections not immediately obvious, or back-tracking through earlier areas was needed despite not having had to do so previously.
I did feel like the game was a little too short upon finishing the main campaign, and I definitely left wanting more. Luckily console owners are treated to an extra story chapter which helps soften the blow. This extended section features two abducted robots and introduces some clever mechanics of its own, including when your character becomes damaged and you have to rethink how you move about the world. However, whilst it does add value to the package I thought it was a missed opportunity in how they could have used the two characters, and that there wasn’t enough of a link into the main game’s events.
Unmechanical: Extended is a puzzling game, in every sense of the word. In that manner there are puzzles, each of which must be surmounted before you can progress, but equally its lack of any true storytelling, beyond that which you create yourself, or indeed any hand-holding to point you in the right direction almost cause too much confusion. However, there is a wonderful spirit to the game, created by the beautiful aesthetic and meaningful sound design, both of which really warrant experiencing.
Version tested: Xbox One