As I mentioned in my review of Townscaper yesterday, Game Pass is an absolute boon for gamers and indie studios alike, with games added to the service that have been created by small studios – with smaller marketing budgets and less mainstream premises – that may otherwise escape notice.
Unpacking is one of those games; on paper it’s an odd game: each level sees you literally unpacking boxes as the unseen protagonist moves home, finding the right places for each of the objects within – before moving on to the next level, set a few years on, in which you’ll unpack more boxes in a different home, usually with more objects and more rooms to find the right spots for them in.
What’s special about Unpacking is the unspoken narrative, brought forth by the objects that you’re unpacking as well as the homes you’re placing them in. You build up a picture of the protagonist in your mind as the narrative is shaped by the objects and your surroundings. It’s a very clever way of delivering story through the gentle gameplay of the experience itself, witnessing someone grow and enter into relationships without ever actually seeing those things explicitly happen. Even seeing a favourite toy survive multiple home moves over the years is quite a poignant thing to observe.
Objects are removed from boxes one at a time and can be rotated to be put in place – on the floor, in shelves, in cupboards, on walls or even just on your bed. Though this is all very straightforward, even very relaxing and Zen at times, the later levels in particular – with their larger number of specific rooms and increasingly bigger numbers of boxes – can get a bit overwhelming. The other issue I found is that it can sometimes be a little difficult to work out what an object is, though the pixel art style is very good and mostly great at depicting what things are, the simplicity and lack of detail can be a problem on occasion.
Likewise, another big issue that does detract from the laidback nature of the game lies with the objects needing to be in specific places – this requirement can be a little fussy, relying sometimes on guesswork than anything obvious – though it is always logical once you know.
Those issues generally don’t detract from the compelling nature of the game, however. It’s a relatively short experience too, being possible to complete in a few hours, but in all honesty had the stages become any more complicated, Unpacking could well have lost a lot of its charm.
Both unpacking boxes literally and unpacking the pieces of someone’s life – to put together the clues as to where they currently are in their life and what they’re doing – doesn’t sound like the most thrilling subject for a video game, but Unpacking’s gentle, unhurried gameplay and wonderful presentation proves to be a winning formula. It presents a story in a unique way and who knows…maybe you’ll get a glimpse of the protagonist at some point. You’ll have to stick around until the end to find out though – but the wonderful trip through someone else’s life, which cleverly raises some gentle smiles and evokes warm feelings of nostalgia in the player, makes it well worth seeing through to the climax.
Unpacking is available now on Xbox consoles, Switch, PC and Mac.
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