I’ve been a longtime fan of Wadjet Eye’s Blackwell series. Over the course of five installments that continually grew in length and complexity of both story and characters, each game tried something new while remaining comfortingly familiar. After the emotionally-charged ending of the final game, I heard that designer Dave Gilbert was done with Blackwell and moving onto something new, leaving me both excited and trepidatious. Could Gilbert capture lightning in a bottle twice? Could he conjure forth more characters with the depth of Rosa Blackwell and her spirit guide Joey? Could he devise even more interesting scenarios to investigate? With his latest 2D point-and-click adventure, Unavowed, the answer to all those questions is a resounding yes!
Set in present day New York, Unavowed opens right in the thick of the action. You’ll find yourself on a rooftop in the middle of a downpour, appearing for now only as a silhouetted character. Someone restrains you while a man in a fedora and long coat throws lightning bolts at you. It quickly becomes apparent that they’re trying to exorcise an evil spirit from your body.
During this introductory sequence, the game cleverly lets you select personal details about your character that will carry through right to the finale. Through a series of questions posed with the command that you remember who you are, you get to choose your gender, name, and occupation. At this point, events flash back to one year previously. Based on the occupation you picked, you’ll experience one of three different playable character introductions that lead up to where the evil spirit takes control of you.
Depending on your preference, you can play as a sympathetic bartender who has to get a suicidal drunk out of the bar’s bathroom. Or you might go the route of being a rookie detective investigating an overweight cop at a Goth club who has suddenly taken on Bruce Lee capabilities, at least according to all the witnesses. Or you can even take the path of an actor in a play whose director has suddenly been struck by the creative muse and is rewriting the entire script – a week before opening night.
Your choice of profession doesn’t just impact the beginning of the story, to a degree it also affects the way you tackle different challenges throughout the game. The bartender, for example, is endowed with a great deal of empathy and is seen as trustworthy by other characters. You can use these abilities to get people to open up and share things they wouldn’t tell the other personas. The detective, on the other hand, can get on with other cops and has a good eye for detail during investigations. The actor, as one would expect, is good at deception, which can be used to bluff your way through several situations.
Once you remember who you are and how you were possessed, the game returns to present day as the evil spirit is finally cast out. You’ll learn that the man in the coat is one Eli Beckett and the woman restraining you is the sword-wielding Mandana. The two work for a clandestine group known as the Unavowed, describing themselves as “the wall against the darkness,” a group of supernatural police who keep an eye on all the demons, evil spirits and other magical forces that sometimes bleed through into our reality from other dimensions. Over the past year, the number of such occurrences has been on the rise. Most humans – dubbed “mundanes” here – don’t see or acknowledge these paranormal threats. However, due to your recent possession your character is “void touched,” meaning you can see the monsters. With this second sight, you are invited to join the Unavowed to help hunt down the spirit that possessed you.
The New York group is overseen by Kalash, an immortal jinn who founded the branch four hundred years previously. Mandana is Kalash’s half-human, half-jinn daughter, who learned to use a sword from her deceased mother and is the most physically fit of the Unavowed, capable of climbing and jumping to areas that others can’t reach. Like her father, Mandana is incapable of telling a lie and can sense untruths when spoken by others. Eli is a fire Mage – it’s important that it’s Mage with a capital M, although Eli’s not exactly sure why. He can throw fireballs, read any document that may have been burned to ashes, and is the team’s expert on magic in general. His magical abilities have significantly extended his life span.
You’re not the only new recruit, as over the first couple of missions you’ll bring in additional members. Logan is a “bestower of eternity,” a term that may be familiar to those who’ve played the Blackwell games. He is a spirit medium, which means he can see and talk to ghosts, unlike the rest of the Unavowed, who can only see phantoms as indistinct clouds vaguely resembling people. Logan is accompanied by his own spirit guide Kaykay, the ghost of a deceased ten-year-old girl with a fixation on Trollgate, an online video game that she makes Logan play for her. Logan is happy about their joint mission to help other specters pass over to the other side as it gives him something to focus on, which is important, what with him being a recovering alcoholic. For her part, Kaykay is always messing with Logan and the other members of the Unavowed, although her antics are relayed through Logan as the rest of the team can’t hear her and can only see her as a floating ball of light.
Vicki is a former NYPD detective. Like you, she’s a mundane who has become void touched. After digging into crimes with a supernatural bent, she was suspended from the department, which caused an upset in her all-cop family. Still packing her service pistol, Vicki has a lot of connections with cops, detectives and security guards throughout the city. She’s able to pull favors to cut through bureaucratic red tape to further the team’s progress.
Not counting the three introductions, the story takes place across ten different missions. During this time you can typically choose between two or three of these to pursue in any order, although you will ultimately have to play through all of them. When embarking on one, you first need to select two of the other members to accompany you, one of which must be either Eli or Mandana, although you’re free to select both if you so choose.
Your choice of teammates shapes the mission you take them on. Once underway you can’t change your mind, but each case has been so well-crafted that not only can each character you bring do something to contribute, they must be used in order to progress through the case. For example, bring Logan on a mission and you’ll encounter a ghost that he can talk to in order to learn what’s going on. If you bring Vicki instead, then you may have to use her police connections to get critical information through more official channels.
Choosing different characters for assignments does more than just change the puzzles you must solve. Your teammates will often talk to each other to reveal bits about their personalities, pasts or current situations. You’ll learn that Eli, for instance, had to abandon the rest of his family for their protection but still keeps a close eye on them. When you take him and Vicki along on a mission, you may overhear Vicki asking Eli for advice on how to improve things with her family. All of these interactions between teammates happen as side conversations, so while they are talking you’re free to continue moving around the environment if you just want to get on with things rather than listen in.
As with previous games by Dave Gilbert, talking makes up a lot of Unavowed’s gameplay experience. Fortunately, conversations are both interesting and done in such a way that they don’t feel like large info dumps. This is accomplished in several ways. First, many of the dialog options are actual choices to think about, which will either have an immediate effect on the next couple of lines or else a longer-term impact that may even be felt in the game’s finale. Second, it tends to be pretty clear when discourse is optional, such as when you’re at the Unavowed headquarters between missions and have the opportunity to ask the other characters about their backgrounds. And third, the dialog is for the most part smartly interspersed with puzzles and other actions so that you’re not just going from one long discussion to another.
Usually the game allows you to manually save at any point, but not during conversation. With some of the decisions you’re asked to make, I would have preferred to be able to save at those points to easily return to them to try different paths, though if you record your progress regularly this should never require too much repetition. The game also autosaves at the start of each mission after finalizing the character selection.Continued on the next page...
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Posted by SamuelGordon on Aug 11, 2018