Adventure Gamers Awards
Note: Unknown Fate is available in both VR and non-VR versions. This review is based solely on the standard PC version of the game.
Sometimes when developers blend game types together, interesting things can result. Sometimes whole new subgenres can even spring into existence from such experiments. Marslit Games’ first-person 3D platforming adventure Unknown Fate is not one of those pioneers. Despite an interesting, off-kilter fantasy environment and a few intriguing game mechanics, the platforming is not particularly inspired, while the storytelling is repetitive and undercut by an adamant refusal to answer even basic questions.
Events open with the protagonist on a desolate street overlooking a house on a dark and stormy night. Approaching the house prompts a short black-and-white flashback memory showing one mysterious figure hauling another away. As the flashback fades and the view returns to the street, things have changed. The road is fractured, the surrounding land has disappeared in a grey haze, and a winged whale floats by overhead. Then things get weird, as you follow a glowing female form until you’re pulled through a portal into what may or may not be the dream world. All this happens within the first two minutes of bcinematic sequences and controlled gameplay. Unfortunately, after that further story progression is much more restrained.
You start out playing a character who has forgotten… well, everything. He doesn’t know his name or how he got here, and he doesn’t remember his past. Trapped in this strange fantasy land, the only thing he does know is that he must go on and discover the truth about who he is. In short order, he starts to meet the denizens of this new place, all of whom are obstinately unhelpful. Whenever he demands to know what’s going on, they universally reply that he’s either not ready to know or that it’s not the right time.
Any amnesiac setup demands that at some point the character’s identity be revealed, ideally with a revelation that causes the audience to reevaluate everything that has come before. This story sidesteps the challenge by never providing answers, revelatory or otherwise. Throughout his entire journey, the protagonist demands to know the truth from everyone he meets, and they always deny him. Given that uncovering this mystery is your only motivation for the entirety of the experience, not filling in these crucial details certainly left me frustrated and wondering what the point of it all really was.
Instead, the sequence of events (I struggle to call it a story) switches back and forth between the present time, which occurs in the fantasy dream world, and a number of flashbacks that represent the protagonist’s fractured memories from the real world. These monochrome flashbacks frequently involve observing people from your past, but nobody actually talks. Occasionally brief sentences are shown on-screen denoting your vague recollections of the past, such as being too shy around others as a child, but that’s about it for expository detail.
The dream world scenarios are, paradoxically, much more grounded. Here you encounter various fantasy characters like the vaguely alien, vaguely angelic Guardians. While some of them will actually speak to you, they don’t have much to say that is particularly useful or informative. Mostly they’re concerned with having you master the “Artefact” to bring light back to the land. What bringing light back actually means is never really made clear, but at least how the Artefact works is described in a series of help text bubbles that appear within the 3D environment at key points during the game.
As in games like Portal and The Turing Test, the Artefact you are given is a kind of pseudo gun used to manipulate the environment in order to advance. This one has three levels of abilities that are unlocked throughout the course of the adventure. At the first level, you can shoot spheres of light straight ahead or else fire a large dazzle ball, like a flash bulb on ye olde timey camera, which blinds the eyes of those nearby or stuns enemies. At the second level, it becomes possible to move or rotate certain platforms. Finally, at its highest level the Artefact is imbued with the power to launch orbs, mortar-style, to slow time and then to detonate those orbs to decelerate moving objects in the environment. These functions are accessed via the keyboard to set the power level and then clicking either the left or right mouse button to choose between the two abilities at that level.
Unknown Fate’s gameplay largely consists of using the Artefact’s abilities to manipulate blocks and platforms to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. For example, early on some platform pieces can be seen floating in the sky with glowing white targets on their sides. Shooting these targets with the basic light ball causes the fragments to float down and form stepping stones needed to cross gaps in the terrain. Later, as the other abilities are unlocked, it may become necessary to levitate certain blocks from place to place, rotate platforms so that flat surfaces are exposed, or hit special time-based control posts in order to slow down swinging or moving platforms. Regardless of what power is used, the goal is always the same: arrange platforms or pieces of platforms such that they can be jumped upon to progress. Once the path has been arranged, the actual platforming feels appropriately responsive.
The Artefact is also used in occasional combat scenarios. In some parts of the world there are odd, human-sized, bipedal cat-scorpion creatures. If they spot you they’ll jog straight towards you, and if allowed they’ll punch you once and teleport you back to the last auto-checkpoint you passed. Fighting these beings consists of stunning them with the dazzle ball ability and then shooting them three or four times with the normal light sphere. Since they just charge straight at you, and not particularly quickly, it’s just a matter of facing them and clicking a few buttons on the mouse. No dodging or evasive tactics are needed.Continued on the next page...