Monday 18 October 2021

Unmetal Review (Steam)

Written by Thomas GJ Sharpe

It is surprising to me that there aren’t more send-ups of po-faced action games, and films for that matter. Indie darling Broforce was the last I can properly recall, but it was a through and through celebration of over-the-top action. Unmetal is Metal Gear done by Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker, and is crass and clever, vintage and innovative, and most importantly, funny.

Jesse Fox is as absurd as Solid Snake. Exaggerated, hyperactive and farcical. Kojima’s weird family of mercenaries bickering about global espionage is as unbelievable as UnMetal’s world of pompous characters and bizarre situations. The developers, UnEpic, have skewered the tactical espionage action perfectly. Fox is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, and we play out the actions of his adventure while it is being discussed in an interrogation. This framing allows the gameplay to bend to this more than unreliable narrator. In-between the stealthy knocking out of guards, crafting of items (in a point-and-click style) and boss fights, Fox tells his tale to a dubious intelligence investigator. Were there piranha-men born from a botched artificial insemination procedure, lurking in the sewers? Why not. The flicking between gameplay and narration is effortlessly handled, allowing for a compelling mixture of story and action.

The gameplay is pretty challenging, often switching modes. This means that the segments of any gameplay style don’t really reach any true depth. There is little to master here, but the sheer number of ideas, pace changes and reversals means UnMetal is agile. There is a more puzzle-style challenge, even to the action. There isn’t anything you would be surprised at, level-wise, but the areas are contained and well designed. I got stuck a few times just by missing a path to travel, but most sections don’t outstay their welcome. The boss fights (presented with Street Fighter-esque title cards) break up the chapters, giving the player a sense of progression. As does the simple upgrading system, providing a small amount of player choice. The aforementioned interrogation-gameplay duality, however, provides the most effective impact. The dialogue choices made in the interview impact the action, with little discernible hint at the effects of the different lines. Some make the game harder, some easier. All are amusing.

The voice-acting is superb, sending up all the stereotypes of the genre. There is something joyful to me about people putting on gravely, gruff-man voices for this amount of time. There is dedication here. The music is tightly wound and evokes just the right feel to remind you of levels from oh-so-many titles. Aesthetically, the design just works, it falls into place to feel nostalgic, but without the drawbacks, limitations and frustrations that playing the inspiration material sometime bring.

The last time I had this much fun with a parody game was Darkside Detective, and much like that sublime title, the balance between homage and nostalgia with the subversion and innovation make this a rare gem. This is goofing off at its most elegant.

Overall 9/10

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