Security guard Tom has seen better days; desperate to find work, he has taken a job at an abandoned facility miles away from the city center. Once he arrives he’s greeted (if you could call it that) by his new colleague, a cranky and overweight guard named Buck. After a tour of the facility you run into caretaker/housekeeper Eve, and voila, you’ve met everybody! Yes, the world of Uncanny Valley is very small; an apt reflection of its playtime.
Uncanny Valley first came out on Steam a couple years ago, but recently made the jump to PS4 (much like another game we reviewed recently). At its start the game informs you that multiple playthroughs are required to experience the full game, which certainly sounds promising, and can combat the very short playtime. Games with multiple endings have got a special place in my heart (here’s looking at you Chrono Trigger), and when executed well it can drastically improve replayability. Unfortunately for Uncanny Valley, it isn’t executed well.
What leads you to these various endings is a consequence mechanism that branches the story out in different directions depending on your actions. While it sounds great, there are really only a few forks in the game’s narrative, and the resulting leap in the storyline can be disorienting. One misstep led me to a particularly horrific end, but rather than be consumed by disgust and horror, I was simply confused at how A had led to X as opposed to B.
Ultimately, I had trouble connecting with the plot, as it made no real attempt at building up the mystery surrounding the facility – the cat is quickly let out of the bag by the end of your first shift. Oh, right, I forgot to mention: you’re working a timed shift in the early days on the job. Pressing a direction on the right joystick will help you keep an eye on the time. Once you run out of time you have two options: you can either book it back to your room to sleep in the comfort of your own bed, or the overworked Tom will simply collapse from exhaustion if you don’t move fast enough.
The shift mechanism needlessly limited my curiosity in the early stages of the game. Uncanny Valley had done a good job of piquing my interest and encouraging me to explore during the introduction, and then effectively smacks my hand after 7 minutes and pushes the narrative forward. The constant back and forth between the apartment and facility leads to a repetitive opening act, one that you’re not particularly excited to re-tread if you come across a sudden and unfortunate end.
Then there’s the gameplay itself. The touchpad helps you manage your inventory, such as it is. Don’t expect to be merging items and managing inventory like you do in Resident Evil – you’ll mainly be holding onto some cassette tapes, your flashlight, some key cards…maybe a fire extinguisher. You use the directional pad to move as opposed to the left joystick, which took some getting used to. You can crouch, toggle your flashlight on and off, and if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a gun during your playthrough, there is also some basic point-and-shoot gameplay there as well. The handling is awkward, and combined with the disjointed story, doesn’t really encourage you to want to go through the motions after a bad run-in with the enemy.
Despite its faults, Uncanny Valley is a fantastic example of how atmosphere is everything; pixelated environments and sprites can be just as frightening as opening a creaky door into the unknown in Resident Evil 7. This is a tribute to the pixel-art style graphics and haunting soundtrack, which are impressive.
Ultimately, the flaws of its cumbersome gameplay and disjointed plot overshadow its best intentions, leaving you with an “Okay” game that could have been great.