Unsighted Review - Counting The Seconds

  • First Released Sep 30, 2021
  • XONE

Unsighted remixes familiar ideas with an engrossing spin on what it means to take on a time-sensitive mission to save the world.

Borrowing ideas liberally from numerous inspirations can often lead to games that lack either an identity or a clear focus, and in the worst cases a bit of both. This isn't at all true for Unsighted, a pixelated, top-down metroidvania that combines its many familiar gameplay mechanics into a cohesive adventure that is regularly more than the sum of its parts. It's a remix that also blends gracefully with Unsighted's original ideas, adding the necessary tension to a time-sensitive mission that works both thematically and mechanically. Although it can falter in some areas, especially with its persistence to hold your hand in some regards, it's a tightly paced action game with sharp combat and inventive puzzles that are a delight to enjoy.

Unsighted puts you at the center of a civil war between humans and automatons, a sentient race of robots that gained their self-awareness via magical dust dispersed by a meteor that crashed into earth decades before. This meteor has since been closed off by the humans in a last-ditch effort to rob the automatons of their lives, eventually reducing them to base killing machines without emotion. This process, known as "going Unsighted," is something none of the automatons want and a fate you, playing as freedom-fighter automaton Alma, seek to stop for good.

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This sets off a familiar hunt for a series of MacGuffins--in this case, powerful crystals--across an expansive map, each of which takes place in a distinctive biome with its own inventive dungeon. As you travel through the map, you'll encounter paths locked off by obstacles your current loadout can't overcome, encouraging you to find the tools you need to progress. It's a standard metroidvania trope that will feel immediately familiar, but combined with intricate dungeons, Unsighted breaks up the standard progression with entertaining pit stops and doesn't let you linger on any frustrating backtracking that is required.

Coloring your exploration is the ever-present threat of going Unsighted, a fact that is driven home by a counter ticking away in your inventory menu. Without any meteor dust, you'll eventually succumb to this curse, and this impending doom is a fate shared by every other character you come across in your travels, too. It's a fascinating spin on the idea that time-sensitive adventure stories don't always translate those stakes into gameplay, challenging you to consider how long you're taking to reach the game's conclusion.

You must learn to balance spending time searching for meteor dust while also progressing along the main path, and taking time to visit other characters to ensure they have enough time left to aid you on your journey. Any automatons whose timers expire are gone for good, regardless of whether they're simple side characters, merchants, or critical to the story. The timer element adds tangible stakes to the central conflict, injecting urgency and purpose into each of your excursions, while also forcing you to make tough decisions about who you might want to keep around and who to sacrifice for personal and selfish reasons alike.

The many merchants in Unsighted offer numerous weapons and tools that alter how you engage with the game's captivating combat. Like a From Software Souls game or one of the many inspired by it, Unsighted balances quick reflexes with the technical aspects of stamina use, with enemies that will punish you for slightly overextending. Your pool of stamina is small enough that throwing out a flurry of attacks can quickly put you in a spot of vulnerability, encouraging you to think about spacing and recovery over just raw damage output. It can take some time to get into the rhythm that Unsighted expects of you, but once you're in tune, it's a delightfully flowing system that lets you live out the fantasy of being an expertly-trained fighter with the satisfaction of making your victories feel well-earned.

Although it can falter in some areas, especially with its persistence to hold your hand in some regards, Unsighted is a tightly paced action game with sharp combat and inventive puzzles that are a delight

Paramount to this is Unsighted's smart use of a parry system, which fills the role of a high-risk, high-reward mechanic that can change the flow of a fight on a dime. It's simple enough to pull off when facing lone enemies, with a red flash and audio cues giving you a chance to time your parry to a tee. In a group of enemies, it becomes a challenging maneuver to pull off, especially when the heat of combat becomes chaotic, but it's one you'll have to get comfortable executing, given how enemies will soak up damage from traditional attacks. Successful parries open them up to critical hits that, in many cases, result in instant kills, thinning the pack in a furious fight that can give you an edge. It feels so empowering to waltz into an ambush and quickly turn the tables on your attackers with just a handful of perfect parries, accentuating Unsighted's combat with a tangible, satisfying punch.

As you might expect from a system like this, death comes fast and frequently as you attune to the game's tempo. Each time you die, you respawn back at your last rest point, with just a few recharge stations peppered around the world map. Thankfully, only enemies in areas between dungeons respawn with you, meaning a death to a challenging boss doesn't mean you have to work your way to them again. What does get in the way after every death is a repeat of just a couple of tutorials meant to try and steer you away from your next death, with your robotic fairy companion reminding you time and again how to dodge and make use of consumable items. It's frustrating to have to button through these hints after every death, especially since there's no obvious way to turn them off.

Combat exists to pepper your exploration through Unsighted's dangerous world, but puzzles are every bit a part of the overall formula, too. For a nearly top-down action game, Unsighted relies on a lot of platforming as you make your way through its world, letting you hop across small ravines or elevate yourself above enemies in equal measure. There are instances where the game's chunky pixel art style and angle of its camera do a disservice to your ability to judge both distance and height, making some areas a little tricker to traverse than they should be. This is worse still during the night, where your vision is drastically reduced, and the darker color palette makes it even harder to judge areas where you're able to move to.

Platforming is aided by numerous tools that you'll come across as you progress, giving you abilities to traverse the game's world in new ways. These include options that will be familiar, such as a recognizable hookshot, for example. Others are a little more fun, like the ability to turn into a giant spinning top that lets you grind across electrical lines and ping pong between enemies in skirmishes. Each of these items are fun to use in the larger open world, but it's their focus in the game's dungeons where they shine. Each one introduces a new gadget to your inventory that then highlights many of the included dungeon's challenges, creating a distinct dynamic that is exciting to engage with.

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Dungeons conclude with a suitably climatic boss fight, which serve as some of the highest points that Unsighted's combat reaches. Each one not only demands a level of mastery over the new gadgets that lead you there, but also a keen awareness of how to effectively use your stamina in a fight. They're fantastic skirmishes, many with numerous phases that drastically change up the flow of the fight at a moment's notice. They're also accompanied by some roaringly great pieces from Unsighted's stellar soundtrack, with the music only accentuating the tense action on screen with its thumping beats and high tempo.

What sets Unsighted apart from its many inspirations is how it's able to delicately move between these moments of white-knuckle intensity to slower, sometimes somber moments you spend with the game's wider cast, juxtaposed by the ever-present threat of their deaths. It's one thing to take the time to absorb a game's setting and pick apart its secrets, but another entirely to be made aware that each of those moments might come at the expense of a character's demise. Unsighted balances this so that you're not always stressed by its time constraint, but prodded enough every now and then to be made aware of how your actions have tangible consequences. It's an engrossing twist on a set of systems that, while familiar, are sharply honed to create an engaging combat system and rewarding puzzles, making Unsighted one of this year's best-kept secrets

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The Good

  • Having to mind the time you spend exploring adds stakes to the overall mission at hand
  • Tightly-tuned combat and a fantastic parry make every skirmish a delight
  • Engaging boss battles that satisfyingly challenge your understanding of each new tool in your repertoire
  • Great balance of deadly combat and cerebral puzzles keeps the game flowing at a pleasant pace

The Bad

About the Author

Alessandro picked apart every secret he could in Unsighted, saving as much of the resistance as possible along the way. No matter what happened, however, he always had time to take a nap with his dog.