Uncanny Valley (Xbox One Review)
Uncanny Valley presents itself as an entity of fear. Fear of our past coming back to haunt us, fear of not being able to escape our daily routine, and ultimately our fear of the unknown. Cowardly Creations set’s out to deliver a story that not only startles the player through use of typical horror themes, but to evoke a sense of unease through the “uncanny valley” of our own creations.
Uncanny Valley takes place in a remote government facility, Melior, in the middle of nowhere. Seemingly desolate and void of social interaction with the outside world. Our protagonist, Tom, takes a job as a night shift security guard, in hopes of escaping his muddled past and starting anew. Tom’s shifts can run smoothly, or not, depending on how the player lets the events of Uncanny Valley unfold.
A story that has choice is one that is, generally, more satisfying than a plot of linear pre-conceived events that unfold before you. Through unique interactions and dialogue options, players can create the story they want; choosing the scenario that best reflects their characters persona. Uncanny Valley handles things a little differently. The story of Uncanny Valley unfolds with your own willingness to participate within it. As a security guard, your only real job is to patrol the halls of your employer, but the more curious the player becomes the more situations Tom will find himself in.
Between Tom’s dull shifts at Melior, he will need to sleep at his apartment and suffer his own concocted nightmare. Tom’s night terrors are vaguely representative of his past. Shadowy figures trying to snag him in the dark, reliving events he wished he’d forgotten. These segments give us bit of backstory to our hero and have a few meagre “choices” within, they don’t actually affect the outcome of Uncanny Valley in any way. The nightmares are a tool to emphasise the overall horror theme.
Uncanny Valley’s interactivity is minimalist in most cases; only allowing players to participate in events and pick up items the game deems necessary, which are plentiful but sparse in placement. Cassettes and videotapes can be collected to help unravel the secrets that Melior hides, whilst keys and weapons can be used in the immediate vicinity to further the player’s progress. Uncanny Valley’s environments aren’t uninteresting at first, but can leave much to be desired, as most rooms leave the player with nought to do. This may also have to do with the retro appeal Cowardly Creations has opted for. Although the 8-bit style has its own charm, the limitations imposed are also Uncanny Valley’s downfall. And with the developers insisting on multiple playthroughs, this lack of interactivity can become a problem – having to start over from scratch and button mash my through text conversations and tutorial dialogue add to that repetitive annoyance too; running through areas that have no consequence to the overall ending is extremely monotonous.
With choice and consequence being Uncanny Valley’s selling point, you can understand my anguish when I discovered that the endings were nothing more than alterations of a simple news headline; an amended text prompt for all your efforts. There are multiple solutions to problems that Tom can solve, but ultimately lead to the same end goal and with a vague newspaper clipping of the event that transpired, an anti-climax I was not expecting.
Uncanny Valley’s take on Survival Horror is grounded in the psychological narrative of Tom’s night terrors and delivers it generously throughout. Uncanny Valley’s gameplay will have you solving the mystery surrounding your work environment, yet the horror never really sinks in – even when you find out what’s going on. In spite of that it is still a thought provoking story. Although Uncanny Valley should be played multiple times to appreciate its qualities, “endings”, and previously missed opportunities, it all lasts a very short time; wouldn’t say it’d take more than an hour or more per playthrough. If you are looking for an simple affair of horror and story telling then Uncanny Valley will do you well, but may not hold you over for long.