Unknown 9: Awakening Preview – A Step In An Exciting Direction

Fold school.

It’s been a hot minute since we last heard from Unknown 9: Awakening, Reflector’s video game venture into the world of its cross-media fiction franchise, Unknown 9, with backing from Bandai Namco Entertainment. After a debut trailer at Gamescom 2020 followed by radio silence, the game re-emerged this week by way of a fresh showing at the Xbox Partner Preview showcase which gave the world its first proper looks at gameplay and lead character, Haroona.

Prior to this, we were invited to take a look at a behind-virtual-doors demo of the game, where Reflector took us through the core concept and gameplay mechanics that they’ve been cooking up ahead of a release in Winter this year.

As already mentioned, Unknown 9: Awakening follows Haroona (played by The Witcher’s Anya Chalotra), a “Quaestor” with the ability to access a mysterious world-between-worlds called the Fold. This alternate plane is a place of great power and forgotten, forbidden knowledge that’s become the centre of a struggle between different factions vying for its power with potentially world-altering intentions. Haroona’s role in this is one of personal retribution, but naturally she finds herself far deeper in it than she could have anticipated and must use her Fold-navigating powers to prevent catastrophe.

While we were given a short primer on the world and its lead character in our demo, the bulk of our time was spent being introduced to Haroona’s unique capabilities and how those factor into stealth and combat encounters. Unknown 9: Awakening is a third-person action adventure that’ll pit Haroona against the aforementioned enemy factions, forcing her to make clever use of her Fold powers to survive against the odds.

To do so, players will have access to a number of unique abilities to help them get around the environment and get the drop on enemies as well as manipulate them or, if the situation calls, go head-to-head. The most interesting examples of surviving enemy encounters that we saw involved Haroona’s ability to “Step” into enemies through the void, essentially possessing them for a limited time in order to take them out in increasingly inventive ways. The Fold also acts as Haroona’s equivalent of Eagle Vision/Detective Mode, allowing her to spot enemies and obstacles in the immediate vicinity to plan her moves.

A simple example of this would be Stepping into a guard that’s watching your path too intently and walking them over to a different area to give yourself an exit, or if you’re feeling a bit more violent you could Step into one enemy and use their weapon to take out another. While she’ll begin with only one “Step Token” allowing her to possess an enemy for a certain period of time, later upgrades will add more so that players can choose to extend that time or even Step directly into another enemy to set up a chain of events while the world around them is frozen in place.

It seems, at least in this early look, that this will amount to a sort of stealth-puzzle flow to gameplay where the trick is to observe your environment and the enemies contained within and plan out a series of moves using your Fold powers in combination with Umbric Abilities (more on that in a sec) to clear the area of foes before they even really know what’s going on. In one section, explosive torches were dotted around the place which proved to be perfect for grouping enemies together and having them cause their own demise by exploding the torches themselves. Haroona was also able to deal with a “boss” type enemy throwing particularly powerful punches by having him simply punch an explosive generator so it’d blow up in his face.

It’s not all possessions and mind games though, as Haroona will be able to hold her own in combat with her basic skills as well as special Umbric Abilities. These encompass things like being able to push or pull enemies Force-style or even activate a temporary cloak to move around undetected. These rely on having “Am” energy to spend, which is regenerated by getting into more direct scuffles and pulling off skilled moves. Am can also be used to partly refill Haroona’s health, which should encourage players to keep mixing it up between action, stealth and subterfuge at a good pace.

And of course there are in-depth skill trees to work through to upgrade Haroona’s repertoire, using skill points earned or found hidden in the environment. Some of the examples I saw included adding parry and perfect dodge moves, creating enemy-luring projectiles from Am energy or just granting passive bonuses, but there’s plenty I didn’t see and so I’m intrigued to learn how else players can expand their options and strategies over time. Haroona seems genuinely formidable even without her Step ability, so it’ll be interesting to see how flexible these encounters are to allow louder and flashier altercations.

I also didn’t see a whole lot of how the game flows in general, outside of stealth and combat sections, though Reflector described a variety of diverse environments to explore, and at one point we did see a companion character joining Haroona on her adventure.

Although I’m yet to really explore any other Unknown 9 media, be it the podcasts, novels or comics, I’m genuinely curious to see more of Unknown 9: Awakening and better get to know its world and characters. At the very least, Haroona’s unique powers look fun to flex and inventive in a way that’s felt missing since the PS3/360 era of novel, creative action-adventure titles.

Unknown 9: Awakening is slated to launch in Winter 2024 for PS5, Xbox Series X|S and PC.