Unravel, developed by Coldwood Interactive, is clearly a work of great passion. I fell in love with it almost immediately at its E3 2015 unveiling, presented by the adorably nervous yet clearly excited game creator, Martin Sahlin. Despite its gameplay faults, this passion shines through and I felt privileged to have played game that had had so much love poured into it. There’s probably not as much in the way of story as I would have appreciated, although it’s strong conceptually.
Unravel focuses on feelings of nostalgia, of love, family and the passing of time. It also touches on environmental and geopolitical issues, but signposts them more so than making deliberate, original commentary. That said, these themes all to correlate quite nicely and the closing sequence evoked Journey-like emotions, which is absolutely a compliment.Yarny however, adorable as he may be, seemed somewhat removed from the more human story being told in the photographs and memories you collect. There was charming symbolism behind the yarn – which is nicely explained by the conclusion of the game – but the sentient, supernatural bundle of yarn felt somewhat disconnected, whilst not overly bothersome.
All in all, the stories not quite what I hoped. It’s not doing anything that’s not already been done; it’s more charming and heartfelt than powerfully emotive. Perhaps I’ve just been spoilt by other games in the genre that have really pushed the boundaries of storytelling in games.The visual presentation is without a doubt the best thing going for Unravel.
Textures are stunningly rendered and the two cutscenes are animated to a Hollywood-standard with motion capture performances. Environments are gorgeous, well lit and diverse. I love the way Yarny stumbles his way through them, influencing and interacting the environments and running into various animals, both friendly and fierce. Yarny himself is tremendously animated; without any voice, you can interpret his personality from his movements and body language. Human and natural environments blend seamlessly too, which I believe is quite closely tied to its story and concept.I was a little divided on the sound design, which I think only impressed my three-quarters of the time I spent with the game. Some of the more folk-music was more enjoyable, but it often went on too long and with little variation, making it kind of repetitive and tiresome.I have larger problems with the gameplay, namely the platforming. Similarly to my issues with the sound design, the platforming felt a little clunky and clumsy for a fourth of the time. In instances, I felt that grapple hooks were awkwardly placed, the physics involved in moving objects was off or platforms in water were simply too small, moving incessantly and unpredictably. At a couple of points as well, Yarny became caught between objects and required some tedious frantic button mashing to get him out of the hole. I took issue with some of the game design in regards to the checkpoints, which were often awkwardly placed a bit before the challenging bit of platforming, making you repeat the easier sections continuously, which I found a tad tedious.I want to stress that I only took issue with it a quarter of the time. As its best, the platforming is solid and utilizes the environmental design creatively. It continually introduces new mechanics which the game asks you to figure out for yourself. Having a tail of yarn is a very interesting mechanic in itself and is very cleverly implemented.When everything comes together, there’s a beautiful flow to Unravel; there’s a tranquility to moving through these stunning environments and exploring its past. Sadly, the game design and platforming interrupts this flow and breaks the immersion, weakening the impact of what is a relatively strong game conceptually and thematically.
The game does a fantastic job of capturing the passion and dedication of its developers. It was great for the developers to connect with their audience to the extent they did, and I commend EA hugely for this undertaking. I hope to see more like it.