Uncanny Valley is a cross-buy title for the PS4 and Playstation Vita, and promises a story-driven experience with numerous different paths you can explore. Sporting a 2D pixel-style aesthetic, it certainly looked interesting from the moment we first saw a few screenshots. We tried it out, and chose the Vita as our platform of choice.
The game is in fact a hybrid of horror, suspense, thriller and mystery, and it starts off strong. Without much explanation, you find yourself being chased by a mob of shadowy figures with your only option being to run away. You do so, but are quickly caught in a corner with nowhere left to go… and then you wake up. It was a nightmare, but one that will keep coming back in different but similar forms.
You play as a security guard in a building that is largely abandoned, especially during the nightly shifts that you are taking care of. You’ll run into the daytime guard, you’ll meet the cleaning lady, but other than that it’s initially all very suggestive in terms of what’s been going on. As you make your rounds, you find audio tapes and read emails that help you piece the mystery together – although I would hope that not all nighttime security guards have a habit of snooping around people’s private information. In this game though, you’re exactly that kind of person, and you quickly discover that something shady went on at your place of work.
After a few shifts, the game will force you to make choices that will affect the outcome of your playthrough. Without giving anything away, this can cause the game to be over rather quickly and even with the “right” choices this isn’t a game with too much content in terms of game length. Luckily, the developers designed the game with this aspect in mind, encouraging you to play through the game multiple times to get the best possible experience out of it – literally, because a message to that extent appears every time you boot up the game.
A few things kept me from fully enjoying the game this way though, and they can be found in the early phases of the game as well as the later ones. The start of the game is always the same, and sees you completing a few shifts during which you can gather information. These shifts are extremely short (in real time) though, because after about 6 minutes you’re told it’s time to end your shift and go home to bed. With the walk, that’s a 7 minute day – most of which will be spent reading emails and listening to tapes. If you’re a slow reader, this can get frustrating, as you feel like you’re not getting much done and would like to discover more – but are forced out of this option. But even if you’re a fast reader, this section is always the same and thus can get frustrating on subsequent playthroughs. I would have enjoyed a system that would push and restrict me less and would allow me to trigger the next phase of the game manually – especially on a second or third playthrough.
Once the story starts branching out, it becomes fun in a “choose your own adventure” kind of way. Endings can be very abrupt though, telling you little about what happened and only showing you the consequences of your action instead. This is a shame, because I really enjoyed unraveling the mystery and all its little details, and it felt like a lot of room for story development was left on the table. Even as you play the game multiple times and discover more details as to what might have happened – which is a great dynamic – it still feels like the game has a tendency to jump to conclusions rather than craft a path towards one.
What’s really strong in Uncanny Valley, however, is its sense of atmosphere. Despite a simple 2D pixel style, there is a constant feeling of dread that permeates the entire experience – carried by the nightmares initially, and pretty soon by the information you gather from emails and tapes. I just wish that the game gave me more options to dictate the pace of the early game by myself, and that the latter parts of the story were as detailed in their narrative as the early sections are. I’m glad I played the game on my Vita though, as the short playthrough time works well with the generally shorter burst of playing time that go with my handheld. Let’s hope the developers fine-tune this concept further with their next game, as – at the very least – I’m intrigued.