Wowed by Unavowed

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Unavowed is Wadjet Eye adventure game meets oldschool Bioware party companion interactions.

The bonus about reading a bunch of bloggers is that I caught wind of this game’s launch really quickly, courtesy of xyzzysqrl’s glowing review.

After having played through all five episodes of the Blackwell series, Technobabylon and The Shivah (and made some game attempts at Gemini Rue, Shardlight, Resonance and Primordia), suffice to say that anything Wadjet Eye makes and releases is, for me, an auto-instant buy.

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Even if you’re less convinced by adventure games, for fear of puzzles or pixel-hunting or just not enjoying the genre… if you do like a side of supernatural urban fantasy, a good story with choices (ethical dilemmas almost) that -matter-, character tales from Bioware-style chatting with party members, you might want to take a second look at Unavowed.

Developed by a tiny company of 3 employees (so says Wikipedia) and a bunch of outside talent contracting, Unavowed has 3 character origins * 2 genders, and 4 (+1, one comes as a pair) NPC party members, of which you can pick two to help you solve a number of mysterious supernatural cases.

There are multiple solutions to various puzzles, some of which are reliant on the party members you bring with you. There seem to be 4 main endings that I’ve seen.

Can anyone say, branching storylines, ahoy?

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Even the title screen changes as your party increases or decreases.

I’m glossing over the story because even the opening is impressive in how it situates you into the story with the choices you make right off the bat. You can be male or female, a bartender, an actor or a police officer.

Unavowed is set in the same world as the Blackwell series, but where Blackwell deals with a family saga of a spirit medium (called Bestowers in this world, you’ll find out why if you play those games), Unavowed zooms back the camera lens to show off other supernaturals in the setting.

You get in the thick of things fast, with a supernatural team (the Unavowed) hot on the heels of a case of demonic possession. Where there are demons, there is usually quite a bit of chaos to go along, and your companions and you get to pick up the pieces and puzzle out satisfactory (or not) resolutions to all the various affairs.

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Your companions, like oldschool Bioware NPCs, provide some verisimilitude by seguing into little animated conversations with you and each other. The voice acting is great. Learning more about your companions and their histories is definitely a good 50% or more of the main gameplay highlights of Unavowed.

Another quiet innovation is turning the ubiquitous “Look At / Examine” adventure game command into a simple text mouse over. It saves time, adds additional detail and character voice into the beautifully hand drawn scenes.

In any case, you should stop reading and go play it.

If you’re not convinced, check out a stream or two to see if it tickles your fancy.

Then buy it and play it.

If you get it directly from Wadjet Eye’s website, you get a Steam key, the game’s soundtrack, and it’s 10% off for the next 2 days.

Failing which, if you read this later, you can wait for a discount and then get it. Or get it full price. Whatever. But you should get it and play it.

(Or at least watch someone else play it. It’s that nifty. You might wind up wanting to play it too.)

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Blaugust Day 17: The Blackwell Adventure Game Series (Legacy, Unbound, Convergence, etc.)

If there’s one game genre that I find it almost impossible to explain why I would recommend a particular game highly, it’s the adventure game genre.

Whatever you try to explain, you can’t shake off the uneasy feeling that you might be dropping a whole bunch of spoilers on someone, and it’s too easy to end up with a series of stock clichés. It’s good? It had a solid story? Interesting characters?

Part of the adventure game’s appeal is that sense of discovery and exploration, of finding out secrets and mysteries and what’s going on. Me providing a Wikipedia synopsis would ruin that desire to piece it all together.

Couple that with the doubt that what makes a story good is all too subjective – I might be too much of a romantic, content to accept formulaic plots that would find plenty of homes on the TV Tropes website, simply because it falls into one of my favorite settings (urban fantasy, in this case) or find an easy, comfortable, familiarity with such a formula, while someone else pans it for being too predictable – and it becomes very difficult to describe why a particular adventure game would appeal.

I guess for me, it’s part atmospherics – the setting, the sense of mood (bonus points if it’s noir or cyberpunk), music that sets the tone, suitable sounds that evoke a place and ‘fit’ with the world.

It’s part writing – how the characters come across, if they come across as believable, the flow of the dialogue, the strength of the voice-acting, if any, or fun, humorous vignettes that follow in the style of the classic Sierra or Lucasfilm/LucasArts greats.

Puzzles are very much a secondary concern for me. I prefer them easy and not to get in the way of the story being told, as opposed to so hard or obscure that I end up forever blocked or forced to use a walkthrough to progress. after having endured a heavy dose of frustration that made me forget the story while trying to deal with the requirements of the game.

Adventure games are very much mostly about the story for me, how I feel about the characters, if I can immerse into the world believably for the space of those couple of hours and live out the plot the writer wanted to tell me.

That said, the Blackwell series from Wadjet Eye Games would come highly recommended by moi.

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The Blackwell Legacy is the first game in the series.

I put it on my list at the beginning of the month, meaning to finally give it a go and evaluate if the rest were worth playing…

…Well, in under two nights, I’ve gone right through Blackwell games 1-3 and am chomping at the bit to finish 4 and 5… which I don’t yet own, leading to an interesting dilemma of if I should go against my usual miserly nature and pay full price for said games, or exercise just that little bit of patience to pick them up when one of the ubiquitous Steam sales roll around.

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The main character of the Blackwell Legacy is Rosangela (Rosa) Blackwell, who returns home from her aunt’s funeral to discover the family legacy… a ghost named Joey that is now bound to her side, and the powers of a medium… which yes, lets her see ghosts and talk to them. Turns out that she now has a new mission in life, to find restless ghosts and help them accept their deaths and find peace.

It’s not a terribly new trope – TV shows have done it before, like in the supernatural series Ghost Whisperer; there are a ton of urban fantasy books that cover similar ground, though they may call their special women ‘witches’ instead of ‘medium’ or (one of my favorites being Kelley Armstrong’s Jaime Vegas) ‘necromancer.’

But you know, that lack of newness just makes the premise understandable, and dare I say, a little fun as well. Now -you- get to play the ghost detective that you’ve read or watched before.

The character writing in the Blackwell series is fairly solid, courtesy of designer/writer Dave Gilbert, providing a cast that is both diverse and colorful.

The voice-acting of the series is excellent. One of its critical pillars, I would say, as the voice actors really help to bring out extra facets of each characters’ personalities over what the text conveys.

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Blackwell Unbound is the second game,  and if you think the main character looks rather different from the first game’s intro, you’d be right.

We move backwards in time several decades to play Rosangela’s aunt – Lauren Blackwell – when it was her turn as the psychic detective.

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There’s a lot more noir influence in this one. Lauren is as hardbitten a medium as Rosa was reluctant. The woman chain-smokes like a chimney, and has an ashtray for every location of the house, plus a couple more.

As they go around solving ghost cases, little plot threads start springing up and winding their way through the past/future of the first game, and harkening and foreshadowing the subsequent games. It leaves for some mysteries and unanswered questions, if you try to play any of the games as a standalone (I wouldn’t advise it,) but I’m a right sucker for episodic story arcs so it’s completely up my alley.

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Blackwell Convergence brings us back to Rosa, a little older and more mature, having blossomed into a fairly competent, fast-talking ghostbuster.

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The third game offers more attractive graphics, and looks and feels like Dave Gilbert has found his stride with regards to who these characters are, and where we are going with them.

There’s plenty of wit in this one, with characters that are now both comfortable and familiar to the audience, and makes for an entertaining ride.

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I’m still waiting to play the fourth and fifth games, but from reports, things only get better from here and the whole series winds up in a satisfactory and fitting (if possibly poignant or bittersweet – which usually means the writer nailed it emotionally) fashion.

Definitely worth a play. (Or at least watching or reading somebody else’s Let’s Play of it.)

This post was brought to you by the letters B for Belghast and Blaugust and Blackwell, and the number 17.