There are very few games that make me frequently laugh out loud. Humour is often a part of a game, but never a driving force, or a core aspect, however this isn't the case with @unepicfran's latest title, UnMetal, a satirical take on classic 80s action stories. This game is daft, silly, and yet never fails to entertain with its 2D pixel action-adventure gameplay, which boasts a balance between exploration and combat.
But, what exactly is UnMetal? The game follows Jesse Fox, a soldier who finds himself imprisoned in a military base for a crime he didn't commit. With a bleak future ahead of him, Fox sets out to escape this prison by using his wits and more often than not his fists, to navigate a variety of challenges and enemies, all of whom are intent on stopping Fox and sending him back to his tiny cell. The narrative follows Fox's escape but from the angle of Fox retelling this very situation to a military lieutenant who is struggling to comprehend and accept the truth behind what is being conveyed, and what this makes for is a satirical take on 80s action movies, as Fox battles all kinds of weird enemies, and overcomes challenges through means that seem to lack roots in reality.
It's the sort of story that doesn't stray away from making you frequently giggle. Fox is a throaty-voiced character that seems to be the epitome of masculinity, a Stallone or Schwarzenegger type if you will. But, unlike these action icons, Fox is witty and manages to alleviate the gravity of the situation he finds himself in with heaps of satire. And to add to this, there are multiple occasions where the player gets to add their own spin on the narrative, through a variety of choices that impact the game.
For example, in the second chapter, Fox fights a sewer-bound boss called the Sewergunk. This creature is a sentient conglomerate mass of garbage hellbent on killing anything that walks into its domain. Mid-way through this boss fight, Fox is asked about whether the monster also had tentacles, and it's up to the player to decide whether it had two, four, or six tentacles, with the decision actually impacting how the boss attacked Fox. These sorts of decisions are common and range from being impactful to quite inconsequential but favouring humour, and each time they pop up, you know you're in for a laugh of some kind.
While for me, the storyline and narrative is the highlight for UnMetal, the gameplay is nothing to sneer at either. It's simple and uses a combination of exploration and combat to deliver a rounded experience. You'll be expected to move around the relatively small levels, taking out guards strategically and silently, to avoid being shot on sight, whilst also looting for items and objects that can be combined to create new weapons and tools to help you unlock new places to explore. And if all of this isn't quite enough, there are boss fights to face and plenty of secrets to uncover, while Fox fires off witty puns and jokes to keep the military lieutenant interrogating him off his back.
Fox uses melee combat and various weapons to take down guards and bosses. It's a basic system that rewards the player for eliminating foes without being discovered and serves up a variety of tools to make that easier, such as being able to throw coins to lure in unsuspecting guards. This combat has been designed to favour the enemy when Fox is found, as Fox can be easily killed, and will need to use bandages or the sparsely-found medkits to either stop bleeding or recover health. As the story progresses, Fox will have to discover ways to defeat a range of other enemies without falling victim himself, including by fixing up a flamethrower from various pieces of junk, which does make for quite an entertaining gameplay system where exploration is equally important to success.
I will say that the system that only rewards the player with experience when killing unaware enemies can be frustrating to deal with. It doesn't matter whether you take down an enemy without them alerting the others, if they see Fox coming in any sense, you won't be rewarded with XP for the kill, which does make leveling up a complete hassle. Thankfully, leveling doesn't really do a lot, aside from unlocking new abilities for Fox, such as being able to punch faster or harder. They're useful abilities, but hardly crucial.
Yet with this being said, UnMetal is across the board a genuinely fun game. Between the narrative drenched in satirical humour and the action-packed gameplay, there's really not a lot that hampers this experience. Considering UnMetal is also quite the formidable game, taking a good 8-10 hours to blast through, not accounting for the collectibles and secrets that can be discovered along the way. Match all of this up with some pretty solid pixel graphics, and you get a title that is surprisingly one of the better indie games of the year.