Unravel Review Impressions

February 16, 2016 by Adam Barnes

Is EAs shot at the indie market all in a tangle?

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the days of EA’s risk-taking are long gone. It’s been years since we’ve seen the publisher brave new ventures such as Dead Space or Mirror’s Edge and - if not for Unravel - you might even expect to never see such risks again.

Because - sure - Unravel might be an indie game in an industry that’s currently awash with them, and - sure - Unravel might ‘only’ be a platformer and therefore arguably the easiest genre to get right, but it’s such a fresh change for the company that it’s worth celebrating.

Most will remember Unravel from its antsy developer reveal at E3 last year, and those who witnessed it saw passion, excitement and even nerves. There was an honesty to Unravel’s reveal that none were used to seeing during an EA conference.

Why ramble on about all this? Well, because it’s a good analogy for Unravel as a game too. While it’s not the most original game out there - at least in terms of mechanics - it’s certainly special enough to make it a worthwhile experience.

The main reason for this is Yarny, the charming woolen hero that featured so heavily at the game’s reveal. He is your avatar through which you’ll jump, swing and even fly through the world, but he’s so much more than that.

He’s the connection to the character that created him, he is a journey, he is love personified. It might sound a bit pretentious to apply such metaphysical concepts to an animated inanimate object, but then that’s the point.

Unravel is Yarny’s journey, and also yours. Though it doesn’t conjure up the same intensity of emotions as thatgamecompany’s Journey, Unravel at least manages to earn itself a comparison - and that alone is impressive.

There’s much more of a traditional game here than there was in Journey, with puzzles involving the bright red yarn that’ll trail after each step. You’ll need to figure out how to bypass obstacles by using your string, crafting catapults, creating pulley systems and even hooking onto kites for temporary bursts of flight.

It’s fairly straightforward, and won’t surprise anyone who’s played a puzzle platformer in the last decade. That’s not to discredit the game, as many of its puzzles are curious things - perhaps even challenging for newcomers - and will keep you intrigued as you play, but there’s little that you won’t have seen before.

What really moves things along is the game’s fantastic game world. It’s detailed and gorgeous, with a whimsical, airy, ambient soundtrack and helps to make proceedings feel all the more impactful.

But the element that most tugs at the heartstrings is Yarny’s literal connection to his home, that trail of red caught up on nails and stones and anything else you might tie it to. There’s a limit to how far you can go, and when you reach that point there’s a sad realization that you weren’t quite as careful as you needed to be.

It isn’t overused, but this element shows up enough to emphasize that sense of adventure and even personal growth. That’s ultimately what stands out the most about Unravel.

So the game might not be the most original or even the most inventive, but it provides an emotional expedition. It isn’t so much about the gameplay itself but the beauty of its construction.

This is a game built with creativity, with love and with a determination to make something feel special, and those titles are few and far between. It’s obvious that EA’s guiding hand has stayed its course here, and the team at Coldwater have been given the freedom to walk their own course. There’s a kind of love in that, obvious in Yarny’s own fuzzy complexion.

Adam Barnes is a freelance writer who spends most of his free time playing Mario Kart 64, simply because it was the last time he remembered ever having the reflexes to actually win a videogame. Having written for a wide range of publications - Zam among them - his appetite for gaming is voracious, taking on anything that might offer a new, refreshing experience.