Have 8-bit graphics lost their charm? Are we at that point yet where society has rejected them like the polygonal monstrosities of the PlayStation era? I don’t think so and they’ll always hold a special little spot in the pixelated corner of my heart. I had the pixels surgically implanted. I’m in constant pain….
Moving on, Uncanny Valley is a new little twist where that visual style is set against an organic adventure-type experience. Something like this definitely happened in Lone Survivor, but this is a far more secluded, contained experience to where your simple actions are all you really have. Think a traditional Telltale game mixed with Lone Survivor with a dash of Heavy Rain in there. A lot of actions have a lot of ramifications, and you’re not going to be made privy to any of the branches you can and cannot take.
That induces a natural state of paranoia that I consider psychological mastery that’s been missing from a lot of the bigger scary-person projects in the games industry. You naturally second-guess your uses of time or resources when you’re told, and shown, that they matter beyond the velvet curtain. One of my favorite experiences in Uncanny Valley took me to credits within 5 minutes of starting just because I tried something random. It was a fantastic encapsulation of exactly what I feel is missing from games like those Telltale makes: rewards for hopping the rails.
The story presented starts both wickedly and with strength, the artistic angle offering a creepy portend. Sadly, the game never goes to that ominous build. From that beginning springs a more mundane tale that flows well enough but never feels as close to derangement as the hook promises. Those legitimate effects on plot can take you down one of several paths with a small crew of characters worked in or out, but all of them suffer from the same symptoms. Across all the structures, everything feels rushed to fit into what is an hour of single-session game length, which can accordion depending upon your curiosity.
Now visually, I’m as sold as you can get with this style. All of the animations are fluid with subtle breathing and movement touches, and the spades of gore are delivered with a visceral friction that you wouldn’t think possible given the graphics. There’s a fair amount of light and shadow play that sells busier environments in the later scenes, to which I sincerely recommend you visit. The entire screen feels zoomed in, which I think helps a great deal with the paranoia cocktail you’re served at that stellar opening. You feel tension gather as enemies come at you and unprepared when all you have to your name is a set of keys. The sounds are intentionally sparse and echoed to magnify the mountain setting, making later game encounters feel all the more ingrained into the paranoia front.
Uncanny Valley is not a combat-heavy experience, nor is it one your thumbs will have to stick to long in order to experience the majority of its existence. I wish it had been stretched a little to play more with the hidden systems that don’t really have time to establish before scene changes have to happen to keep pace with the clock. Even still, the retro-inspired artistry in motion here beats with a strong heart that can push you back into the dark depths a time or two.
Uncanny Valley Score: