The concept of the “uncanny valley” refers to the idea of a robot or android of some sort bearing a near-identical figure to that of a human being, to the point of disturbing or disgusting the person seeing it. It is a strange but somehow comprehensible notion that Cowardly Creations’ latest title explores via a pixel-art horror adventure which succeeds in some aspects and falls short in others.
Woah, hey there.
Uncanny Valley places you in the shoes of Tom, a regular young man who’s taken a job as a security guard in a now-abandoned industrial facility out in the middle of nowhere because he needs the money. So he packs his bags and goes to a snowy remote place to work nights. Sounds familiar? Indeed, there were some clear nods to other works like The Shining which make the game’s introduction pretty interesting and helps set the mood.
It’s a drag but someone’s gotta do it.
Tom suffers from night terrors which make him a target to these strange shadowy figures after falling asleep. This means the action is split between exploring the facility and the nearby apartments while he’s working and dealing with his nightmares once he goes to bed or falls asleep wherever he his.
Uncanny Valley’s storytelling is mainly environmental, as you have free access to most computers on the plant and can read emails as you go around trying to make sense of the exchanges between the former employees. There are also a handful of cassette tapes for you to find which contain portions of strange interviews in different stages of the plant’s activity.
Uncanny Valley’s storytelling is mainly environmental
Soon you’ll get the sense that something didn’t go quite right here and, of course, machines are involved.
There’s a lot of stuff to find in the game.
Where Uncanny Valley exceeds is its methodically eerie atmosphere. After a rampant introductory sequence, the game takes its time in letting you figure out just where you are, what this plant used to be and why there’s no one around anymore.
This is another example of just how scary pixels can become when the style is used properly and even with some low-res background textures here and there, the gore, sound design and lighting make this 2D side-scroller more immersive than many 3D horror titles out there.
The brief but fleshed-out NPC encounters also serve to build on the game’s mood over time and provide you with small pieces of context to help you progress.
This is another example of just how scary pixels can become when the style is used properly
The game’s atmosphere doesn’t rely on jumpscares
The game warns you right off the bat that it is designed around multiple playthroughs, seeing as there are many different ways to go about the several nights you’ll spend in its locales. Indeed, I saw my first ending after just around 40 minutes but felt that I clearly hadn’t seen all that much.
Having said that, in a way I ended up feeling this was also the game’s biggest flaw. While it is ultimately satisfying to discover different endings to Tom’s story, the lack of checkpoints after death means I had to restart the whole game over and over again, getting tired of all the same early events and witnessing them lose their creepy vibe completely.
What had once been tense and scary was now a reflection of frustration and repetitiveness, making the solid world and character building feel pointless.
(…) the lack of checkpoints after death means I had to restart the whole game over and over again
What’s more, some of the puzzles required to actually progress enough in the game in order to reach alternative events could use some sort of guidance – be ready to dig very deep in the environment and strain yourself if you want to figure out how to unlock certain things and open others whilst avoiding what is almost always certain death.
In the end, what should have been a short and sweet experience overstayed its welcome by a mile and had me sighing throughout its first few minutes way too many times.
This first reference was great… until the 5th or 6th time
As for performance, the game ran without a hitch on PS4 but did drop the framerate quite badly on the Vita, particularly during outside sequences. I couldn’t get why the game would suddenly crawl so much when said environments weren’t even cluttered or full of moving objects. Even so, these were brief moments and I still preferred to pick it up on handheld and look for another ending until I felt like putting it on hold again. Either way, there is Cross-Buy functionality here, so you get to decide which platform suits you best.
A few areas posed performance issues on Vita.
Uncanny Valley succeeds in its mission to provide a methodically eerie atmosphere, creepy characters and an isolated location to thoroughly explore. It does, however, shoot itself in the foot by not providing mid-way restarts and making players repeat the same early sequences over and over again in search of the different endings. For a game which happily states it’s meant to be replayed a few times over, letting its fantastic early impressions melt into frustration is beyond my comprehension. The game has already been patched once or twice, so here’s hoping it eventually gets some revision in order to tackle that main issue.
Aside from that, slowly uncovering Uncanny Valley’s creepy story and dealing with its characters in different ways can be very engaging and, with the help of a guide or a bigger brain than mine, this can become a worthwhile adventure for horror fans everywhere.
Note: this review was based on a copy provided by the developer