Reviews

Review | Unpacking

Who doesn’t love moving house?  Well, me for a start.

After deciding that you need a bigger place you pack all of your possessions into boxes, load up a van and transport them to a different four walls.  After emptying the boxes and cluttering up your new gaff, you often wonder why you bothered in the first place. 

Personally, I tend to get rid of most of my possessions when I move house to prevent this scenario from occurring, but that method would make for a very short video game experience.  Witch Beam studio from Brisbane Australia have not only hoarded a lot of toilet rolls (in much reported Australian early pandemic behaviour) in this game, but they may have also created the ultimate unboxing simulator.  Let’s make a house a home in the Xbox Era review of Unpacking.

Following the life of a character we never actually meet; the purpose of the game is to go from residence to residence over many years unboxing the persons belongings and making them fit within her new surroundings.  Starting in a single bedroom we eventually end up in a house with two floors and multiple rooms.  We learn a lot about this individual through the items that have remained in her possession over the years and the ones that she has disposed of along the way.

Gameplay is a meditative experience where you switch from room to room clicking on each packing box and finding a suitable space for each item that appears.  When the box has been emptied of all items it collapses itself with a very satisfying animation.  After all boxes in the new residence have been emptied you can move on to the next abode, but only if you have put all of the items into places that the developer regards as suitable.  If not, items have a red ring around them and you are unable to progress until you have corrected this crime against unpacking.  There are no hard and fast rules about where items have to be placed but where you decide to put them has to make sense.  Leaving a package of ant poison on the kitchen table for example or a kitchen knife in the bath will not be regarded as acceptable.

What on Earth is that?

The game is a kind of time capsule in that the player learns how technology has moved on as this person has grown up.  She starts with a tape player and within a few levels this is replaced by a CD player and as she grows into more refined musical tastes a vinyl record player.  Likewise, we go from placing multiple beloved DVDs such as ’Ghost World’ onto living room shelves to finding most (but not all of these) replaced with smaller Blu Ray discs in the later stages.

Achievements are awarded in a rather hit and miss fashion.  Apart from the ones you get for completing a level many are not signposted at all and are very easy to miss.  You do however also gain stickers along with achievements and these can be used along with an impressive array of filters to take photographs of your completed rooms to cherish forever.  If you are deeply into the experience, you can also marvel over your performance upon level completion with a quick playback function.

Lets acknowledge these things exist

I never imagined that I would be reviewing a game that involved putting away multiple pairs of ‘his and hers’ pants and finding the best home for boxes of feminine hygiene products but it is refreshing to see these types of everyday items being included in the gameplay.  Kudos goes to the developers for this level of normalisation of items that would previously have been considered taboo within gaming.

Occasionally a box will reveal an item in a totally wrong room such as a toasted sandwich maker in a bedroom.  This is just to keep you on your toes as you will not be able to find any suitable storage space in that location and will have to shift between rooms to put it away.  You also have the ability to zoom in on objects to identify what you are holding.  This allowed me to discover that what I thought was a rolled up newspaper and put in a cupboard was actually a poster that I could hang on a wall and free up space in the cupboard for another item. 

Obviously, there is not always a lot of room for unpacked items which creates the block-fitting puzzle aspect of the game.  Pro Tip: Just placing most items on the floor is penalised so don’t even bother trying it.

Ever felt like you are being watched?

It is surprising what I was able to learn during my playthrough just by observing what the character considered to be important to her and kept hold of.  She made a clear progression from a very early interest whilst at school to a related discipline in her career (no spoilers) and I was able to tell she had been through a breakup just by the fact that I was unable to pin a certain picture onto a cork board in one of the bedrooms.

I must admit though that I did wonder on several occasions why she was still lugging the same collection of dust collectors, such as a model of the Leaning Tower of Pisa from house to house as I was sick of unpacking them again and again.  I know that these items tell the story of a life lived and places visited but come on, these ornaments are just so tacky!

Featuring a soundtrack by Jeff van Dyck a BAFTA award-winning composer & audio director the game gently lulls you along on a restful wave of calm.  I was reminded of the soundtrack to the awesome ‘Coffee Talk’ at times and that can only be a good thing. 

This game is chilled, there are no scores or timers and it just exists within its own calm bubble.  If you are looking for that kind of thing you will love this. 

Everyone is welcome here

Where Unpacking really shines is in its Accessibility settings.  In the four areas of Mobility, Vision, Hearing and Cognitive a massive effort has been made to make this experience enjoyable for all gamers.  Deep and clever design obviously went into what looks on the surface like an incredibly simple gaming proposition.

Some examples of this are as follows, No actions require clicking-and-dragging, holding down buttons, or pressing more than one button at a time.  The Room swapping animation can be disabled to avoid motion sickness.  No gameplay cues are delivered exclusively through audio and text is minimal and reading is not required to enjoy and complete the game.

There are too many accessibility items to list here (how refreshing is that?) but they can all be found on the website at unpackinggame.com.

Unpacking is an incredibly accessible, meditative game revolving around room decoration and block-fitting puzzles.  There is no pressure here and the only target is to make each environment a satisfying place for the main character to live.  This may not be the type of game that you usually play but it is well worth checking out, although short sessions of a level at a time may be a good idea due to the repetitive nature of the gameplay.  Being another recent arrival to Xbox Game Pass there really is no reason not to try it. 

Let’s just hope the neighbours are ok, but let’s face it, they never are!

Played on Xbox Series X

Unpacking

7

Great

7.0/10

Pros

  • No time pressures or scores to attain.
  • Thoughtful Accessibility design considerations.
  • A game that you can drop in and out of.

Cons

  • A rather short experience.
  • Achievements can be easily missed.
  • Gameplay can be slightly repetitive.

Harm0nica

Staff Writer & Review Team

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