Horror, when done right, can be a truly wonderful thing to behold - especially in the interactive realm of video games. Find the right mechanics, marry them to a setup that sells its dark heart, and find a balance that doesn’t undersell or dilute its scares and building sense of dread. Uncanny Valley comes close in so many ways to nailing this formula, but its nightmarish potential is often undone by some odd design decisions.
Things start off well. Too well, perhaps. You’re Tom, a man looking to put a little distance between himself and his past. With the added need to gather some much-needed cash, Tom decides to kill two pixel art birds with one pixel art stone by taking a security job looking after the site of a robotics firm in the middle of nowhere. But Tom is haunted by some rather eldritch dreams, where he explores a seemingly empty city while being shadowed by creatures of pure shadow.
These dreams help break up Cowardly Creations’ two-to-three hour-long survival horror, and for the first half of the game, it comes together with a real sense of palpable fear. As a night watchman, you’ll explore the 8-bit-style floors of Melior, and with only a few condensed in-game hours to do so, it soon becomes clear there’s more to this job than meets the eye. Why did all the employees suddenly clear out? What lies beneath the facility in the sublevels? And how does it tie into your increasingly unhinged nightmares?
Uncanny Valley clearly wants to rekindle the purity of an old school survival horror, mixing in the occasional puzzle and moment of action. You can see the DNA of Clock Tower and the original Resident Evil here, but it never lets either of these genres dilute the simple pleasure of exploring the silent halls of a facility as something terrible slowly unfurls itself. However, while the game is careful to avoid over-egging its own pudding, it still manages to undo much of its own hard work as a result.
The first half of the game keeps you on your toes by limiting the amount of time you can explore your new workplace while on your rounds - and you’ll even pass out from exhaustion if you snoop for too long without returning to bed. But then, for seemingly no reason, Uncanny Valley drops the time restraints and just lets you explore untethered as it rushes to reveal the true nature of its story. That shift in parameters would have been a much bigger issue had this been a much longer game, but it’s an odd choice nonetheless.
That compact length does serve a purpose, though. Each decision you make in the game - from which floors you explore first to how long you engage in conversations with the handful of NPCs you encounter - all coalesce to lead you down various (and almost always grisly) narrative paths. Non-linear stories can often lead to some interesting and systemic moments, but Uncanny Valley’s sense of freedom (especially later on when you’re not limited by time) too often leads you to rapidly advance the plot, with large chunks of story left unresolved.
That sense of consequence does bring a thrilling sense of reality to an otherwise fantastical premise. As you push further and further into Melior’s secrets, there’s a good chance you’ll end up injuring yourself. These maladies will affect how fast you can move, and how mobile you can ultimately be. Hurt yourself too much and you’ll either die or find yourself unable to guide Tom to the next objective. It’s in these moments you’ll appreciate the relatively short run time of each playthrough.
The problem is it isn’t very hard to work out the mystery behind Uncanny Valley’s horror - with so many cassette tapes to collect and PC terminals to read, even the most lackadaisical of investigators can piece together what’s to come. When paired with the non-linear approach to connecting plot points, you’re left with a game that squanders much of the dread it tries so hard to build.
Uncanny Valley’s desire to hark back to the simpler days of survival horror is commendable, especially in those early moments where you’re flitting between abstract nightmares and a security job that feels increasingly isolated. However, the sheer openness of its non-linear plot means it’s all too easy to jump large sections of the story as you stumble on one of the game’s secrets too early on. Still, with a strict consequence-based system that rewards and punishes you in equal measure, Uncanny Valley has a lot of potential. It’s just a shame it doesn’t fully live up to it.
Score seems about right. Saw this in the eShop and was reminded of old flash horror games from the days of Newgrounds and Miniclip like One Chance.
Falls in line with its average review scores on other platforms so nothing unexpected. This one's gonna have to be a pass for me.
Lone survivor on the switch would be more ideal. Its an amazing side scrolling love letter to silent Hill.
I thought Home was my favorite game like this.
Often, there will come a point in certain NL written reviews where (having usually not even bothered to see who the reviewer is prior to reading) I'll come across a couple of very strange and awkwardly phrased sentences (often with word choices that come across as being in some way unintuitive) - at which point my inner voice will say, "I bet this is a Dom review." - and then, when I go up to the top to look, I'm never wrong.
She’s a pretty game... but just too easy to get to second and third base. Really spoils the whole experience for it. ...
So, uh, I “beat” the game in less than 30 minutes. I guess I found a way to get to one ending much faster than I expected. While the game encourages multiple playthroughs, my first go-around made me not want to. The game starts off slow and kept me curious and excited to see what would happen as a security guard alone in such a huge, abandoned complex. Instead, all of a sudden the “real” world and Tom’s nightmares interwine and it felt like a jumbled, confusing mess that ends abruptly because I unknowingly skipped 99% of the game and found a way to finish it simply by doing some general exploring I do in any game I play. In a matter of 30-40 minutes, I finished the game in one sitting, feeling dissatisfied and unmotivated to do another playthrough because of it.
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