Comedy video games. This writer's blood runs cold just to think of them. In a medium that sees you define your own pace, how can comedy possibly work without fundamentally transforming the medium from interactive to inert? The comedy and the gameplay are necessarily completely separate and so few games have managed to integrate the two in any truly impressive way just yet. Undertale, perhaps, but there's still a lot of sitting around reading dialogue in that.
UnMetal is... a comedy video game. A parody, if you will, and unfortunately not the Parodius kind. What we've got here is an affectionate ribbing of gaming in general, presented in the guise of a stealth game akin to the original MSX Metal Gear, being a quasi-top-down sorta-stealth game. We say "sorta" because the enemies in UnMetal are dumber than a box of particularly uneducated rocks, but that isn't really the point. In fact, playing this thing barely seems to be the point — it's so fragmented in its style that it almost feels like a minigame collection. You jump from cutscene to marginal exploration to adventure game-style item-combinations to more cutscenes to a shoot-out to... well, you get the idea.
And by saying "comedy game" and describing the whole thing as slapdash, so far we've no doubt made it seem as though UnMetal is a bit crap. But that's the darndest thing of all - it's actually pretty good, by virtue of being — pretty much inarguably — consistently entertaining and surprising.
See, lead character Jessie Fox is a bit on the unreliable side as a narrator so, in a touch that reminded us of Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, scenarios will change based on his half-formed (or simply made-up) memories. A creature will grow extra limbs, a ditch will spring out of nowhere as Jessie tries to justify being unable to reach a boss battle, and every so often the player will be allowed to make a choice that can have amusingly negative effects on a situation for you.
It isn't funny, though. As we say, it's entertaining, but we didn't laugh or even really smirk. The humour here is either very meta or very dumb, and unfortunately not the good kind of dumb. Still, we'd be remiss not to state that humour is, obviously, extremely subjective, so who knows — you might find yourself absolutely doubled over in hysterics at the fully-voiced antics, but we'd be surprised.
Perhaps it works better as a spectator sport. The choices you can make do call to mind Twitch chats and general interaction. Side note: it's quite a culture shock seeing how commonly games are tailored to streaming these days, but that's another article. Somewhere. Presumably.
Anyway, the actual top-down-ish stealth here is entirely serviceable. The game understands quite well that if it's going to be a flick-screen job, it needs to have at least one interesting thing on every screen, and it does. Whether it's a gag, a little stealth puzzle or some interesting visual reveal, UnMetal is a game that could never be accused of lacking in ideas across its 10ish-hour runtime. It's all quite traditional, when you get down to brass tacks; you hide from guards, attract their attention with single thrown coins, strangle them, repeat. Your grace period on being spotted is quite significant so we never really felt in terrific danger, but — again — UnMetal isn't about danger, it's about changing things up consistently. Which it does.
The visuals look a little amateurish, but in a way that's somehow charming rather than just low-quality. Indeed, plenty of care has gone into crafting this world and writing all the dialogue. Dying never sets you back too much and you can skip cutscenes you've already seen simply by holding 'B'. It's very accessible and the constant change-ups to the scenarios did a good job compelling us to keep playing, just to see what would happen next.
UnMetal is a tricky one, really. It doesn't play brilliantly and we didn't really find it funny at all, but it is consistently presenting new and entertaining ideas to complement the core simplistic stealth gameplay, with plentiful genre changes and a metric ton of references, callbacks and metahumour that will definitely appeal to plenty of people. We're old and jaded, though, and we've seen a lot of self-deprecating humour in video games — this stuff goes right back to the likes of the ZX Spectrum, for goodness' sake. Still, we recognise the very clear surplus of enjoyable content that's been crammed into UnMetal and its appeal should not be disregarded simply because we found it a little familiar. It never lets up with the gags, subversions and new sights to see all the way through its surprisingly robust length, and it doesn't forget to make the actual stealth enjoyable to boot. Definitely an impressive effort that assuredly deserves to find an audience.