At an old job of mine, I was the last to leave in the evening. It was in a creaky old building, which I had to lock up and turn the lights out in. All fine in summer, but as things got darker, irrational fear took over. The light switches were at the opposite end of the building, so I’d have to turn the lights out and then get to the exit in the dark. It was the mundanity of the task that let my imagination took hold, and I ended up all but sprinting through the building to get out in the middle of December. Collided with a door once, that was embarrassing.

Anyway, Uncanny Valley sets you up with a similar sense of the mundane and solitary, which is a good recipe for the mind games it intends to play. You’re a security guard with apparently nothing much to secure; a long dormant research facility is your beat, and all you have to do is make sure it doesn’t get picked apart before it’s either sold or demolished. It’s all in real time; walk from your apartment to the facility, wander around the upper floors (don’t go near the lower ones), finish your shift, go home, go to bed, have terrible nightmares.

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Ah, yes, the nightmares. These playable dream sequences tell the back story of your character, a man running from the mob after witnessing a murder he wasn’t supposed to. If it wasn’t for the meddling criminals, you could make your way through Uncanny Valley with absolutely nothing happening at all, the creepy things likely lurking in the lower levels staying there. The involvement of the toughs means like it or not, what lies beneath will work its way to the fore sooner or later.

As the title of the game suggests, the really sinister element here is less the crowbar equipped baddies, and more artificially intelligent and robotic in nature. You can find out more about what happened in the facility in the same way you always do in these games; email logs and cassette and VHS tapes. Why so analogue in a game set in the present day? All the better to irritate you, my dear, as for every tape you find, you have to trek to a different floor to reach the stereo to chuck it in. Still, the logs are refreshingly well written, and the voice acted tapes are intriguing, their crisp audio quality being incongruous with the game’s pixel art in a way that adds to the sense of unease if anything.

They also contain hints to puzzles that are completely optional in nature. Indeed, much of Uncanny Valley is optional in nature. The game pushes you along in certain regards; you can’t just spend the entire length of the game in bed. Other than that though, you have a remarkable sense of agency in the game’s couple of hours or so, leading to multiple endings, and demanding several play throughs to make sense of anything.

Number 57: The naughty bits... of a murderous android.

Number 57: The naughty bits… of a murderous android.

Want to murder your lazy co worker? You can. Figure out how to gain access to those sinister lower levels ahead of time? Have at it. Barge down the doors of other rooms in the deserted dormitory you stay in? Even steal a car from the facility lot and try to ditch the game altogether? There’s contingencies in the game for nearly every scenario, which makes for an interesting experience. Uncanny Valley rewards you for pushing and trying to break its rules.

Doing so, however, creates narrative inconsistencies that depending on your mindset either in- or deflate enthusiasm somewhat. There’s a thrill to be found in heading in certain directions on a second play through, knowing then what you know now, and getting ahead of things even though there’s no logical reason why your character should know the passcode or key locations for safes and doors. By the same token however, it’s hard to approach successive plays when, unless you head into the game heavily spoiled, your first play is almost guaranteed to feel incomplete and unsatisfying. Uncanny Valley openly states from the outset it’s intended for multiple plays, but if you have a weak first ending the couple of hours of the game is perhaps just a hair too long to expect players to try again and get to the real meat of the experience.

There are frustrations with the way the game handles as well, especially on console. Its interface is an awkward cludge of directly controlled walking and a thankfully small inventory that has been shifted wholesale from requiring a PC mouse. On the few occasions where the game requires rapid motion, Uncanny Valley frustrates, and controls are hugely awkward; x interacts with items but R1 picks them up, as well as advances through dialogue that doesn’t adapt itself to the camera view, so that you have to walk forward a few steps to read every word in a conversation.

It’s undeniably rough and awkward in a few places, but Uncanny valley’s charm is undeniable, and its ambition when it comes to storytelling considerable. As a narrative experiment alone, it’s worthy of a recommendation, albeit hesitantly so.

KAIJU VERDICT
2/4 Pops: Decent There might be problems that mount up and prevent it from being a top tier game, or it might not do enough to quite make it stand out, but a 2 can still be an enjoyable experience that the curious should try.
PS4 version tested.
Review code supplied by Cowardly Creations/Digerati.

About The Author

Gamer, Educator, Writer of Stuff, wrestler of professionals (sometimes)