Unmechanical: An organic puzzle experience

August 30, 2012

Quality or quantity? That’s a more divisive question than you would expect, and a number of games are made each year that appeal to those who prefer each answer. Unmechanical is the kind of game that definitely prefers quality, and that’s a great thing. It’s only about a four-hour game, but any attempt to make it longer would be a detriment to the whole package.

Unmechanical is a physics-based puzzle game with a simple premise that allows a vast array of puzzles to be solved, from simple ones involving removing blockages to complex ones featuring bombs, lasers, switches and requiring good timing. You’ll control a small robot that can hover and pick up objects using a tractor beam and is trying to escape from an underground complex of caverns and passageways that you were sucked into.

The game design is completely minimalist in a way that makes the entire experience a lot more organic. At the beginning of the game, a couple of thought bubbles will show up implying that you should move around and try to pick things up. After that, there’s never any other non-environmental prompts, text or explanations. And you know what? There’s no need for them. Exploration and experimentation will tell you everything you need to know to solve each puzzle, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to permanently mess up any of them.

For instance, during an early puzzle, you’ll learn that you can pull on red handled switches and get things to happen. In the next room, you’ll find a bunch of background lightbulbs next to grey switches and a red one in the middle of them all. The door at the end of the room is closed, so you’ll know you need to do something. Pull the red switch and the bulbs will flash in a random sequence. Pull the switches next to them and a circuit lights up. You can see two more unlit circuits under it, so just from looking around you can tell you should repeat those steps a couple more times to activate all the circuits and move on.

No two puzzles seem to use the same solution, though all of them will use some or all of the techniques and logic you’ve been taught eventually, with many having multiple solutions available. Everything is obviously planned out with exacting precision, which is impressive given that physics puzzlers seem to tend more toward disorder and chaos as a result of unanticipated player interactions.

Unmechanical uses Unreal Engine 3 for its graphics and physics, and it definitely shows. The graphic design lends itself well to the hues that Unreal is known for, and everything is sharp and detailed. When you go underwater, you even get a blurring visual effect which adds to the graphical immersion you’ll feel.

If Unmechanical has any problems at all, it’s that some may not appreciate the suddenness of its ending. There’s no cues or understanding that you’re about to finish the game until suddenly you have. Personally, I rather like that. Shoving a “boss puzzle” into the game would have ruined the flow and feeling of the game. There’s also a couple of puzzles where you can accidentally trap yourself by wedging things in places they shouldn’t go and blocking off any ability to move, though it’s a very rare occurrence and, unless you do something stupid like I was doing, it really shouldn’t happen to you.

While Unmechanical is a short game, don’t let that keep you from getting it. It’s not any shorter than Limbo, and fills a similar niche in its own genre.

This game was provided for review by GOG.com.

Pros: diverse puzzles, detailed designs, minimalist design, short but sweet
Cons: Can get stuck, but only through your own faults

Score: 5/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.