Reviews - Updated on April 15, 2022

Last year’s Unpacking received a lot of positive feedback and was named Game of the Year on multiple sites. But her most unexpected achievement is the victory in the nomination “Best Storytelling” at the last BAFTA Games Awards. The British Academy often makes unusual decisions – suffice it to recall that the game of the year in 2017 was called What Remains of Edith Finch instead of Zelda. But what is it about the Unpacking storyline that Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, It Takes Two and Psychonauts 2 lacked?

Attention: there are many spoilers in the text!

Whole life

According to the creative director of the project, Wren Brier, the idea for a game about unpacking boxes came to her and her other half when they were doing the same thing after moving. The name Unpacking fully corresponds to the content – we find ourselves in different apartments, where boxes are placed in each room. We open them, take out objects from there and arrange or lay them out.

There are no dialogues and comments (except for short phrases after the complete completion of each unpacking), which is not surprising – every second indie game does without words and explanations. What’s interesting is how exactly Unpacking tells the story through the environment. We never see the main character, but by the end we seem to know everything about her, as the developers describe her biography from an early age.

How Unpacking tells an amazing story without words

The technique corresponds to the periods: in the nineties, Tamagotchi were popular, and in the early 2000s, most monitors looked like this.

The first apartment is a kind of training. We are transported to 1997 and find ourselves in a children’s room – a bed with a ladder, a lot of toys, a personal diary with a lock. The more things you get out of the boxes, the better you get to know the heroine. Here is her soccer ball, and here is a golden goblet with a ball on top. Obviously, she was fond of football and even achieved success. You dig further and find a sketchbook, and then a set of pencils, an eraser and a ruler. Many children love to draw – nothing special.

A logical question arises: why force the player to take items out of the boxes and arrange them, if it is enough to show the finished room, where the player himself would see everything? The answer is simple – I wouldn’t see it. Every thing matters, and this is not a dozen items – in some apartments you arrange almost a hundred things. And you pay attention to each object: you take it out, examine it to understand what it is, and choose a place for it. Therefore, you involuntarily remember everything that you touched.

How Unpacking tells an amazing story without words

The beginning of an artist’s career.

Thanks to this, with each subsequent move, you understand what the heroine took with her and what was in the boxes for the first time. The most symbolic thing is a toy pig, a kind of talisman that the character never parted with. This is one of the few items that changes over time – in the first apartment it is a brand new toy, later it breaks in a couple of places, and at the end of the game a patch appears on it.

Other things are important too. The figurines brought from other countries are especially funny – first it is a red bus from the UK, then the Eiffel Tower joins it, and then the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Nowhere does it directly say that the heroine traveled, but it is obvious – if she ordered figurines on the Internet, she would not stretch it out for years.

Interests also change. The heroine forgets about her football past quite quickly, but drawing becomes the most important part of her life, and it is fascinating to watch her creative path. Either she will buy a wooden figurine, capable of standing up in different poses, or she will get a graphics tablet. In the middle of the game, you suddenly take out an easel from the box: is the girl really disappointed in the art of digital drawing? But after a couple of minutes you find the same tablet, and even a printer. And you hang more and more framed pictures on the wall.

How Unpacking tells an amazing story without words

First, it is better to scatter things somehow, and then arrange them as they should – if, of course, you care about it.

Gameplay is important

Unpacking does not allow you to put items anywhere: clothes should be in the closet, all kinds of shampoos and towels in the bathroom, and books cannot be scattered throughout the apartment. When you have taken everything out of the boxes, a red frame appears around some things, which means you need to find better places for them.

In one of the episodes, the girl moves in with a musician guy. If in other situations the shelves and cabinets are more or less empty, then at this level it becomes more difficult to find where to put things. Problems do not arise with anything, except for the frame in which, judging by the medal drawn on it, a letter is placed. In past apartments, I hung it in the most visible place – but here, no matter where I tried to hang it, nothing worked, and they were not allowed to simply put it on the table. But as soon as the letter was stuffed under the bed, the red frame disappeared.

It seems to be a simple, but extremely effective technique, showing how short-lived these relationships will be. So, when in the next apartment it becomes obvious that the couple broke up, you are not surprised. However, the romance with the musician did not become a waste of time for the heroine – if she brought a ukulele with her to that place, then after parting she acquired a self-instruction manual. This is clear from the cover of one of the books – it is quite rare to understand what is depicted on them, but here the developers clearly wanted to convey this to the player.

How Unpacking tells an amazing story without words

By some covers, you can understand what genre of books the heroine is interested in.

That’s how Unpacking is built: items you interact with all the time can be connected to each other so nicely that they tell whole stories. They don’t even have to reappear – the fact that there was no place for something in a dozen boxes already says a lot. And an increase in the number of things indicates growing up and an increasingly independent life. For example, at a young age, the heroine does not enter the kitchen at all, in the first separate apartment she manages with a toaster and a frying pan, and closer to the finale, the kitchen increases significantly in size – there are a lot of seasonings, and a board with a rolling pin appears, and all sorts of pots with thermoses and measuring glasses.

The final levels are especially good, because after the first unsuccessful experience, the girl finds a new partner. This time she was more fortunate, but she needs to lay out things not only her own, but also those of others. If earlier I used to put one toothbrush at the sink or in a drawer, now there are two of them, and stuff like that. There is a special romance in this when it is you who is trusted with this process and you do not need to consult with anyone.

How Unpacking tells an amazing story without words

In the kitchen, I want to see order, at least in the drawers.

“Narrative through environment” is a very old phrase, and many developers have demonstrated their understanding of this term. Games in the immersive sim genre are almost entirely built on this idea, but often rely on notes, audio diaries, and emails left on computers. Projects like Life is Strange cannot do without the ability to listen to the character’s comments about each interactive object. Big-budget games often place a lot of emphasis on the environment, but the dialogue and action are essential, which is what keeps the average gamer at the screen.

Unpacking can afford to strip away everything superfluous and give the player a chance to understand for himself what kind of story the authors are trying to tell. In the end, she succeeds brilliantly. Does this mean that the storytelling in Unpacking is better than the rest of the games from last year? Not necessary. But winning the BAFTA is more than understandable – it is at least an unusual approach and a cool experiment worthy of praise. And if you’re lucky, the game will also inspire other developers to explain less and show more.

Similar content:

Darksiders III: Review

Reviews • 10/04/2022

Darksiders III is probably one of the most controversial major games of this year. Her ratings range from “An obsolete lack of ideas suffering ...

Alfred Hitchcock — Vertigo Review & Gameplay

Reviews • 27/03/2022

Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” is considered one of the cult director’s best works – 846 critics put it in first place in the list of ...

Crystals Review & Guide

Reviews • 31/03/2022

The authors of Cris Tales call their brainchild a love letter to classic Japanese role-playing games. Although this project is not Japanese, but Colombian. ...

Battle Royale in Fallout 76 is suddenly fun

Reviews • 09/04/2022

Since the announcement of Fallout 76, it has been the object of ridicule and malicious jokes, and when the game came out and someone ...