There’s something to be said about “irony.” And as a trope, it’s one of the hardest to master. Perhaps that is, in itself, ironic — or not. So what’s the point of this quick English 101 lesson that far too many individuals improperly use? It’s rather simple: It’s the basis for the game Unepic.
Unepic follows Daniel, a stereotypical straight late-20-something nerd. He likes and knows all things that a “good nerd” should know: tabletop role-playing games, esoteric card games, various video games, finds pleasure in the red light district and identifies as an atheist. During his weekly D&D (Dungeon and Dragons) game, he goes to the bathroom and mysteriously ends up in a massive castle on top of a haunted mountain. Within minutes, he gets possessed by an evil ghost and attempts to kill him. Unfortunately for the ghost, he can’t control Daniel because he has no faith in ... well, anything. Plus, Daniel thinks this is one big hallucination. So is this really a bad acid trip or an actual adventure into another realm?
And it’s that tension between those two poles that make help make the game so darn compelling. Unepic is rich in traditional and dramatic irony. We know what Daniel is going through is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, but it’s just a joke to him. The same can be said for us, the players: Here is a game that distracts us from life and is wholly entertaining.
OK, enough philosophy. What’s this game like? Essentially, Unepic is done in the metroidvania style. You explore the castle, beat up tons of monsters, collect loot, level up, allocate skill points and beat the boss for that section. Rinse, lather and repeat until the game is finished. What makes the game different is how much loot is available and how you build Daniel.
The loot element is cool because there are so many different types of enchantments: There are skeleton slaying, health draining, insect slaying, damage enchantments and resistances (to name a few). Heck even the attack strength of a weapon can vary even with the same name! This is correlated to how you build Daniel as there are several different skills and influences how you play the game. There are spells to learn, weapons (axes, swords, daggers, spears, maces, bows and wands) to master, armor to wear and potions to brew. What you use and how you use it all depends on how you allocate the skill points upon leveling. Thus, certain areas are easier for certain builds. For example, maces are needed for skeletons and golems while swords are good with squishy enemies (like orcs).
Graphically, the game looks like an early to midgeneration SNES game with its small protagonist and, occasionally, massive enemies down in smooth pixel style. There are the ever popular goblins and skeletons to hack along with giant snakes that hiss manically at Daniel. Magical spells are somewhat showy — though highly stereotypical with colored lights flashing before some sort of bolt goes flying across the room or protective effect. The rooms are suitably dark and slowly become visible as each candelabra is lit adds a lot of tension. My favorite area is the catacombs with creepy pixelated hands reaching out of the ground and skeletons rising from sarcophagi. Furthermore, the interface is wonderfully clean and intuitive as nearly everything can be hotkeyed.
Sound design wise, everything is rather solid. The main theme that will be heard throughout the castle consists of low-key “bangs” that haunt the atmosphere. Another song is downright mysterious with keyboards going up and down the scales. It’s not the most hummable soundtrack, it is memorable and I can loosely summon the tunes with little thought. The rest of the sound effects are just generic fantasy rumbles, so it’s nothing to write home about on that front.
Ultimately, I cannot help but love Unepic. Unepic’s personality is hard to deny as it is a parody of nearly everything that is considered to be “geeky.” Furthermore, this is one of the best games I’ve played in the past year. It’s absurd and silly and awesomely polished. It’s hard to believe that this game was pretty much made by one man in Spain. So if you love indie games or even action adventure titles, you owe it to yourself to pick this game up. Now.