There’s something oddly fascinating about surreal and quirky virtual reality (VR) puzzle adventures. While some like FORM try to keep things grounded with a loose sci-fi narrative that makes some tangible sense, there are others like Marslit Games’ new offering Unknown Fate that just continually leave you confused. ‘I don’t understand what’s going on’ remarks the character early on, and that’s pretty much how it stays.
You are truly thrust into Unknown Fate without being given a clue as to what the hell is going on or if there’s a narrative at all. While it’s easy to see visual cues from such works as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland due to items like oversized cassette tapes and other abnormal objects, Marslit Games has gone for a much darker tone, even more so than Carbon Studio’s ALICE.
This is a world where you’re given few clues as to its purpose, a cornucopia of Tim Burton-esque jutting landmasses to wander round and through. The level design can be quite elaborate and arresting at points yet there is notable repetition that starts to detract from the bizarreness. And while suitably comfortable for all players, having no other option but to teleport seems like a wasted opportunity to really feel immersed in this world.
There’s a real lack of depth and confinement to each area once you start to explore. Unknown Fate is a linear experience that doesn’t let you go too far off the beaten track. You’re encouraged to search – there are glowing red gem-like objects to collect – but when you start to find nooks and passageways you come across something else, blankness. It’s far too easy to teleport into a wall or a rock, suddenly finding your vision blacked out. This can be quite jarring, especially when regaining sight and centring yourself.
Unknown Fate tries to mix in both puzzle and action elements yet it’s the former that certainly has more prominence and works slightly better. None of the puzzles are what you’d call taxing, generally revolving around looking for hidden plinths to activate, or moving platforms around with a special glowing orb device. This device has several modes, most easily described as attacking and puzzle solving. On the combat side you’re given an option to blind enemies then shoot them with balls of light. This is very much one of the weaker elements in Unknown Fate as the weird creatures you encounter – there’s only one sort – just charge you and knock you back if you don’t kill them in time. Sometimes there can even be two or three of them which ups the intensity level to ‘why were they put here?’
There’s a lot of walking (teleporting) in Unknown Fate, especially in the first 30 – 40 minutes where there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot going on. Then the story slowly begins to unfold and you get little hints surrounding the character. These mostly come in short black and white memory fragments, some of which you can interact in. Now we’re not talking B&W old timey imagery here, with nice grey tones throughout. This is harsh pure black and pure white, max contrast visuals which can get a little bit too much at points.
Unknown Fate isn’t one of these pickup and play mobile titles for a quick 20-30 minutes of gameplay, this needs patience. Mainly to unlock the story so you can figure out what’s going on but also because it’s not exactly content rich – some elements are spaced out. There’s some lovely design work at play between the audio and visuals but it’s debatable whether that’s enough to see you through the 4+ hours of gameplay available.