It’s A Lot To Unpack

HIGH Arranging the bathroom — so satisfying!

LOW The puzzle mechanics are barely used at all.

WTF I can’t believe some people didn’t recognize the GameCube!

There are very few things as stressful as moving. Trying to decide what to leave behind, what to keep, what to pack, how and when… it’s a lot! In fact, studies reveal that moving house is as stressful as going through a divorce. If this is indeed the case, then I am the divorce master and Unpacking is my game.

In Unpacking, the experience is chill and relaxed. The point of play is to go through cardboard boxes full of everyday items via a cursor-like interface, unpack them, and place them around a room, apartment or house. The player will see socks, towels, toiletries, books, and more. There is no time limit, nor there are there any ‘Game Over’ conditions. The only ‘challenge’ is sometimes having to put some things in a precise location, which must be discovered through trial and error.

These minimal gameplay ‘requests’ make sense and the game will signal when a player gets one wrong — a misplaced frying pan will be outlined in red until one figures out that it goes in the kitchen, for instance. Sometimes a bit more than common sense will have to be used — there is one instance where one a placement is used as a narrative mechanic, which I definitely appreciated and could have used more of.

Of course, there’s more to Unpacking than the simple act of moving objects — there’s a narrative that emerges through the various items and living spaces that we will see.

Our main character (who is never seen nor heard since there’s no dialogue) will go through breakups and deal with the past, but it’s not overtly dramatic — it plays out as a very ordinary story, told through (mostly) ordinary household objects. It’s clever, but it also feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.

As stated earlier, there’s only one instance (as far as I know) of specific storytelling via object placement, but I feel as though this (or similar) mechanics could have led to interesting puzzles or perhaps a richer tale. For most of the time, the player is simply unpacking and placing things for a zen-like experience, but little else.

In the end, Unpacking is completely fine. It’s a three or four-hour experience of going through a life via boxes, and the believable, realistic narrative that unfolds. It’s recommended as a nice break from more taxing titles, but I still wish there was much more to… unpack.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Witchbeam and published by Humble Games. It is currently available on PC, Nintendo Switch and Xbox. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 3 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: The game is rated E by the ESRB, and contains no violent or objectionable content. Given the overall themes a teenager might be able to enjoy it more, but I see no reason not to recommend it to an audience of all ages.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available. However, the game also includes a feature to change the color of item outlines when items are in the wrong place. There are also options to zoom in and out and an option to change icon size.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game does not feature spoken or written dialogue, there is only minimal text in menus. (See example below.) This text cannot be altered or resized. Audio is not needed to complete the game. In my view, this is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: The game is controlled via the mouse or, alternatively, the controller (A to lift the item, B to rotate it) or keyboard. The controls are remappable.

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