A Joke 34 Years In The Telling
HIGH The compass gag is an all-time great joke.
LOW A key item disappeared from my inventory and I had to restart the level.
WTF Need Choloroform? Just mix a bottle of Chloro and a bottle of Form!
How must UnMetal look to someone who hasn’t been gaming for decades? If someone hasn’t been around long enough to have played Metal Gear on the NES, will this even make any sense at all? While videogames are now a huge industry with deep enough roots to support ultra-niche parodies like this one, does it make sense to create something that will seem like absolute gibberish to the majority of the videogame-buying audience?
UnMetal is, as the title suggests, a parody of Metal Gear, the first game in Hideo Kojima’s famous franchise most commonly known from the NES release in 1988. Parody doesn’t go quite far enough as a descriptor, however, since it’s concerned only with making fun of the franchise’s stranger aspects and weird mechanics, while also recreating the experience of playing that game when it originally came out.
UnMetal‘s visuals are a cleaned-up version of Metal Gear’s — although not that cleaned up. It’s as if someone said ‘what if there had been a PS1 sprite-based remake of Metal Gear?
The game uses a top-down view and levels are divided into discrete screens that move when the player reaches the edge of each one, rather than the smooth scrolling later entries in the series would feature. It’s unashamedly retro. While the last parody from the same developers (UnEpic) used extremely basic sprites, that felt like developers doing the best they could with limited resources. This time, it’s obviously intentional and UnMetal looks exactly the way the developers want it to because it makes their parody all the more effective.
Likewise, UnMetal’s play feels uncannily like the original. The player uses cover to sneak up on soldiers then beats them into submission, searches levels for keycards and files, and then moves on to the next area. Gradually they’ll acquire weapons and gadgets they can use to deal with new traps and enemies. While that sounds like a synopsis of half the videogames ever made, it’s amazing just how perfectly they’ve captured the feel and flow of the original Metal Gear.
That’s not to say UnMetal is simply a rehash, or that it doesn’t do anything new or interesting. It’s a far more complex game than Metal Gear ever was, with more puzzles, fresh mechanics, and a handful of genuinely thrilling and unexpected boss fights. Most importantly, though, it ties its narrative into the gameplay in an innovative and charming way, so that telling the story is part of playing the game.
This brings me to UnMetal’s strongest quality — and that’s saying something, as the game jumps from strength to strength — its story.
Things open with main character Jesse Fox crashing a HIND D helicopter next to a military base where he’s then captured and interrogated. The plot follows Jesse’s increasingly bizarre and fantastical story, parts of which the player literally gets to make up as they go along.
Every new area starts with Jesse standing in what amounts to an empty level editor ready to be filled with textures and props. As Jesse describes the location the details are filled in, although he leaves out key details until he gets to certain areas, at which point his interrogator will ask what he discovered and it’s up to the player to decide just what Jesse found. There are never any wrong answers in these situations. While some scenarios are more difficult to get through than others, they’re always surprising and hilarious, which is exactly what UnMetal is going for.
While it’s technically impeccable and endlessly creative, UnMetal is a comedy game first and foremost. So, while I firmly believe nearly anyone can appreciate and enjoy the gameplay, they won’t love the experience unless they find it funny. This is largely humor of the absurd, with the joke being how absolutely ludicrous the solutions that Jesse finds for each new bizarre obstacle that appears in his path.
There are numerous running gags, some surprisingly filthy jokes, and a couple of bits that are among the funniest things I’ve seen in a game. The framing device also manages to multiply the comedic effect of every situation — it’s one thing for Jesse Fox to battle piranha men in the sewers below a military base, but it’s another for his interrogator to refuse to believe him and then forcing Jesse to dryly explain, step-by-step, just how those monsters ended up down there. Everyone’s sense of humor is different, but the writing here is aimed right at my sensibilities. As such, I’m calling this one of the most successful comedy games of all time, and I’d be comfortable putting it up there with the best Lucasarts had to offer in its heyday.
UnMetal manages to both comment on a classic video game and best it in any number of ways. Kojima’s ultra-serious presentation of bizarre characters and situations is ripe for parody, and many have attempted to do just that, but UnMetal manages to accomplish the task better than any game I’ve seen with great gameplay, brilliantly twisty storytelling, and hilarious comedy. UnMetal succeeds at everything it sets out to do. For anyone familiar with the source material, it’s a masterpiece. For anyone else, it’s merely a fantastic experience that’s not to be missed.
Disclosures: This game is developed by UnEpic and published by Versus Evil. It is currently available on PS4/5, XBO/X/S and PC. Copies of the game were obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS5. Approximately 12 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode. The game was completed.
Parents: This was rated M by the ESRB, and it contains Blood, Strong Language, Violence. It’s probably best if younger teens don’t play this — there’s lots of fairly disgusting humor, and enough innuendo that I’m surprised ‘Sexual Themes’ didn’t turn up in the list of things to be concerned about. Older teens will probably be fine.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played almost the entire game without sound and encountered zero difficulties. All dialogue is subtitled, subtitles cannot be resized. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: Yes, the game’s controls are remappable.