I come back to Unavowed every once in a while. Certain things are like a comfort blanket to me, and this game is one. The urban setting of New York City, especially in the dark and rain, feels familiar to me even without being native to it. The characters are all beings that I enjoy interacting with and have knowledge about magical things that interest me. The mundanity of the setting combined with the fantastical characters and plot lines combine to create my ideal game.
Wadjet Eye Games has been a favorite studio of mine since I first played Gemini Rue, a cyberpunk point and click. The studio was created by Dave Gilbert who always designs, writes, and programs the games, and is one of my favorite Jewish creators. The studio specializes in point and click pixel games, and while I consider several of them my favorites, Unavowed is the standout to me.
Unavowed begins with your character (you choose a name, gender, and career) having a demon exorcised from their body by two people in an exhilarating introduction. After having gone on a murderous rampage for a year, your character remembers nothing that’s happened nor can they go back to their normal life because they would be arrested immediately, so the exorcists offer them a job. Join them: the Unavowed. A group of supernatural investigators and demon hunters with branches around the world.
New York City hasn’t had many supernatural crises in a hundred years, to the point where the group has dwindled to three before you join. None are what they seem at first glance, Mandana (Sandra Espinoza) is a sword-wielding Jinn/human and Eli Beckett (Frank Todaro) is an accountant-turned-Fire Mage. Kalash (SungWon Cho) is the head of the Unavowed, and he’s Mandana’s serious father, a blue, muscular Jinn.
Because of the possession you’ve become void touched, so you can now see what the mundane (non-magical beings) can’t, making you the perfect candidate for tracking down the demon that had possessed you and figuring out their plans. You go around New York City investigating different supernatural mysteries, all the while trying to piece together your past from sporadic flashes of memory. The player and the character both have no idea about their past, which works eerily well at putting you in the character’s shoes for when you are confronted by past victims and start realizing what’s going on.
As you progress in your journey you recruit Logan Brown (Logan Cunningham—yes, the incredible narrator from Bastion), a bestower of eternity. This is someone who sees ghosts and helps them pass on to the afterlife in peace. You’ll recognize Logan’s abilities if you’ve played the Blackwell series, and he, too, is constantly accompanied by a spirit guide. KayKay’s (Violet Young) a ten-year-old girl who loves teasing him and the mobile game Trollgate. You also recruit Vicki Santina (Arielle Siegel, who voices Kathy Rain in the game of the same name), a former police officer, with a very thick Staten Island accent who takes no bullshit.
Unavowed takes inspiration from Bioware’s RPGs in a variety of ways. Your choice in backstory is heavily reminiscent of Dragon Age: Origin‘s, where you get to play different origins based on your race and class, and each career grants you a different ability whether being great at deception or incredibly empathetic. It’s Wadjet Eye’s first game where you get to choose your party (and the first time I’ve encountered such a mechanic in a point and click). Depending on whom you take with you, puzzles and solutions are created and avoided. You even get to hear banter between the characters as you walk around, a favorite feature of mine from Bioware, but also rare in point and clicks.
Each mystery is almost a self-contained episode, you’ll only put the overarching puzzle together at the end. The mysteries start off banal and end up more complex and frightening than at first glance. The puzzles are intricate, often made clear through deductive reasoning, but a handful are a bit more difficult in classic adventure game style. I struggled figuring out the passcode for an elevator for quite a bit of time until I gave up and used a walkthrough, but that wasn’t the norm thankfully.
At the end of each mystery is a difficult choice, with the pros and cons laid before you, but here they feel more high stakes than other games that advertise choice. While adventure games are often narrative heavy, adding these extra elements of customization and decisionmaking make Unavowed on another plane of existence. Their previous games had toyed with the idea of replayability where the overall ending could change, but you’re not going to necessarily replay something just to change the final five minutes. This is the first game to hold true with new things to discover upon each playthrough from beginning to end.
All the characters are voiced except your character (à la Dragon Age: Origins), each having life breathed into them through their backstories that you get to uncover as you progress. The voice acting by everyone in the game is superb as is usual for the studio. Gilbert has been making a name for himself in the world of voice direction in Wadjet Eye’s games and other adventure games like Kathy Rain, Whispers of a Machine, and Technobabylon.
As expected from Gilbert, the writing is impeccable. In the game’s commentary, he says how writing dialogue is his favorite thing, and it’s clear how much care is put into every word. Even the descriptions when you hover over items and backgrounds are grounded in realistic details. Each character you encounter is fascinating, making you want to talk to them forever. Over time you can grow closer to your companions and learn things they may not feel comfortable discussing on their first day of knowing you. Each has a past, their own traumas and desires, and the game begs you to discover them.
The art and animation by Ben Chandler is exquisite with its atmospheric locations, utilizing color theory and lighting in interesting ways. It has more detailed pixel work than any games the studio previously made because of the increased pixel resolution. I especially love the character portraits by Ivan Ulyanov, which blend into the game perfectly. The constant rain and music by Thomas Regin fits the noir ambience with ease. It all brings an additional layer of moodiness to the world as you explore the five boroughs: the Bronx, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan.
Unavowed asks you to look beyond the veil and see what is ignored even when in plain sight. We all have the capacity for kindness, and sometimes the most important thing you can do is leave the world better than you left it.