Unravel is an incredibly strong contender for the title of my favourite game at E3 2015. To think that it’s coming from EA is almost unbelievable, but the partnership between the biggest publisher on the planet and a tiny development house from the north of Sweden has produced something astonishing.
Unravel tells the story of Yarny and his journey to rediscover the memories of an old lady who’s lost touch with her closest friends and family. As Director Martin Sahlin described in the EA press conference, “the yarn, it represents love, and the bonds that we make,” and so too does Yarny himself. Just judging by Sahlin’s demeanour at the EA press conference, Unravel is clearly a deeply personal and important game to both him and the team at Coldwood. And so it should be.
In my behind closed doors presentation, I was told that, although Coldwood had been developing games since 2003, Unravel feels like the first game for the team. I was told it was the first time Coldwood felt it was able to make the game it wanted to make. It shows. Playing Unravel is — without a whiff of hyperbole — otherworldly and transcendent. Playing games at E3 is a noisy, fast-food experience. Games will typically show off the biggest, baddest and most explosion filled sequence just to one-up the previous blockbusting video journalists were shown. Unravel is not that game. It’s quiet, thoughtful and deeply personal, to the team yes, but to each and ever player. Anyone who plays will find a bit of themselves in Yarny and in the story and will be moved.
I was. Not five minutes into the hands-on portion of the demo and my eyes were wet with tears. So powerful is the immediate emotional connection and imagery of Unravel that I was standing in a room full of strangers, weeping at the plight of a red-woolen effigy. The range of emotion displayed by Yarny and the ability to convey happiness, wonder, fear, sadness and more with so few features is a testament to the animators and artists. In the opening level I was shown, Yarny exits the old woman’s house into the sunshine for the first time, blinking in wonder and surprise at the whole world outside. Fascinated by a passing butterfly, Yarny excitedly chases after it for a second, his eyes wide, amazement clearly shown in his face.
Conversely, in a later level shown, it’s dark and stormy and Yarny, face down-turned, clutching at himself against the elements, fearful, cold and sad. But still pushing onwards, determined to help the old lady whom he’s connected to. Connections, both emotional and physical are the crux of Unravel. Yarny himself is connected to the beginning of each level by his yarn and as he progresses he gradually unravels. What this does is allow the player to never become stuck at any point. If you fall down a hole or can’t figure out how to progress you can simply follow Yarny’s trail backwards to see if you’ve missed anything. You’re never at a point of no return in Unravel.
As Yarny unravels though, he gradually gets slimmer and eventually can’t progress as he simply has no more yarn to continue. Hidden throughout the levels are small bundles of wool which will replenish Yarny and allow him to continue. Once you reach a point of being unable to move on, you know that somewhere nearby is a hidden wool cache. You just need to go back and investigate.
Yarny isn’t just limited to the ground though. He can climb and jump and even spring higher thanks to his woolly trail. While one end of the yarn trails out behind him, the other is used as a grappling hook. This allows Yarny to hook onto glowing points and help him climb up. By taking advantage of the game’s physics, players can hook Yarny on and then swing him back and forth to reach another point or a ledge. Similarly, they can attach to two separate points and create a suspension bridge with which Yarny can use to springboard higher.
I only spent 15-minutes with Unravel, so barely scratched the surface of what’s on offer, but that minuscule amount of time is all I needed to fall in love. With Yarny, with Unravel and with Coldwood and its philosophy for the title. I’ve said it multiple times already but this is a personal project across all levels and when you get to play you’ll see it as quickly as I did.
Unravel is a very special video game, one I was fortunate enough to spend a few brief moments with and one I am dying to see again as soon as possible. It will be available for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.
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