Uncanny Valley is an indie horror adventure game developed by Cowardly Creations, and published by Digerati Distribution. With all of the action-horror games popping up lately, Uncanny Valley looks to pay homage to the survival horror classics we all know. By mixing a bit of action with exploration, story, and plenty of text, it plays more like an adventure game than a survival horror game. Did it succeed in scaring me senseless, or was it dull and unexciting? Let’s take a deeper look.
One of the best things about Uncanny Valley is its story. The game follows our protagonist Tom, after he takes up a job as a security guard at an abandoned business building. Besides exploration, the focus of the game seems to be on Tom’s narrative, and the secrets that lie in the lower levels of his workplace. It’s truly a mystery, one that reveals itself over time and multiple playthroughs. I cannot express this enough; Uncanny Valley is a game you must play more than once to get the entire story. It’s not a long game by any stretch, with a few of my runs only lasting around an hour. There’s no right or wrong decisions in the game, and there’s no such thing as a game over. What you do matters, and the threat of your story ending abruptly due to a mistake heightens the tension quite a bit.
However, I wish that the story was a bit more neatly told. As you explore the building on your rounds, you’ll snoop through some emails on computers and find cassette tapes. A lot of the exposition and story ties seemed to be in this text. It’s not to the games advantage then, that the text is a pain to read. The game has a distinctive pixel art style, which I’ll get into more in a bit. This does not transfer well to the text, as I had problems discerning different letters at times. If a main aspect of your game is reading, you should probably make sure that the text is easy on the eyes. This one of Uncanny Valley’s greatest mistakes, and it suffers greatly from it.
As I said, plays of the game will only take you a few hours at most, so there’s not a lot more I want to say about the story. I did find that a lot of the new information you learn takes place towards the latter half of your playthrough, so you’ll have to retread the same tedious 15 minutes of story setup before you’re able to roam free again. I wish this could’ve been skipped, but some of the decisions you make early might affect stuff later. There’s no clear indication what actions (or lack thereof) have an impact on your outcome. This is something I also would’ve liked to see implemented.
Since so much of the focus is on story, there’s hardly a large variety of gameplay offered. For the most part, you’ll make your security rounds and read information, sometimes leading you to simple puzzles. There’s rarely action, most of it being of the Resident Evil variety of “get the hell out of dodge”. You won’t be mowing down hordes of zombies or equipping any automatic weapons. For the most part, you’ll just have you and your trusty flashlight to depend on. This does lend to some tension as things get weird, but these moments usually culminate in a jump scare.
As I’ve said before, the game plays more like an adventure game than a horror game. You’ll collect items and use them in puzzles, and although this isn’t a huge part of the game, it’s more common than enemy encounters. You have a small inventory of keycards, cassette tapes, and a notepad that displays your objectives. As you roam around the building, you’ll come across things to use as weapons, and some healing items. I never found myself combining items or viewing my inventory like a point ‘n click adventure. Rather, it was a nice little area to see the different stuff I’d found. Using items is pretty simple, you just highlight them in your inventory and drag them across the screen. There’s a tiny bit of gun play, but you’ll have to find the pistol before you can use it. It took me a few runs before I even came across it, so don’t expect a whole bunch of shooting either.
Graphics and Presentation
All things told, I quite enjoyed the look of Uncanny Valley. I’m a sucker for good pixel art, so my bias is probably showing, but I think Cowardly Creations made a pretty good looking game here. When things get bloody and dark, the art style definitely lends a unique look at it. To be honest, I was actually uncomfortable a few times when things got gory. This is coming from the guy who played Resident Evil 7 and barely batted an eye. For some odd reason, the low-res pixel art made the violence a bit more impacting for me. Beyond that, the game is pretty standard most of the time. There’s some impressive environmental details as you explore, specifically a moon that shines through the window in one of the 3rd floor offices. The graphics won’t blow you away, but it’s not hard to appreciate the art style (I feel like I’ve said that before).
Presentation wise, the game could use a bit of touching up. The pause screen is a bit bare bones, as there isn’t an options menu to adjust sound or graphics at all. Navigating menus can be a bit cumbersome, due to the addition of a cursor. Most of your time will be spent outside of menus, so it’s not a huge detriment. The lack of the options menu is a big disappointment, I should be able to lower the sound effects. Some of the mixing is a bit off, and whether that’s to increase the startle of a jump scare or not, it can be obnoxious at times. In truth, the game itself is a bit bare bones, so the presentation kind of lines up. That’s not necessarily a good thing, but at least it makes sense.
The Bottom Line
I won’t lie, Uncanny Valley is a rough sell. You have to be very much into both exploration and replaying an experience to get the most out of it. While the violence can be effective and the mystery is interesting, a lot of it boils down to hard-to-read text and audio tapes with no subtitles. There’s a few key mistakes in presentation and pacing that halt the experience from time to time. With a run only taking a few hours, the game should be compact and well executed. Unfortunately, Uncanny Valley isn’t able to do either of those things. I was really rooting for it, as I’m a huge horror game fan. After playing through the game three times, I know I’m missing out on some optional story content, but I simply do not have any motivation to start it up for a fourth. Don’t misunderstand me, Uncanny Valley is a perfectly playable and competent game. It just struggles with genre identity and lacks proper pacing to be anything better than mediocre.