This game was reviewed on Xbox Series X.
Reviewed by: Oskar van der Vliet
Unheard was released on the 29th of March, developed by Next studious, a fairly large indie game developer. It was co published by Next and 505 games. It was later ported to consoles on the 21st of March. For clarity, I played on Xbox one X.
In the game you play as someone being brought on to help investigations through some new technology that allows you to listen to what was said in the past, usually at the scene of the crime. The actual gameplay application of this skill means you can run around this area with these little video playback options and hear what everyone has to say, then using that information you name all the different characters in the scene and answer the question the game gives about that case. It is tutorialized quite well, with the first missions plot revolving around someone who often masks their identity and someone innocuous pinning the blame on someone else. It demonstrates the systems well, shows off that you can't be too hasty with naming and answering before you know the full story. However to me it also shows off the core problem with the game's design. When it comes to gameplay, all there is to it is listening to dialogue. You watch them walk from place to place, and listen. And because of that, the only puzzle solving that takes place is to just listen to every word of dialogue by following every character through and then answering the questions. It doesn't test your problem solving skills or detective work, it tests your patience as you listen to the playback over and over again. The game has very obvious polish, and the systems in theory are pretty engaging, but it's lacking a secondary mechanic that actually makes it a game. Really all it amounts to is a glorified selection menu to listen to way too many MP3's, then you get asked the names of the characters and who did what. It resembles my high school French class more than a good video game. I don't mean to be overly negative, it has the building blocks for something really engaging and special but it just isn't there. It's honestly more aggravating than a plainly bad or boring game because it gets so close to something of quality, something I want to see more in video games as a whole. But it really isn't.
Visually it's pretty engaging considering the game is so audio driven. It has a nice and thought out aesthetic, it feels very mysterious and suits the setting well. As for the audio it's all mixed very well and I didn't have much to complain about. I will say however the performances of the various characters can be a little obnoxious. Even by the second mission you are being bombarded with ridiculous accents and hilariously poor acting, which is kind of important in a game like this. However voice acting in games is usually pretty sub par and I think in that context they aren't particularly exceptional in their lack of quality.
It's just an overall boring game. I don't like bashing games that take so much effort and time to create but I felt incredibly confused as I read through the numerous positive reviews this game has received on other platforms for previous releases, and I'm just not sure I can understand where any of that comes from. Even when I found the narrative of a case to be interesting, it just amounts to listening to a 10 minute audio clip 3-4 times. I'd rather watch a tv show that's designed to actually tell a story, or a movie with interesting themes to grapple with. These are clearly designed to just create cheap plot twists for the players who run out of patience and try to answer the question without sitting through it all. Very positive reviews still cite incredibly easy puzzles and tedious gameplay, but just conclude with a high score and recommendation anyway. Personally the game is a drag, and needed a second draft mechanically in order to be worth anything. I give it a 2 out of 5, I can't see any reason to pick it up.
Reviewed by: Oskar van der Vliet