E3 2015 – Unravel Hands-On Preview: Heartstrings Tug-athon
With all the big games EA has shown off at E3 this year, one stands out as different from the rest. It’s not a sports game, a sequel, or a beloved series, but an entirely new game. Unravel is a heartfelt indie that has been picked up by a huge publisher, and I couldn’t be more happy for the developers. The game seems to have real heart, and surprisingly crisp graphics to complement a worthy game concept.
When an idea is conceived out of passion and simplicity, as Unravel was, it has a good chance of being based on a solid foundation. The people at Coldwood Studios are obviously making this game out of love, and it has a great story in combination with a very creative and unique gameplay.
The Yarn Mechanic
When I saw the game announced at EA’s press conference, I immediately wanted to know more. The quality of the graphics kind of stood out from other “indie” titles, and the concept was totally new and intriguing. When the creator’s hands starting shaking during the showing of the little character Yarny in the flesh [Ed. note: or rather, yarn], I just wanted to hug him and tell him, “It’s okay, we love it!”
I saw a theater presentation, and then had a hands-on demo. The controls and the concept were explained by a member of the dev team during the theater presentation, and I could see a spark of passion in just that simple explanation. As each game mechanic was explained, I was more impressed. Playing as Yarny, you have a front yarn and a back yarn. As you walk along, you unravel your yarn behind you. Lassoing your front yarn is how you can reach high points, and you can tie your yarn between two points to create a bridge which doubles as a slingshot. You can backtrace using your back yarn, which can save you if you fall, or help you rappel down something. Some puzzles require you to push objects and manipulate the environment to move on.
One of the neatest parts is how Yarny becomes skinnier and more scraggly the longer you walk, eventually getting stuck by your trailing yarn allowing you to go no further. This is remedied by finding balls of yarn to replenish you, but I found myself having to refine how I managed tricky areas so I could get to the next yarn wad and keep going. The controls were quick, smooth, and enjoyable.
A Yarn of Heart
The other half of the charm in Unravel is the story, or the emotional tie-in (yarn-in?). It tells the story of an old woman whose family is far away, leaving her feeling a bit lonely and forgotten. The graphics of the small cutscene setting up the story were of very good quality, almost looking like real life at some frames. Yarny is the connection of the old woman to her memories, or the bond between her loved ones. He presses on through rain or shine — sometimes shivering in the rain while looking so small and sad — to collect her memories and reach some yet unknown important goal.
The quality of the graphics of Unravel are stunning, looking just like the real thing. Real photos from forests familiar to Unravel’s dev’s childhoods were used as assets and reference. The lighting and attention to detail in the “backyard” look throughout the levels I played were enjoyable, crisp, and colorful.
Overall, I saw no obvious flaws, bugs, or shortcomings in my E3 experience with Unravel, and it looks to be a promising, unique title that is getting lots of attention thanks to EA putting Yarny on center stage at one of the world’s biggest gaming shows.