Uncanny Valley Review

By Lexley Ford,
The Uncanny Valley is a phenomenon where a computer-generated or robotic figure that bears a near-identical or photo-realistic resemblance to a human being causes a sense of unease in the viewer. Cowardly Creations' Uncanny Valley, on the other hand, describes itself as a survival horror game that includes exploration and a little bit of puzzle solving. Like the aforementioned phenomenon, at times it also causes a sense of unease.

Logo

Unlike the phenomenon from which Uncanny Valley takes its name, instead of opting for photorealism, the game is presented in a classic 8-bit style. The visuals are not the most detailed but they conjure memories of games from the late 1980s and early 1990s, such as Brøderbund's Prince of Persia, and Delphine Software's Flashback and Another World. Like those games, Uncanny Valley has some wonderfully fluid animations, eerie sound design, and some truly grim images appearing throughout, which all come together to create a sense of tension and a dark atmosphere that is perfect for the horror genre that it is trying to echo.

After an initial sequence that sees our protagonist running for his life from a gang of shadowy figures, Tom reveals that he is still suffering from night terrors after waking on a train. In order to escape from his past, he has taken a job working the night shift as a security guard for Melior – a now abandoned robotics factory. Tom's only companions are Buck, the ill-tempered, surly, and slightly overweight security guard on the day shift, and Eve, who introduces herself as the facilities' cleaner. Tom might have only taken the job to get away from something he cares not to reveal, but this new job at the facility may just prove to have been a bad idea.

Screenshot 4Shadowy figure corner Tom

Straight away the story has a lot of promise and it is one that evokes memories of some of the great survival horror titles of years gone by; however, there is very little direction and you are largely left to yourself to discover as much or as little as you want. Each night you return to the facility for your seven-minute work shift. While you are supposed to be patrolling, you can search each of the four main floors, collect and listen to audio tapes, and read numerous emails. These audio tapes contain some of the only voice acting in the game and go into detail on what experiments Melior were conducting. Unfortunately, they are all easily found on the first night and by spending a short amount of time listening to them, the biggest twist in the plot is simple to piece together. On the other hand, these recordings are equally easy to miss entirely, meaning players that rush through may be left without any understanding of the plot at all.

Once you have made it to the end of your shift, you can continue to search around for more information, at least until Tom collapses from exhaustion, or you can return to your room and attempt to get a good night's sleep. No matter whether you fall asleep in your bed or on your feet, you will have to play through a variety of nightmare sequences. These sequences delve into Tom's back-story, albeit with a more sinister spin, and explain what made him take his new job in the first place. At first, they seem disconnected from the rest of the story, but after the first few everything begins to fall into place. Completing or failing these sequences has very little effect on the overall outcome of the plot, but do help to make sense of what is going on.

Screenshot 5Tom meets Buck

After a few nights, and depending on how you interact with the environment and characters, the story begins to show its more sinister side, eventually leading you into the lower levels of the factory, one way or another. It is at this point that the game switches from players rushing to uncover as much as possible within the seven-minute time limit, to being given as much time as necessary to discover what lies in the bowels of the factory. This change in direction also introduces a slew of new gameplay mechanics, such as taking cover to avoid the few enemies that are present and crawling through vents to access different rooms, as well a very, very small amount of gun-play. A health system is also introduced where injuries can slow your movement down, make it so you are unable to crawl, or greatly reduce your reload speed depending on where you are injured. Each of these new features are very sparingly used, which is a shame as it is during this latter section of the game that it begins to feel like the survival horror title that is trying to be.

Upon starting, the game prompts you that in order to get full enjoyment out of the title, numerous playthroughs are needed. Most of the game's endings do create some sense of closure while others can leave players wondering what is actually going on. Uncanny Valley is a short game — a full playthrough can take anywhere between one and two hours and playing through a few times won't take a great deal of time. The exploration aspects and uncovering the plot are certainly the highlights of this game, but after completing a section once and discovering all that the area has to offer, having to repeat the early sections in the following attempts does become a bit of a chore. Through the numerous ways to approach the game, the different paths and endings that present themselves do encourage players to attempt things differently, but once players have discovered what is going on there is very little else to bring you back again.
Screenshot 2One of Tom's many nightmares


A total of 12 achievements are up for grabs, most of which are tied to specific choices, actions or endings. As the Charmer and Getaway achievements are unlocked by completing the game with specific endings, a total of three plays are required in order to unlock the full compliment. There are also a few achievements that could easily be missed; for example, Peeping Tom and Doctor require players to locate all of the hidden VHS and cassette tapes respectively, while Insomniac is unlocked by completing the game without returning to your room to sleep. As each playthrough can be completed relatively quickly, a full 1000G could easily be unlocked in less than three hours, especially if you know exactly what you need to do.

Summary

Exploring the facility and discovering the nuances of the plot are certainly the highlights of this game, but the lack of direction is a double-edged sword, giving players the opportunity to discover as much as they can but often leaving them unsure of what exactly they are supposed to be doing. The survival elements of this survival-horror also aren't as fully realised as they could have been and only appear during the short second half of the story. With a length of only one to two hours, it’s easy to finish a single playthrough in one sitting and still have plenty of time to go back in for more, but once you have discovered what secrets are lurking in the basement, there is very little to entice you back other than finishing up any missed achievements, of course.
6 / 10
Uncanny Valley
Positives
  • The story changes depending on how you play.
  • A great sense of tension and a dark atmosphere.
  • Short story allows for multiple plays to be completed in quick succession.
Negatives
  • Replaying early sections becomes a chore.
  • Lack of direction can leave you unsure of what you should be doing.
  • Survival mechanics are underused.
Ethics
The reviewer spent approximately ten hours collecting audio tapes, patrolling the halls, and running for his life. Ten of the game's twelve achievements were unlocked. An Xbox One code was provided by ID@Xbox for this review.
Lexley Ford
Written by Lexley Ford
Lex has been gaming for nearly three decades and has been a Newshound for TrueAchievements since 2011. When he’s not writing news he can normally be found immersing himself in a good story, both written and in-game, or just blowing stuff up (only in games).