Unholy (PC)

Unholy (PC)

Unholy (PC)

Unholy (PC) – Review

Paul Broussard
, posted 6 hours ago / 488 Views

Spare a thought for the developer of the indie horror game, a genre that relies on believability and immersion. Those are already tall tasks for companies with enough resources to buy out small third world nations, but for indie developers working off, at best, a well-funded Kickstarter budget, it can be nearly impossible. Fortunately, as new indie horror release Unholy is here to show us, there’s always a solution for every seemingly impossible task. If horror is too difficult to pull off, just give up and do something else entirely while still calling it a horror game.

The narrative first, though. The story of Unholy is a bit of an odd one even for the genre. Our main character, Saidah, was a part of an extremist religious cult until they killed her child, which is pretty understandably a disillusioning event. Saidah then has to travel to an alternate reality called the Eternal City, to save her son’s soul, with the hopes of resurrecting him in the real world. Apparently the rules of the supernatural realm in this world are big fans of Dishonored, because the Eternal City largely resembles a dystopian Victorian era London, with guards, traps, and other elements that Saidah has to sneak past in order to save her child.

But enough stalling, let’s get back to that rather bold assertion in the first paragraph: despite whatever the genre tags under Steam may say, this is not a horror title. It’s a mixture of stealth and puzzle solver, and while those elements can certainly exist within a horror game (like in this year’s Amnesia: The Bunker), the prerequisite for a horror title is to at least make some effort to genuinely scare the player. Forget whether the game succeeds or not, I don’t think there are more than a couple moments where Unholy even attempts to employ any fear-generating techniques. The only one I can clearly recall is the lights suddenly going out while exploring an apartment at the start of the game, which upon reflection gave me a good feeling about where things were heading, but that’s about the high point of Unholy. I think Luigi’s Mansion does more to try and genuinely scare its players than Unholy, and it’s rated E.

This isn’t necessarily a deal killer in and of itself; puzzles and stealth are both solid foundations for a game to build itself on. It’s just that neither of these are particularly well developed either, which makes Unholy something of an experience that you mostly sleepwalk through. The stealth primarily focuses on sneaking past moving spotlights and enemies with dubious AI & an extremely limited ability to sense the player. Neither of these is ever particularly challenging, and both spotlights and enemies move in the same exact pattern, meaning that there are never any surprises if you pay attention. 

The puzzles don’t fare much better. They’re mostly based around a Metroid Prime-esque system where you get upgrades that allow you to shoot different elements and see the world through different perspectives. In practice this generally means using the correct perspective to locate the things you need to shoot or interact with. The problem is that’s all that’s really done with it, and it never evolves in any meaningful or interesting way. The solutions are almost all extremely straight forward; if you ever find yourself in a position where you’re stuck, chances are good you’re just overlooking something in front of you, rather than not grasping a much more complex solution.

Unholy is at its best on the couple of occasions when it tries to incorporate both stealth/escape and puzzle solving tasks simultaneously, creating a high stakes environment where you have to figure out what to do while keeping track of the various enemies. There are a few of these sections towards the end, and I think this where Unholy really starts to get some teeth. But it’s too little too late in this regard, and by the time the mechanics get interesting the game is almost over.

To the game’s credit, the world is surprisingly well-detailed and the environments are gorgeous for a $30 release. Some of the character faces and animations do look like they were taken straight from a late 2000s Bethesda title, but the actual locations you spend most of the 3-4 hour runtime in are interesting to look at and feel like they genuinely belong in a creepy, dystopian, alternate reality world.

Ultimately, however, it’s hard to recommend Unholy. Outside of the environmental design, the mechanics don’t do much to scare or otherwise engage the player, the story is flat and uninteresting, and the characters are about as wooden as their animations. There aren’t even any particularly new juicy-but-flawed ideas that would make it worth recommending just for the experience. Unholy is one of those games that just kind of exists; it takes up time and occupies space, so if you’re looking for something to speed up the passing between cradle and grave then here you go.

You will probably like Unholy if: Interesting art design and direction are enough to carry a game for you.

You might like Unholy if: Very light stealth/puzzle solving mechanics in a creepy aesthetic sounds up your alley.

You will probably not like Unholy if: You’re looking for a horror game.

VGChartz Verdict

This review is based on a copy of Unholy for the PC, provided by the publisher.

Read more about our Review Methodology here

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