Normally when I do my reviews, I tend to follow a format. I start with a brief introduction featuring some sort of reference, joke or a quote. I then give you a few brief details on the game, before going into more depth. I then finish up with my conclusion and tell you if I think the game is worth buying and playing. Now, I am still going to do that, for the most part. However, I’m just breaking tradition a little bit by telling you right now that UnMetal is awesome and most certainly worth playing. Go buy it as soon as possible (available from the 28th of September). You don’t need to read the rest of this review, just go buy the game ASAP.
Anyway, back to the review. Developed by UnEpic Games and published by Versus Evil. I’ve had this game for about two weeks now but not able to talk about it due to an embargo. Finally, I get to (very excitedly) let people know just how awesome UnMetal is. I’ve been seriously excited to press the publish button on this one for ages now. First up, the basic story.
You play as Jesse Fox, a bad-ass ‘military’ man who has been imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Fox must escape the high-security base he is being held at using his wits and his fists… mainly his fists. Well okay, there’s quite a bit more to the story than that but I’m really trying to avoid spoilers here.
Right from the off, it’s pretty damn clear what UnMetal is paying homage to. For those a bit slow on the uptake… Metal Gear. Going back to the original couple of games on the MSX (the NES version was awful). This game is to Metal Gear what Police Squad! was to cop dramas. UnMetal is most definitely a parody, but it’s a parody that comes from a place of love and respect. You can tell the team behind this game adore those early Metal Gear titles as everything is so detailed and well executed to the point of sheer perfection.
In terms of the storytelling, this is the best game I’ve played in a long time. The plot is just so wonderfully crafted that you can’t help but be in complete awe of how clever it is. I mean, I’m seriously trying to not give away even the slightest spoiler because this is a story that you really need to experience first-hand. I will quickly cover how the game is constructed in terms of its plot though. UnMetal is told in flashbacks, Jesse Fox is regaling his escape story to someone and when he talks about the action, that’s when the main gameplay kicks in. So Fox is narrating his own story.
But it’s not a simple, straightforward piece of storytelling. See, as Fox tells his story, things will happen that you, the player, will have some kind of direction over. But as this is still Jesse Fox telling the story, he ultimately controls what happens. As a very mild spoiler and example: an early boss fight has you battling a mass sewer monster. As you fight, Fox interrupts to update the story and says that the monster had tentacles. You, as the player, then gets to choose how many tentacles the monster has… only, as it is Fox telling the story, he may embellish certain details, that you as the player, will have to deal with.
This happens a lot in the game. You’ll be playing, only for Jesse Fox to interrupt the narrative of his own story for some reason and you then select from a number of options that will affect the scene from that point. Maybe you’ll enter an area and have to choose how many enemies are there that need taking out, etc. It’s an interactive-like storytelling where you can control certain aspects, but Jesse Fox as the narrator can also influence just what will happen and I don’t think I’ve ever seen this done in a game before. It really is an ingenious little game mechanic.
I just need to say how much I adored this manipulation of the plot, it’s really very unique and refreshing. I know that the Metal Gear games were famous for breaking the fourth wall but UnMetal takes that idea to whole new levels that really impressed me. There’s a moment when Jesse Fox is telling his story and a massive WTF moment occurs and an almost Inception-like thing happens that will makes you question just how reliable a storyteller that Fox actually is. And yet, it all feels right and organic. As Fox tells the story, he’s continually trying to one-up himself to make out he’s the ultimate badass and it’s really hilarious. Jesse Fox is very clearly a homage/parody of Solid Snake, but he’s also very much his own character full of personality and you’ll soon forget who Solid Snake ever was. I originally had several quotes from Jesse running through this review. However, I took them out in the final draft just because I honestly don’t want to spoil how awesome he is.
The humour here is razor sharp and the jokes come thick and fast. Often there are jokes within other jokes. There are long running and callback jokes that continually pop up… like the mystery of Jesse and a noose. Gags are everywhere and the reason I mentioned Police Squad! earlier is because that’s the exact humour at play here. Often irrelevant and nonsensical, the jokes come so fast that you really need to pay attention. There’s a part about halfway through the game that involves a jungle and a dead body that made me literally laugh out loud. Or a part near the end of the game where Jesse Fox is trying to work out the conundrum of a scientist and his doctor daughter. My one and a half year old son was napping on the settee next to me as I was playing and I woke him up due to my laughing so much. UnMetal is a wonderfully created parody that never gets stale and I loved every second from the menu screen until I saw the end credits. UnMetal eventually builds to an ending that is pretty damn epic, one that is just as funny and clever as the writing as story has been all through the game.
Looks-wise, UnMetal is very clearly channeling Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. There’s that 8-bit aesthetic and even scanlines for added CRT TV authenticity. Even the way the screen is set up, with the weapon and item UI is very much like Metal Gear. There are some nice little details thrown in that really add a little spark. Walking over unconscious bodies will have them react, the brass from spent bullets fall to the floor, as does blood from wounds, etc. Plus, there’s a good selection of locales in the game that all have their own distinct style, the military base, sewers, jungle, docks and more. It all looks very old school 8-bit but with some lovely modern polish. There’s even the famed Metal Gear radio contact between you and a few NPCs that you meet which has some really funny moments and conversations. I found myself randomly calling them up just to see what they would say.
I’ve just realised that I’m several hundred words into this review and I’ve not even talked about the gameplay yet! In that regard, UnMetal is very solid. On the surface, it plays just like the original Metal Gear. You try to use stealth to get around or take out the enemies. Stay out if their line of sight, don’t make too much noise and so on… then knock the guards out and loot them for items. As you progress, you build up a nice collection of items that can be used and even combined to make new items. Early on, you make a basic slingshot for a weapon by combining a stick and a guard’s eyepatch (don’t ask). But other items make more impressive weapons later on like a flamethrower and you’ll even indulge a bit of chemistry. I think I’d be hard-pushed to call it a crafting system, it’s more of a combining system. Simplified and streamlined but still a gameplay mechanic where you create new items.
Take the bad guys out without being spotted and you’ll earn EXP, EXP will level you up and levelling up earns you upgrades. However, you need to pick and choose just what upgrade to go for and you can’t have everything. As an example: your first levelling up will let you chose between punching harder or moving faster. The level after that and you can pick to either use medkits faster or have them heal you quicker. Each new levelling up grants you two new upgrades to choose from as you build Jesse Fox into the ultimate action hero. Oh, before I forget, you never kill anyone in the game either. Aside from knocking the enemies out, you do eventually get access to a gun and yes, you can shoot the bad guys. But you promise an NPC doctor, who you befriend, that you won’t let anyone die. So if you do shoot someone, you then have to apply a medikit to keep them alive. If you do let someone die, then it’s game over. It’s a rather interesting twist that you are playing as this super badass killer that doesn’t kill anyone. Again, not getting into spoilers, but it actually makes perfect sense why too within the story.
UnMetal is made up of multiple stages, ten in total and none of them ever feel overly long. Each stage passes by fairly quickly and at the end, you get a rating on how many enemies you took out for EXP and how many secrets you found. Oh yeah, there are secrets for you to find too and if you want to get the most out of a stage, you really need to do some searching and experimenting with the scenery. The stages really do offer a lot of variety, it’s not all about punching guards in the face. Yeah sure, there’s the expected sneaking around using stealth, but you’ll also be using vehicles like a mini-submarine and a speedboat in more action oriented stages. I personally found the stages the perfect length to entice you back to play them over and over (you can replay any stage you have unlocked), to try to get all of the EXP and find those elusive secrets.
Something that I love when you start a new stage, is that you are greeted with Jesse Fox standing on, what is basically, a blueprint/graph backdrop. Jesse then describes what is around him and the stage details fill in according to what he says is there. It’s a fun little fourth wall breaking mechanic that lets you know that you are still playing a game and there are quite a few of these reminders running through the game too. The next two pics are screen grabs I took of the exact same stage before and after Jesse Fox gets done with his introduction just to show you how it works.
I’m a big fan of indie gaming and UnMetal is a prime example of just why. This is a game that doesn’t just pay homage to the classics, it also does it’s own thing to create a deliciously unique gaming experience. A game that takes chances where AAA studios wouldn’t dare. For me, UnMetal is GENIUS with a capital everything. The writing is far and away the best I have seen in a game for a long time. It is hilarious, clever, full of movie and gaming references, fourth wall breaks and the way the narrative works is just sublime. Even more so, it was all written by the developer of UnMetal, Francisco Tellez De Meneses. He actually had to write the whole story and dialogue in Spanish before getting it translated. I’ve exchanged a few emails with Francisco and he told me how his English isn’t that good. Trust me, his English is far better than my Spanish. I think for someone whose native language isn’t English, Francisco (and his translators Kevin White and KDrac) has done an utterly brilliant job of creating such an amazing and genuinely funny piece of unique storytelling.
I love writing. I don’t just regularly write articles for this blog, I also write books, stories and novels. And as someone who has a vested interest in the written word, story structure, characterisation, plot devices and so on. I really have to admit as to being a bit jealous of just how Francisco has crafted the story and characters here. UnMetal really is a well observed and brilliantly conceived piece of writing with a very original storytelling device that glues all the narrative elements of the game together perfectly… and it’s bloody hilarious too.
Traditionally, when I do my reviews, I end by looking at how much the game is being sold for and tell you if I think it’s worth buying at that price. I’m not going to do that here, I don’t care what the price point for UnMetal is. It’s worth buying regardless of its cost, so just get yourself a copy anyway and enjoy one of the most originally refreshing games of the year. I also often try to measure how much I enjoyed a game by its making me want to play again and rarely these days does a game make me want to play it again. Yet, as soon as I got to the end credits of UnMetal, I wanted to play the whole thing again immediately… and I did. I’m actually on my third playthrough as I write this review.
The only thing I think that would make this game even better than it already is would for a Game+ mode to be unlocked after you finish it. Being able to go back through the game but with all your previous upgrades and allowing the ability to get all of the other upgrades to make Jesse Fox crazy overpowered just for fun. So hey Francisco, how about it eh?
Anyway, this is a gargantuan recommendation from me and my favourite game of 2021 so far. I seriously adore UnMetal for its writing, its story, its gameplay and the love and respect it plays to Hideo Kojima’s groundbreaking game(s). There’s a lot of replay value here too, if you want to master each stage and find the secrets. There are multiple difficulty levels to test your skills too and try some true 8-bit difficulty. This is a must buy and with the fact that UnMetal is available on Steam, Epic Game Store and all of the consoles, you have no excuse not to buy it. In fact, even though I got my review code for free on Xbox, I’m buying it on Steam when available on the 28th of September too. Some games are made, others are crafted. UnMetal is crafted and beautifully so too.
The only downside? I’m now at the longest possible time where I have to wait for UnMetal 2: Solid Jesse…