Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Shatterblog!: A Story About My Uncle Review

For once, all screenshots in this article were taken by me!

As most of you know by now, I'm a big supporter of indie games. I've been trying to review more of them whenever possible, and definitely expect a few more coming up. Today I'll be reviewing A Story About My Uncle. 
A Story About My Uncle is a platformer with a grappling hook glove. It runs on Unreal Engine 3, so the environments are really graphically impressive. Generally the game looks great and runs very well. A couple minor issues are the fingers on your hand looking awkward at times, and the inability to change graphical settings means the resolution may not fit your screen as well as it could. However, even with incorrect resolutions it looks better than a lot of other indie games I've seen. The graphics are nearly on par with Dear Esther, which is one of the best looking indie games I've played. The environments are all very detailed, and while the game is linear there is some room to explore. I spent some time seeing where I could grapple to just for fun.
The story opens with a daughter asking her father to tell her a story about Uncle Fred. From there you are launched into a cave where the game takes place. The writing for the narration and dialogue is very good and drew me in, although the voice acting has a couple rocky moments. Overall the story stays engaging through the whole game. I started the game a couple times and noticed that the dialogue of the daughter asking for the story is random, which weirdly made me extremely happy. For whatever reason the idea that she doesn't ask the same way every time made me smile and restart the game a couple times.
The gameplay has a few simple elements. You can sprint, jump, and hold right click to charge a power jump. If you sprint and power jump, you launch forward. You then get the grapple gun battery. Initially you get one grapple, which recharges when you touch the ground. The limit to works very well. With Journey, having to constantly recharge my jump was a pain. With A Story About My Uncle I never got annoyed having to find a recharge point, but you can't infinitely grapple to win. It does take good timing and aim, and quick reflexes on your mouse hand. The game is fantastic, with the physics while swinging staying as accurate as grapple-beam physics can be. Momentum is a factor, and takes a bit of getting used to. Once you get the hang of it, the game gets even more fun. My swinging and leaping went from awkward crashing into walls idiocy to Spiderman smooth swinging and jumping.
The platforming is somewhat challenging, but is rarely frustrating. I never felt like my death was the games fault, I could usually tell that it was directly my fault for doing something stupid or reckless. The very last segment is a bit more difficult, but it's a cool twist and I would've loved to see more of it. Another factor about the gameplay I liked was that the path ahead wasn't absurdly shrouded (you could see where Uncle Fred had grappled, giving you an idea of where you should), but there were places where I could go off the path Uncle Fred took and progress my own way. At one point you have to get to the top of a mountain, and I wasted a bunch of time trying to find absurd ways to climb it instead of just grappling up. While you probably won't struggle too much to complete the game, it's never boringly easy.
This game is a real indie gem, and it was made by students to compete at the Swedish Game Expo. As you can see on their site, the game was made in only 11 weeks and is completely free to download and play. That absolutely blows my mind. I somewhat recently spent $20 on what turned out to be a bad Prince of Persia clone that will remain nameless. I saw A Story About My Uncle in an IGN article and within 10 minutes was playing it. This game was clearly made by a very talented team, and I personally can't wait to see the next steps in their careers. While the game has a few flaws, it is an amazing product from a dedicated team. There are AAA titles I've enjoyed less than this *cough Alien vs Predator cough* that I paid a lot more for. There should be nothing keeping you from playing this great little game. You can get in on the site linked above, and I urge you to use the torrent (as the developers requested on their site) and leave it seeding for a few days at minimum. The argument against seeding is generally that you can be caught if you're pirating something (which I'm sure none of you wonderful law-abiding readers do), but this torrent is put out by the developers to save on bandwidth. Help them out guys! Anyway, stop reading this and go download A Story About My Uncle. I give it an 8.5/10.
A quick side note to the development team, I would love to see a Donate option in the future, or a "pay what you want" in the vein of the many popular indie bundles.
Thanks for reading guys!

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