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April 2021

Unexplored: Unlocked Edition

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Developer: Ludomotion
Release Date: Feb. 19, 2019

About Joseph Doyle

Joe has been known to have two hands with which to both play games and write reviews. When his hands are not doing those, he will put books, musical instruments, and other fun things in them.


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PS4 Review - 'Unexplored: Unlocked Edition'

by Joseph Doyle on April 3, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Unexplored: Unlocked Edition is a roguelite dungeon crawler featuring procedurally generated levels that feel hand-crafted, making every dungeon run both unique and memorable.

Buy Unexplored: Unlocked Edition

You enter the dungeon looking for the Amulet of Yendor. It's dark and dank, and you only have your starting weapons and items. The walls are stone, and there's a door ahead of you. What do you do? Well, Unexplored: Unlocked Edition lets you answer that question for yourself in real time, allowing you to explore dungeons, fight enemies, and loot indiscriminately in underground lairs. It's presented from a top-down perspective, hearkening back to Rogue and the original Legend of Zelda. While this is incredibly fun and the game provides players with a ton to explore and tool around with, Unexplored is missing a lot of heart in the art and tone departments, making it difficult to wholeheartedly recommend the title.

The gameplay in Unexplored: Unlocked Edition is nothing wild and crazy, but it's solid for a dungeon-crawler. You're off to the races from the relatively spartan menu, where you can go into the tutorial and learn how to play, or get into a new game, continue one of your runs, or do what's listed as a special run. If you choose a new game, you're given a slew of options for your procedurally created dungeon ahead, ranging in difficulty levels to an arcade and desolate mode. You can even add extra puzzles and bosses or enter a specific map through its seed system. The level of customization is wonderful, allowing players to progress at their own speed, rather than one prescribed by the developer. From here, you even get to customize your character's class and appearance; the former fundamentally changes your play style, from slinging magic to wielding heavy weapons, and the latter feels pretty limited in scope.

As you enter the dungeon, you use both the sticks to move and look around, trying to peek around corners to get the layout of the level, which is dark on the map and in your top-down perspective until you look everywhere to see if there are any chests, enemies or items. Hopefully, you'll find loot, which includes gold that you can use for intel about the dungeon (before you go in, the gold transfers to your next character after death), potions you'll have to test on yourself or use on enemies to figure out what the concoctions do, and mystical scrolls or weapons. There are a lot of different collectibles to find in Unexplored, and they make the player want to return and uncover more as they push further into the dungeon. Perhaps you're not so lucky and you run into enemies, which can range from little spiders to wolves and even hefty fellow humanoids, who'll launch arrows or potions right back at you.

Combat typically consists of hitting a button to attack with your melee weapon and scurrying backward to avoid your enemy's counter while your weapon cools down. If you have a dagger (or any other throwable) equipped, you tend to throw those while your sword/club/etc., is indisposed. While this mimics the "Dungeons and Dragons" feel that Unexplored is going for, it ends up feeling a little clunky, and the movement controls feel a little "floaty." Likewise, the swiping or plunging you do with these weapons takes a while to register, making the throwing weapon much more practical, even when you consider that you have to pick it up afterward.

With the added elements of sacrificing to nebulous gods, hard RPG stats, and more, this game gives off vibes similar to The Binding of Isaac, easily compared with the roguelike qualities but majorly diverging in the overall tone and the way the maps work (Unexplored lets you move continuously through the map, as opposed to the room system of Isaac). While the gameplay is interesting, it never feels really compelling to the player; it's a little too slow and generic to drive a player to keep doing this over and over again — a key trait in other roguelike dungeon-crawlers.

Hands down, the part that grasps the attentions of the player most in Unexplored: Unlocked Edition is the visual aesthetics. Everything in the game, from characters to enemies to backgrounds and more are all incredibly cartoony, and look somewhat like a collage, with everything stacked on top of one another. Basically, the art style is one reminiscent of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom but more crisp.

Furthermore, the UI is also simple in this way and looks pretty jumbled when everything is on-screen, with the action log and map taking up about 20% of the screen on the left, the on-hand inventory taking up the same amount of space on the right, and then your extended inventory lining the same amount on the bottom. Granted, you are paused during this screen, but even then, it looks cobbled together. The map is good and effective, but the text looks like it was just there, rather than carefully considered. The different aspects of the art stick out while you're playing and look unnatural. Overall, a lot of the visuals look and feel like they're default settings in a game creator, and that detracts from the title in terms of perceived quality and how much time it seems the developers spent on it.

While the visuals in Unexplored: Unlocked Edition are rather underwhelming, the music in the game ranges from boastful and triumphant to ethereal and haunting appropriately. During the game menu, driving rhythms accompany violins that go from sweeping melody lines to curt notes, with bass, piano and synthesizer underpinnings to create a large orchestral sound to inspire heroism and bravery. On the flip side, as you enter the dungeon, the energy dies down, the tempo slows, and the synthesizers creep up to accompany the violins, creating a curious, brooding piece that accompanies the fear of unknown exploration. As you progress, the tone changes from contemplative to foreboding, inspiring fear through ringing vocal lines, tribal drums, and the tinny taps of a hammered dulcimer played in a minor key. The music in this game fits each circumstance so well, and it feels neither too generic nor out of place. Matthijs Dierckx, who both composed and marketed the game, did a fantastic job on the score.

The biggest takeaway from Unexplored: Unlocked Edition is that a game needs character to foster a desire to keep playing it. This title is fun at times, but it lacks the distinguishing features that similar games offer, like the aforementioned The Binding of Isaac, with its wild assortment of power-ups, a prolific amount of combinations, and art style, or Crypt of the NecroDancer, with its spin on gameplay and music. With its banal art style, nebulous lore, and generic take on dungeon-crawling, Unexplored lacks the necessary panache to make a dent. The unfulfilling combat further weakens the game. The positives of giving players access to many different game modes, including a hefty amount of content, and providing really cool music makes Unexplored an overall average title. It's still fun to explore, but the game's lack of flair inhibits the desire to try another round, and the gameplay alone isn't enough to sell it.

Score: 5.0/10

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