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June 2021

The Uncertain: Light at the End

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: META Publishing
Developer: New Game Order
Release Date: Oct. 8, 2020

About Lauren "Feffy" Hall

I am a freelance writer based in Canada, where it's too cold to go outside; therefore, we play a lot of video games. I'm an expert zombie slayer (the virtual kind), amateur archer (for actual zombie slaying and general apocalypse purposes - it could happen), and a work-in-progress wife and mother (IRL). My claim to fame: I completed the original MYST without looking up cheats. It took several years. What other accomplishments does one need in life?


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PC Review - 'The Uncertain: Light at the End'

by Lauren "Feffy" Hall on Jan. 21, 2021 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

The Uncertain: Light at the End is a story-driven adventure game set in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity disappeared from the face of the Earth and has been replaced by robots.

As a run-of-the-mill postapocalyptic gamer nerd, I'm quick to praise games that drop me knee-deep in the mess of a broken, dystopian world. Much to my delight, The Uncertain: Light at the End, a follow-up to 2016's The Uncertain: Last Quiet Day, started off in exactly that state. To begin the story-driven adventure, you go on an exciting but relatively risk-free supply run, so you can get a feel for the game and the story thus far. It hints at the difficulty and general mood of the character and the game world.

This little gem of a game and I were off to a great start. I appreciated that Light at the End spent very little time on unnecessary and tedious tutorials, and the atmosphere and music were on point and added to my overall engagement. However, to my dismay, I didn't enjoy much else about the experience.

Sure, the lonely and desolate atmosphere was there, as it ought to be for any postapocalyptic game, but it was so frequently interrupted by multiple bugs and faulty game mechanics that it was impossible to ignore the title's numerous deficiencies. Paired with the flat character development and bland dialogue and plot, the bugs and awkward gameplay made Light at the End a frustrating experience. Granted, I have not played the first game, Last Quiet Day, which was moderately well received, but expecting an effective sequel as part of an established and intended trilogy doesn't seem like too big of an ask. The game should at least work properly — and it doesn't.

Before we delve into the nitty gritty, let's look at the game: You are Emily, as it quickly becomes apparent in the above-mentioned supply run. You and your postapocalyptic pal Park are looting an abandoned and picked-over pharmacy, grabbing whatever can be useful for your ragtag group. It's a very succinct tutorial, and that's fine since the controls are extremely simple. So far so good.

As in other adventure games, your actions are available via a pie menu that appears when you are in the vicinity of an object or location of interest. The actions are usually "look" and "use," but if you have items in your inventory that are helpful in a certain situation, those are highlighted too. The inventory management is virtually nonexistent, so it's completely delightful; I don't know a single gamer who enjoys sifting through a ridiculous grid of useless items trying to find the one thing that might or might not be useful. This game takes that guesswork out of the equation, so you'll quickly know if an item is usable; otherwise, you won't even need to know it's there. This game wastes little time on anything that might be off-task.

To that end, the game plays out in a very linear fashion. I have no qualms about this, despite being an explorer by nature when I play adventure games — there could be secrets! — but many people have expressed frustration in seeing an open door or hallway only to be met with an invisible wall that prevents their exploration. However, the plot of the game moves you along the story quite well, and further exploration isn't needed, especially when there isn't anything special to gain from extensive exploring.

That's where my enjoyment of the game halted, and it began with my first point of contention: Emily's movement. Perhaps the movement of Emily running around in this world is better facilitated by a joystick or controller, but with a PC, it's somehow completely uneven and awkward. I'm not sure if it was my imagination, but it felt like I was always leaning to the left just to keep her running straight, and that got frustrating toward the end. Thankfully, while there are some quick actions here and there, Light at the End is more of an adventure game than an action game, so this strange movement wasn't a deal-breaker. Adventure games are more about the story and the puzzles, after all.

There's not much to the puzzles. They're fine, and they worked. If you'd rather not spend time on puzzles, there is a skip feature, which I found interesting. I suppose it saves you from having to search for a solution on Google if you get stuck, but it seemed like an easy out for an intended game mechanic. Again, at least those worked well and didn't contain any bugs, which is more than I can say for the rest of the game.

The more I get into this review, the more I realize how broken Light at the End is. For starters, the save system doesn't work consistently; when you log in, you may have to repeat tasks or dialogues that you had already completed upon previously exiting the game. When the autosave icon flashes on-screen, you should be fine to log out and to expect to return to that exact spot and place in the plot, but that was not always the case. Twice, I had to repeat about 30 minutes of my progress because the autosave somehow didn't "take." Never one to rely on autosaves, I was disappointed to see that a quicksave option wasn't available in the scant menu options. There is a load option, but that confused me since you have no control over the save points, but I suppose it's a useful feature in any game. It didn't seem like any of my decisions made much of an impact on the story outcome, so I never felt the need to use this option.

Although I think simplicity and minimalism in an adventure game are ideal, I think Light at the End may have gone a touch too far in that department, and it didn't stop with the relatively bare options menu. One of the few options that I frequently referred to was the keybindings because I was in disbelief about a particular omission: There is no option to skip cut scenes or dialogue. Consider that carefully before playing this game.

Often in an adventure title such as this, certain actions or dialogue can affect past dialogue sequences, requiring you to return to that character or object and repeat a portion of the conversation or action. Any adventure gamer will agree that it's a common occurrence. In Light at the End, if you discover that nothing has changed in the action as you suspected it might (also not uncommon), you still have to go through the entire, drawn-out conversation again without the option of skipping it. Compounded with a broken save system, having to repeat dialogue and cinematics time and time again became a real problem during my playthrough.

Even discovering voice recordings in the game caused Emily to stand still as she listened to seemingly insignificant excerpts from people who were unconnected to her. She couldn't move, couldn't continue searching for whatever it was she was looking for, and just stared like a statue. Beyond Emily seeming robotic in these moments, your inability to do anything until the recording was finished was also frustrating, as it seemed as though the recordings were added for color and didn't progress the game. Ordinarily, this would be fine, but considering the broken gameplay, the additional story development became tedious — and that's being kind.

There were a few other unhelpful things that seem to pull away Emily from her tasks, such as the minigames on her smart watch. I found this to be odd, since the entire game is linear, and you are expected to stay on task. The minigames felt forced, out of place, and unnecessary, as there is always a task to complete and there wouldn't be time to play minigames. You could also do many other useless things on her smart watch (to progress the actual plot of the game), so I'm not sure why this was included. Again, this may have been an attempt at some color or a log of sorts, even though your goals aren't too complex to track.

The smart watch was also something of a mystery to me, technologically. The lack of technology in the world since the "incident" when robots took over humanity seems to be interspersed with the issue of too much technology, which is as confusing as it sounds. In some places on your journey, Emily laments not being able to charge what I presume to be her phone or smart watch, while at other points Park is happily playing with his tablet and a pair of headphones. Having a postapocalyptic game that is ruled by robots makes it tough to allow for the few surviving humans who are hiding in hovels around the city to have access to technology. It added to the inconsistencies in the game, and it seemed odd, especially since the robots would need to have access to considerable technology and power to overpower and rule humans — but I digress.

Speaking of inconsistencies, there seem to be a lot of them. At the start of the game, for example, you are clearly looting an abandoned pharmacy, which is a very postapocalyptic type of thing to do. You quietly get your meds and get the heck out of Dodge, but later on, you find yourself in a computer/tech store on another supply run, and you're required to pay your way out of the store, presumably because the cashiers are the computerized checkouts. It was confusing because you looted the pharmacy without power or technology getting in the way of your departure. Why was the power on in the computer store? Why didn't Emily disable the power in the tech store, as it seemed easy to access the power supply in the pharmacy? I have so many questions. Beyond the confusion, the computer store outing felt mundane; I prefer a good old-fashioned looting. Maybe I've seen too many zombie flicks, but I know what I like.

One small criticism I have for Light at the End is that the text excerpts that you find throughout the experience are very poorly translated, and I'm surprised the game was released in that state. Some emails, letters, notes, etc., didn't even make sense. I won't judge them too harshly on this, as this is a Russian-made game, and it seems that most of the text in the game doesn't have much to do with the plot. It made it tougher to understand the technology and the pre-robot-ruled world.

Another disappointment was the character development. They were all stereotypical, and the constant needless and unprovoked aggression from a few of the characters toward Emily became quite tiresome. Furthermore, the voice acting was stiff, and there were pieces of cinematics missing from the release. I initially thought this might be a bug, as my group emerged from a doorway, yammering on about a robot they'd just encountered — a robot that I'd never seen. When I reloaded, though, I still didn't see this cut scene. This has happened to me on multiple occasions.

Finally, there were tons of video bugs. For instance, Olga, one of the members in your group, was generally seen holding, feeding and fretting about her young baby's failing health. There were several times where she was holding and feeding a baby, but the baby was not there. This seemed to happen frequently and randomly, and it did nothing for my feelings of immersion in this world and story, and that's never a good thing.

I so wanted to like Light at the End, and if it had worked properly, it would've been decent. The developers clearly spent a lot of time on the artwork and visual effects, and the sounds and music that peppered the halfway-decent plot was fantastic, but the game itself doesn't operate in an expected way. Dialogue and cinematics are cut short at times and yet, being unable to skip them made the game a really awful experience to sit through.

I feel weird rating The Uncertain: Light at the End, since I haven't played the prior title or the upcoming conclusion, but I also think that a game, whether it's part of an intended series or not, should stand on its own. Light and the End does not. The story is all right, and the premise behind the game is stellar, but the broken mechanics and omitted quality of life options made it really frustrating to play, and I didn't enjoy it. Hopefully the next game makes up for these shortcomings, but in the meantime, if you value your time, I would suggest skipping Light and the End in its current state.

Score: 5.0/10

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