July 23, 2014 9:00 AM | Lena LeRay
Unrest is a story-heavy RPG set in a fantasy version of ancient India. It takes place in a city that has been beset by drought for so long that other problems have taken root. Unlike most RPGs, however, the player does not take the part of a party of heroes out to save everyone. Instead, the player switches back and forth between several characters who are just normal people making hard choices in an attempt to survive in desperate times. It has the same kind of moral punch as Papers, Please thrown into a branching narrative in which actions taken with one character can effect the prospects of another.
Choice is really what Unrest is all about. Combat exists, according to developer Pyrodactyl Games, though in two playthroughs of the game I haven't found even one battle. Normal people don't go getting into fights left and right, and that's reflected in the game. Instead of combat, the focus is on the consequences of player choices. In each segment of the game, the player controls only one of Unrest's several playable characters. The choices made with that character can make life harder for the other characters, affecting the situations in which they find themselves and what they can do about it.
To that end, dialogue windows are very clear about the short term impact of each dialogue option. At the top of each dialogue box are meters that shows how strong the NPC's feelings of friendship, respect, and fear are for the current player character. Almost every dialogue option also comes with a one-word description for the tone of the reply; straightforward, surly, agreeable, rebellious, etc. Sometimes the player is even given two options with the same reply in different tones. At no time does it feel like the player has been cheated by a dialogue choice that turned out not to be what they meant to say.
The branching in Unrest is very well done, with many later events easily traceable back to certain decisions made or characters killed. It is possible for both playable and non-playable characters to lose their lives as a result of player choices, and the game carries on if that happens with the character's death taken into account in future segments. On my first playthrough of the game, I got a player character killed almost immediately. It made me start considering choices more carefully and want to replay the game right away. The game's two modes, "myth" and "mortal", differ only in allowing and disallowing multiple save files, respectively. On one hand, the ability to save and try many things is nice, but on the other, being forced to live with one's choices gives them an even greater gravity that adds a lot to the game.
Although the Pyrodactyl team is made up of people from all over the world, the project lead, Arvind Raja Yadav, is Indian. The Indian ethnic influences are easy to identify in the music and in the painted graphics. The unusual setting certainly makes for a nice change of pace from the norm.
There are only a couple of problems with Unrest, and they're both minor and easy to overlook. One is that the game occasionally crashes when a button is pressed... but the autosave system is so good that the two crashes I experienced didn't cause me to lose any progress at all. Absolutely none. It was inconvenient that I had to restart the game again, but that was it. The second issue I had involved play with a controller. The game supports play with mouse, rebindable keyboard controls, a controller, or any combination of the three, which is fantastic. When playing with a controller, however, I found that sometimes I would end a dialogue with a character only to immediately restart dialogue with that character because the button input was too sensitive. The menus are also a little hard to use and eventually I started using the mouse when I needed to do something in the menus to save myself some trouble. Neither of these things are detrimental to gameplay, but they are occasionally distracting.
Overall, Unrest is excellent. Short, but excellent. Given how much the story branches, it's not really surprising that it's only a couple of hours long. They're a very engaging couple of hours, too; It's not often that a game I'm reviewing hooks me so hard that I play it through twice. The branches give it a great deal of good replay value with plenty of room to explore the game's themes of life within rigid social structures and doing what's right vs. what's necessary to survive. It's fairly heavy on the role playing and kind of borders on adventure game territory, so fans of both genres should give it a shot. Anyone who likes their games rife with moral ambiguity should also consider buying it.
Unrest is available for pre-order for a few more hours at 25% off the list price of $14.99. Once it launches later today it will be 10% off the list price. It's cross-platform for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Unrest was successfully Kickstarted at over 12 times its funding goal in June 2013.