Today we meet again for the test of Unmaze: A myth of Light and Shadow published by Arte France and developed by Hiver Prod, available on iOS and Android. It's an interactive graphic novel with a compelling storyline and unique gameplay mechanics. Note that the title offers you the first chapter for free, which is about one hour of play. After that, you will have to pay €4.49 to continue your adventure in the Labyrinth and discover the 8 endings proposed by the game.
Deep themes sometimes poorly addressed
Let's start by discovering the story of Unmaze, I promise I won't spoil anything! You play as Ariadne and have to help Asterion, your little brother, and Theseus, your boyfriend, to escape from a mysterious Labyrinth that seems to have no end. The reason for this confinement? A sin committed by each of our heroes. You must therefore discover what Theseus and Asterion are hiding from you in order to understand what binds the three of you together. To do this, you dialogue with them via a crystal that gives you access to the light and dark planes of the Labyrinth, as well as an isometric 3D map to guide them. But beware, this help has a cost! We'll talk about this when I talk about the gameplay.
The script takes up themes of malaise, self-esteem, depression or toxic relationships with those around him. But it also touches on more serious subjects such as murder. Moreover, these themes seem to have guided the artistic direction of the title, but we'll come back to that later.
Personally, at the beginning, I had a hard time with the story, because I had the impression that I had already seen many elements in series and other teenage films. However, after trying to forget some of the weaknesses in the dialogues, I discovered a gripping adventure that makes you think about yourself and your choices. I can't say much more without revealing too much, so let's go to the gameplay!
Unmaze gameplay: innovative mechanics!
As far as the gameplay of Unmaze is concerned, I'll start with the negative: the dialogue phases with our heroes are rather uneven. They often drag on with not very interesting reflections that hide the important stakes around the characters that I leave you the pleasure to discover in game! Besides, I didn't really understand the choice of SMS conversation when you talk through a crystal. This made it difficult for me to immerse myself in the game at first.
Another point that I had put as a negative at the very beginning of my test, but which finally, I find to be a strong point of the game, is that it uses a very simplistic "point & click" mechanic to move the two boys. Very simple at first glance, but immersive on closer inspection. Indeed, the fact that we can only guide our heroes for a few meters without really knowing where to go or the dangers that await them, completely serves the immersion and the feeling of perdition.
The huge strength of Unmaze is, of course, its gameplay mechanics using your phone's light sensor . To talk to Asterion, you have to put your phone in the dark and for Theseus, in the light. Be careful, because the more you help one of the boys, the more the other will get lost and turn into a monster. So you have to find a good balance between the shadow and the light. What I like about this mechanic, besides the technical aspect which is cool, is the fact that it makes us responsible, we have the destiny of our heroes in our hands and our decisions will completely change the course of the story.
Breathtaking art direction
Graphically, Unmaze is playable even on a toaster! The game is very light and will not bring your smartphone to its knees. The beauty of the game lies in its art direction and influences rather than in the advanced graphics engine. I liked the "drawn" feel of the game. Also, I found that the deceptively simplistic environments gave the game an "impossible place" feel.
The choice of black and white once again underlines this duality between light and shadow and serves the story brilliantly. There are many inspirations such as the manga Tekkon Kinkreet by Taiyou Matsumoto. An author who speaks of the shortcomings of Japanese society often through the eyes of childhood, a logical influence given the age of our heroes and the themes addressed by the game.
As far as the environments are concerned, the Blame! manga by Tsumoto Nihel strongly inspired the game team by the environment in which its main character moves, a living, gigantic and impossible to measure megastructure like our Labyrinth here. The places will mark you by their architecture and the mix between antiques and science fiction that you will come across.
Whether you like this graphic style or not, it does not leave you indifferent. One thing is sure, it worked well on me!
Music will not keep you company
The last important criterion for a successful game experience is the sound. The developers have chosen to keep the soundtrack to a minimum (or even completely absent) which, in my opinion, is a very good choice because it favours the feeling of solitude of our protagonists. Seeing Theseus and Asterion running blindly towards a seemingly non-existent exit, in a chilling and gripping silence, greatly reinforces the feeling of immensity of the Labyrinth, conveying an impression of helplessness that clearly had me glued!
Unmaze review: A great interactive novel to discover
To conclude, I enjoyed discovering and walking the Labyrinth of Unmaze alongside Asterion and Theseus despite the sometimes heavy dialogue phases and its storyline being a bit too "teenage" for me. At the beginning, this really prevented me from fully immersing myself in the universe. I particularly liked the visual style of the game and I found the gameplay mechanic of using the light sensor of our mobile phone to be a great idea to completely immerse us in the story by putting us in the shoes of Ariadne and her crystal.
You'll really feel like you're responsible for turning one of our heroes into a monster IRL. So I would recommend Unmaze, which is clearly worth the €4.49 just for its world and the experience it gives you.