Unearthed Inc: The Lost Temple is a puzzle adventure game that puts you in the shoes of a fresh recruit to a treasure hunting company. With telekinetic powers and an obligatory wise-cracking robot sidekick named Droid, you venture deep into the Amazonian jungle in search of the fabled Dragoon Egg. What follows is a magical adventure that at times can be positively breathtaking, and at other times hopelessly exasperating.
Unearthed Inc Details:
Developer: Glo Inc
Available On: Steam (Vive, Rift), Oculus Home (Rift)
Coming Soon: PlayStation VR, Google Day Dream
Reviewed On: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift
Release Date: December 16th, 2016
All too often in adventure games you’re find yourself led by the hand by a sarcastic robot who tells you where you need to go and what you have to do when you get there. While the trope itself is pretty useful for padding out a game’s narrative at the same time giving you direction, it tends to leave a pretty sour taste in my mouth after a while. I like exploring and figuring things out on my own, and after playing countless games with floating robot buddies tagging along, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d rather be frustrated with a game than swept through it by an overzealous robo-nanny.
In Unearthed Inc your side-kick Droid is helpful, robotic and sarcastic, yes, but he also thankfully stays out of your business if you want him to. Glancing at him quickly will signal you want a tip from him, which he’s all too glad to provide at no penalty, but you can otherwise let him jabber to himself as you try to figure out where to get the next piece of the puzzle.
Thanks to your new found telekinetic powers, you can effectively tractor-beam objects straight to your open hand and then ‘force push’ them at enemies and specific puzzles. It’s kind of childhood fantasy come to life, and getting the hang of magnetically tractoring a weapon or object to my hand quickly became second nature, and mostly works as it should. More on that later.
Puzzles – if you’re not into fetch quests, then you may feel a little resentful at all the mechanical gears, keys, and other wiggly-bits you have to collect and bung into place, which at times are stored in less than likely places. Oftentimes I would resort to spamming Droid to get a clue where the next piece was simply because of how obscure the answer would invariably turn out to be. Who knew the only thing to knock down a mushroom was a bottle of poison? I sure as hell didn’t.
To break up the more or less 2 hour puzzle adventure, there are actually some not-so-easy boss battles that really bring your physicality into play, something that was delightfully unexpected and a nice change from the regular humdrum of puzzles and cut scenes. Dodging fireballs, dynamite, and energy orbs from a number of baddies—all headed straight for your face, mind you— while you have to shoot back with whatever’s on hand really gets the blood pumping. It also lets you release some of that frustration you may have built up knocking through puzzles—puzzles that at times felt too obscure and disconnected from my apparent goal that when finally get to a boss battle, you’re ready to blast pretty much anything with a rock to the face.
The story itself is a little weak and tends to be a straightforward ‘find the thing because… you just gotta’ quest, some of which can be forgiven due to what I felt was a smorgasbord approach to entertainment: Offer a little bit of everything and hope something sticks. And to their credit, a lot of it did.
If you play according to the game’s unwritten rules, i.e. don’t clip through walls, don’t place items in the wrong spots, don’t try to use the wrong item for the wrong purpose—you may feel as much presence in Unearthed as any other standing room-scale game. While both well rendered and well voice acted, the uncomfortable truth is that the game’s object interaction is just too rough and inconsistent to be truly immersive.
Throwing items in VR isn’t easy, simply because you don’t have the same physical feedback cues like weight and size that help you learn when you should release an object to hit a target accurately. While you can telekinetically ‘shoot’ any item in your hand, you can’t exactly put an arc on it like you would, say if you needed to get an orb into a cup or a log into a fire pit. At times I would be absolutely baffled why the I was being forced to play a second rate carnival game to move forward in the narrative.
Unearthed Inc also suffers from a mismanagement of expectations. When it comes to seemingly simple tasks like opening containers, I still don’t fully grasp why I’d have to use a pickaxe to open a small wooden box or breaking into a nearly broken fissure in the wall (both containing a quest items inside), not when I could logically use my fists, a metal saw, a rock, a knife, a log, or any other number of sufficiently sharp or blunt items in my inventory. The game just doesn’t want you to do it.
The same goes for inventory. Why can’t I put a map in my inventory that is no bigger than any other item that’s already in there? Again, the game wants you to realize that the map is unimportant to further progress. But that should be something I decide, not the game.
Unearthed Inc relies on a sort of point-and-click teleport system that only gives you very specific nodes, something similar to Cyan’s VR-capable puzzler Obduction (2016). This is true about 99 percent of the time, making it an ultimately comfortable experience—all except a fast-paced mine cart ride half way through that’s pretty nausea-inducing.
At moments your actual POV is lurchingly shifted around you so you can see an Indian Jones-esque boulder come tumbling down after, a locomotion no-no that Oculus suggests against in their Best Practices Guide. That said, the entire scene felt disorienting and a little too ‘bottom of the VR barrel’ for my tastes, a pity considering how competent the rest of game presents itself.