Developed By: Cowardly Creations
Published By: Digerati
Category: Survival Horror, Puzzle, Adventure, Action
Release Date: 12.25.18
Partially funded through an IndieGoGo campaign, Uncanny Valley for the Nintendo Switch was originally released for the PC in 2015. It made its way to both the PS4 and X-Box One in 2017, and publisher Digerati has completed the console trifecta with a Switch release on Christmas day in 2018. Developers Cowardly Creations have the stated goal of creating an old-school survival horror game that focuses its gameplay on atmosphere, exploration, and story over action – though there is some action to be found.
What Has Science Done?
Tom is a new security guard at a shuttered research facility owned by the Melior Corporation. He arrives one day and meets the facility’s only other inhabitants, Buck – a fellow security guard – and Eve – a housekeeper. Tom gets the night shift, which means he has to patrol the big, empty facility in the dark. Every morning when his shift is up, he heads back to his room in the employee dorms and has nightmares of shadowy figures overwhelming him. You control Tom as he descends into the mystery surrounding the secret project that got the facility shuttered – and his own troubled past.
Choose Your Own
Death Dismemberment Adventure
The narrative puzzle at the heart of the game is enthralling and difficult to uncover. Few hints are provided the player during the game, but the biggest one comes right after you boot up the game. Players are warned that Uncanny Valley features wildly branching storylines which reward multiple playthroughs. My first playthrough ended when I stole the keys to Buck’s car and drove off; I died in a car crash during the escape. I didn’t mean to end the game there; I had no idea stealing the car would lead to an ending after only 30 minutes of playing and nothing that could really be classified as “survival” or “horror.”
My next playthrough saw me reading through company e-mails and shedding more light on Tom’s past via his nightmares. I learned more about the Melior Corporation’s project; suffice it to say, anyone who’s consumed any sci-fi horror movies, novels, or games could have told them things would work out the way they did. This playthrough had significantly more horror elements, but I couldn’t quite make the survival part work. Each successive playthrough evolved into a bigger, more engaging story. Informed by the failures of my previous attempts, I was able to make a little more progress every time towards the good ending; or at least I assume there’s an ending that doesn’t end with Tom’s mutilation or annihilation; four playthroughs in I still haven’t found the route that leads to success. Google tells me there’s a good ending, though, so I’ll trust it. But I received a different ending every time, so there is certainly a strong variety of branches.
Find Things and Use Them
Uncanny Valley incorporates some point-and-click adventure game elements in its puzzle-solving mechanics. Namely, you can collect items you come across and use them on objects or people to alter the environment and open new pathways. In a more survival-horror style element, you must also strictly monitor your resources because there are very, very few of them to be found. When you come across any enemies, you may not even have a weapon to use against them. Running is an option, but you run out of breath after sprinting – and Tom clearly is not the athletic type. He starts huffing and puffing after like half a screen. The best advice I can give? Keep your eyes open for a gun ASAP. It’s just easier that way.
Dimensions of Horror, Not Depth
The 2D sidescrolling perspective of Uncanny Valley gives the survival horror aspects of the game a bit of a different feel for me. My background with the genre is in the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series; you’ll remember that both of them feature a third dimension. That 3D perspective really emphasized survival; you could successfully run from most enemies if you needed to. Uncanny Valley does not provide players that luxury. Basically, you either already have a solution to a problem or you don’t. More plainly, either you get to keep playing, or you get to experience one of the many endings. I feel that this limits the appeal of the exploration aspects of the game a little; if you enter a room too early and die, you now have to replay everything up to that point to take a different path. While I don’t mind multiple playthroughs, I do occasionally get bothered by excessive backtracking, which is sometimes what we’re talking about here.
Smaller development teams don’t have the luxury of the high-end 3D graphics some of the more well-known franchises enjoy. One of the more popular solutions to that problem is to go old-school; obviously I’m talking about pixels, baby! Uncanny Valley features a very slick 16-bit style visual direction. I’m not sure it’s the right choice for a horror game, however. Despite a genuinely beautiful pixel aesthetic, images that are meant to be disturbing can come off as unnecessarily cartoonish. The dark color palette and general dearth of light sources do create quite the creepy atmosphere in conjunction with a low, oppressive soundtrack, however. So the art direction in general is great; I just felt that a few moments didn’t land quite the way they were probably intended.
Uncanny Valley does not feature any touch or motion controls, so you can play it docked or undocked as you wish. Personally, my TV does a better job rendering dark colors than the Switch’s screen, so I preferred playing while docked (plus the Pro controller is just so much more comfortable to hold). Overall, though, I don’t see any real reason to recommend one style of play over the other; the game experience is essentially the same whether you play it docked or undocked.
TL;DR: A creepy, well-crafted survival horror game whose multiple story branches can sometimes feel repetitive.