A plentiful amount of games are entering the psychological horror genre this year. Dead Space and Amnesia: The Bunker have already left their mark this year, with titles like Alan Wake 2 still to come. Duality Games’ Unholy needed to achieve a lot to stand out in the crowd, which it unfortunately struggles to do. While the fundamentals of the game have its merits, there is a lack of polish which tarnishes the enjoyment of the game.
Protagonist Dorothea is investigating the disappearance of her son, Gabriel, who has been kidnapped by a religious cult. Assisted by a mysterious crone, she must navigate two parallel worlds using masks and emotions. These two worlds are the grey and cold reality of a brutalist post-soviet Eastern European town and the creepy and twisted world of Unholy, a grotesque society ruled by a relentless priest caste.
Unholy suffers from mediocre and often unpolished gameplay which diminishes the excitement of the story unfolding around you. While the story isn’t innovative in any way, it’s what pushed me to finish the game. I wanted to know how Dorothea and her son’s fate concluded.
Frustrating game design conceals an otherwise great game. After enduring unresponsive and inconsistent controls, mindless AI that can insta-kill you, and no variety in enemies, I was left with a sour taste in my mouth. Call me greedy, but I wanted more.
Dorothea is equipped with a slingshot-like weapon that has the ability to shoot “Emotions” at enemies and other objects. “Shock” allows you to shoot bolts of electricity, ‘sadness’ creates smoke bombs to help sneak past enemies, ‘anger’ can break certain marked objects in the environment, and ‘desire’ can lure and distract enemies from spotting you. I really enjoyed this mechanic, it allows you to approach most situations in your own way.
Enemies can not be killed directly. Objects in the environment like gas bottles must be used to kill enemies. Alternatively, stealth is usually an option with the ‘desire’ and ‘sadness’ emotions assisting that route. I didn’t mind not being able to kill enemies directly, but it was the lack of enemy variety that made encounters feel dull by late game. There are only three main enemy types: an armoured soldier, an undead enemy, and an invisible undead enemy.
Dorothea is able to outrun these enemies, but she’s not as nimble as I would like a character to be in a game where you can’t defend yourself. The AI is not great either. The undead enemies often chase you and start running into walls, or camp doorways that you really need to go into. Lockers are available to hide in throughout the game which gives players a chance to rest. Oddly, if an enemy sees you run into the locker, they forget you’re even there.
Throughout the story, you collect different masks which allow you to navigate the world in a different way. Masks can highlight objects, protect you from poisonous gas, and reveal invisible enemies. The masks and emotions mechanics were a standout for me, really innovative and fun.
Puzzles appear throughout the game most of which resemble ones you may have seen in Resident Evil games. They aren’t as creative or large-scale as RE but are still enjoyable to some extent. I would have loved to have seen more puzzles utilise the emotions or masks available, as many require you to just read a note in the area.
When it comes to the graphics, it looks phenomenal. The environments are incredibly detailed and with rich textures throughout. The only gripe I have is the look of the human character models. Obviously, I’m not expecting mo-cap quality with facial structures and movements, but characters like Dorothea often look lifeless. Thankfully, masks are worn by most human characters in this game, so it doesn’t stand out that much.
There are some really well-designed set pieces, with some great cinematic direction as well. The cutscenes are well structured and not too frequent, which allows you to be immersed when not frustrated by previously mentioned issues. When it comes to the horror elements, the game can get quite tense, albeit those scary moments are short-lived.
Unholy presents a compelling story that will keep the player engaged, even after enduring the poor gameplay design. While the innovative mechanics using ‘masks’ and ‘emotions’ are standout features of the game, the frustrating enemy encounters will find some players wanting to put the game down. Overall, Unholy offers an intriguing narrative with some unique gameplay elements, but technical flaws hinder its full potential.
- ‘Emotion’ and ‘Mask’ mechanics are fantastic
- Environments look beautiful
- Story will keep you playing it
- Poor gameplay design
- Lack of variety in enemies
- Unresponsive and inconsistent controls
A review code was provided for the purpose of this review.