The first biggest surprise and part of the best section of the EA E3 2018 briefing was the sudden reveal of Unravel Two, a sequel to one of my favourite indie games of all times and one that kick started the whole EA Originals programme for EA. The real surprise was that the game was completed and released at the very moment it was revealed at the briefing making it the first “you can play it right now” moment of E3. The first game has a big place in my gamer’s heart and I hoped for a sequel so it was almost like Christmas Morning to find it on the store just under an hour after the reveal. The biggest change was that for the first time Yarney would not be alone as co-op was introduced to the game. To say I was excited to jump back into this world was an understatement but after playing it, sad to say it did not have the same impact as the original despite the evolution of the gameplay.
The game opens with a boat at sea in the middle of a tremendous storm with huge waves crashing against the boat causing our hero Yarney, though it is never explained exactly why he was on the boat to start with, to break his line fall into the sea to end up washed ashore. Waking up to find an old suitcase, it slowly opens to reveal another Yarney which is coloured blue climbs out of the case and after meeting the two connect their yarn lines forming a bond that sees them both heading off on their own journey together. That journey will have them following the ‘Spark of Adventure’, a glowing orb that guides them in the direction they need to go to in each of the seven chapters that make up the main campaign.
The gameplay is very much in line what the original game so those who have played the first Unravel will instantly pick this up and feel at home but the evolution into having two Yarney characters adds a refreshing new dynamic especially in how you approach the puzzles. Now it must be said if it is not obvious but this is designed to be played in co-op with two players controlling both Yarney characters. The first disappointment with this is that it is limited to local co-op only which is something that in the last couple of years has really annoyed me quite frankly when games do this with the main complaint being with LEGO games. I get that the real joy to sharing a game via co-op is having that person right there next to you as you enjoy the game and solve puzzles but for those who have their main gaming friends not available geographically local enough to pop over to pick up my spare controller, it is a wasted opportunity to share this game with friends far away when they is no real need to remove online co-op at all.
That said, this is a game that despite being designed to be played by two people, it can still completely be played enjoyed as a single player. Both Yarneys can be controlled by a single player by switching the focus to either of them at any time whilst the other remains in the position you left them. When needed to just move through the level, the two will combine together to form a single Yarney making everything so natural and fluid which comes in very handy when dealing with the new designed puzzles that require the two characters to work together. Some puzzles will need one to hold an object to allow the other to reach a higher platform or to help the other navigate to an area to then hold on the line to allow the other to pull them to rejoin it. The puzzles are so cleverly designed for this new mechanic that it made it both familiar yet different enough to the first game that I actually enjoyed the puzzles and level designs in the sequel to the original. Some really take some real thought into finding the solutions with some being obvious and some deviously clever in the solution.
The visuals, animation and musical score once again just blend together and compliment each other so well that as with the first game, just take this to an entirely new level of game experience that for an indie game is just crazy to see compared to other AAA titles that fail in getting that very same balance. It brings a level of emotion and emersion to the game that makes it a joy to be in as a player.
But then there is the sad point at which they just get the strongest element that made the first Unravel so amazing wrong, the story. The first game was all about life and the highs and lows a journey through life can have. It was poignant and emotional as you collected the memories for a scrap book and reliving some powerful events in a long lifetime that made Yarney’s journey so very special and brought the player along that ride so you each moment connected with you and the ending made it a complete journey for the player. That is where Unravel two….unravels. There is a story being told throughout each chapter with the shadow images of two children trying to escape sinister adult figures and we see them running away, exploring, playing and then trying to escape throughout the story. There are even moments where the solution of the puzzle will cause the spark you are following to interact with their world to help create a distraction or means of escape for the kids giving me hope that it was all connected.
Where it falls down is that it is never explained fully who the kids or the adults are and why they are running away. Throughout the seven story chapters I and especially during the final three chapters, I was concerned that what I was seeing being played out in the background to the gameplay was leading no where and sadly, the ending it so confusing and devoid of any explanation it almost feels that the game is actually incomplete unlike the first game which had a beginning, a middle and an end that was satisfying to play and understand. It quite frankly spoiled the entire experience to this sequel because the story for me was as important as the gameplay in the first game and this simply fails in telling that story but even worse in just deciding not to bother giving an explanation to events being played out. As the credits rolled and the personal thank you message from the developers rolls down the screen to explain that love is a bond that brings people together I was just reading there with a “is that it?” look on my face as I tried to process what the closing cut scenes were meant to show me. It was frustrating and disappointing.
I had high hopes for this sequel and ultimately was let down by the hype I had built up for it. The gameplay is strong though and there is some replay value in the speed running objectives that each chapter has after the prologue to complete it in the fastest time and by not dying along the way that some may be happy to go after. I did feel that some of the final chapters suffered from the puzzle designs feeling as though they wanted players to fail and learn so that they would go back and replay the chapter again which for me took me out of the chapter too much especially when the music and imagery in the background implied that this was an important chapter to play without the forced pausing. A set of challenges have also been added which give players the chance to rescue other Yarneys who are captured by utilising the puzzle solving mechanics seen in the main campaign. These are both challenging and fun and after rescuing them, they become options in the appearance editor that allows players to modify the main Yarney characters how they want should they choose to.
However the story for me is key to why Unravel worked so beautifully as a game and sadly here it feels as though some attempt to recreate that in the sequel was made but somewhere down the line or perhaps a victim of the E3 sudden reveal and release, was thrown out leaving it incomplete and confusing. Though the gameplay, level designs, visuals and musical score are something to be applauded, it fails to recapture or even use the same storytelling and writing elements that made the first so magical and in such a way that it undoes so much of what it had accomplished originally and tried to follow up with.
Sadly Unravel Two focused far too much on delivering clever gameplay at the cost of telling a fulfilling story and so almost becomes forgettable which is a real shame. Still worth playing if you enjoyed the first however it would be better to enjoy the gameplay with a friend or solo than to expect more of the same emotional story telling that won me over personally with the first game.