While perusing best-of lists for PC gaming last year, I saw someone strongly recommending the adventure game Avowed. It looked interesting and I’m always up for a good story, so why not? I won’t keep you in suspense — it made for a nice impulse purchase at around $10.
The premise of Unavowed is that there’s a team of supernatural investigators going around New York City to solve the wonky types of crime that local law enforcement is powerless to handle. Following a possession, the player character is drafted into this small group that includes a genie, a fire mage, and a few other assorted characters that are picked up over the course of the game.
While there is a narrative thread running from start to finish, the bulk of the game is very much episodic in nature. Every “episode” consists of a debriefing at headquarters and an investigation at a certain locale in NYC (each of which contains 4-10 scenes). In typical adventure game pattern, the story is only advanced by solving puzzles, navigating dialogue trees, and generally sleuthing it up.
What really impressed me right out of the gate is that Unavowed contains some rather surprising plot developments and fascinating storytelling. I was never quite sure *what* to expect going off to investigate each location, which made the emerging short stories even more compelling. It was like diving into the middle of a tale and then digging in both directions to get the full of it.
At times, Unavowed could be gory, disturbing, creepy, moving, and funny, although it wasn’t heavy in any of these. Most often, it was simply interesting, and that was enough for me. Unlike most adventure games, Unavowed sticks you with two other companions at any given time who offer up their own thoughts, talk to each other, and have special talents that can influence how a mission plays out. It’s a nice touch that might make the game more replayable, although I don’t see myself going through it more than once.
I won’t spoil any of the surprises or developments here other than to say that there are a few “wham” lines (“How long has she been out here?” really nailed a particular moment) and one ghost who ends up stealing the show from the moment she’s introduced forward. I also appreciated that there are some serious choices to be made from time to time that do have some small impact on the rest of the game.
It’s not a perfect game by any means. While the graphics are decent in a pixel art fashion, the animation is stiff and sometimes overcranked. And while each episode is pretty strong, the threading narrative is very flimsy and not that captivating to consider. It was almost like the developers had a bunch of campfire spooky tales to tell and then had to figure out some way to link them all. Finally, not all of the companions are equal in terms of personalities and backstories — in particular one hardboiled cop.
Overall, I was pretty happy to go through the entirety of Unavowed over the course of a couple of days during Christmas break. I think it might even deserve a sequel, if the team was ever up for it.