Unrest is a roleplaying game in the literal sense. In a vision of ancient India lightly dusted with fantasy elements, you briefly inhabit and guide the lives of a cast of very different, and unusual, characters. You don't play as a warrior or a wizard, but a girl facing the prospect of an arranged marriage, a starving child living in a slum, and others. It's an intriguing setup.
Dialogue is the focus. There's a lot of text here - enough to give Planescape: Torment a run for its money - and you'll spend the majority of the short 2-3 hour running time reading. Luckily it's all decently written, although I found it a little too earnest. Some lighter moments would have been welcome, even though, to be fair, that might have jarred with the subject matter. It's a mature tale of politics, corruption, war, famine, and religion that can get very heavy at times.
Even though you can finish it in a few hours, replays are encouraged. There are dozens of ways to complete each vignette, and experimenting with dialogue choices can dramatically alter the story. My favourite is the character trying to get out of the arranged marriage. In my first attempt I ended up sentenced to death for refusing to go through with it. In another I managed to escape the village and my fate. The paths leading to both outcomes were full of interesting moments and personalities. How you speak to people affects their opinion of you, and I enjoyed choosing dialogue options based on the pre-determined 'traits' each protagonist has.
As engaging as the stories are, I can see the presentation being a stumbling point for a lot of people. The hand-painted environments have a certain charm, but the characters are basic and sparsely animated. Audio is also a problem. Each music track is short and has no looping point, making the soundtrack quickly become grating as it endlessly stops and starts. The world the devs have created is rich with history and culture, but this detail is relayed through the text, not the environments.
Unrest feels more like a choose your own adventure book than the RPG it claims to be. I love the story, and the decision to eschew voice acting for large amounts of detailed, evocative text, but the game itself feels almost unnecessary. Movement and interaction are similar to a point-and-click adventure. Quests are picked up from NPCs and logged in a journal, some of which are optional. As a game it's fairly lightweight, so don't expect a challenge or any systems to play with. It's in the story and colourful dialogue that you'll find the best of what Unrest has to offer.
Moral dilemmas are the order of the day, and you'll be forced to deal with some tricky subjects - some of which can have pretty grim outcomes. Bhirma, the game's setting, is an unpleasant place, and some of the characters you'll meet are despicable. Those fantasy elements I mentioned earlier come in the form of the naga, a race of snake-like beings who humans are, naturally, fearful of. You get to play as a naga yourself, and seeing things from their perspective is a nice touch. I like how the game steers away from the binary morality that plagues a lot of choice-and-consequence RPGs.
Unrest tells a deep, text-heavy tale in a genuinely unique setting, but it's a shame the quality of the game itself can't match that of the writing - and that the ending is so abrupt and unsatisfying. If you can stomach the low production values you'll find a diverse adventure that rewards experimentation, but one that takes itself a little too seriously, and that will only take a handful of hours to finish.
Expect to pay: £10/$15
Release: Out now
Publisher: KISS Ltd
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A compelling story with many outcomes, but the game itself is a little too rough around the edges.