As special agent Jesse Fox, I've become trapped beneath an enemy base, hunted by countless guards above. A voice in my head reminds me this is just a flashback, and asks me if there were any rats in this deadly sewer. A dialogue prompt appears, and for some godforsaken reason, I pick "tons."
"The sewer was infested with assassin rats," Fox says. "I felt like a huge chunk of cheese."
His pixelated body morphs into a piece of cheese. Rats flood out of every pipe and hole and I start running for my dairy-filled life, and to add insult to injury, the Benny Hill theme song starts blaring while rodents nip at my ankles.
That sums up the tone UnMetal is going for. Developed by UnEpic Games (makers of parody games UnEpic and Ghost 1.0), UnMetal is a spoof on the original top-down 2D Metal Gear games for the MSX, replacing Solid Snake with a weird himbo who can't get his story straight. I played the first couple hours last week, and I found myself having to explain to my partner multiple times why I was laughing like an idiot.
Told through a series of flashbacks (and sometimes flashbacks within flashbacks), special agent Jesse Fox is interrogated by a lieutenant who found him flying a Russian helicopter, despite not being a member of the Russian forces. As Jesse tells it, he was imprisoned by his fellow commandos for a crime he didn't commit. We know this because A) Jesse tells the audience directly and B) a character in the flashback yells "you are under arrest for a crime you didn't commit!" It's as convoluted as it sounds, but in a Mel Brooks fashion that's nonetheless still hilarious.
UnMetal's opening chapters follow Jesse as he reflects on his escape from an enemy base that's Shadow Moses or Outer Heaven in all but name, with the player taking control to stealth through areas patrolled by guards and occasionally solve point-and-click style puzzles. All along the way, Jesse, his interrogator, or one of the characters he meets will frequently interrupt to add color commentary or question Jesse's logic. Sometimes it's a little sophomoric, like the literal bathroom humor of giving a Johnny Sasaki-looking guy some extra toilet paper, and sometimes it's a masterfully executed set piece like the rat sewer chase.
The joy of UnMetal isn't so much in its gameplay, which is more-or-less the simplistic sneaking of classic Metal Gear games, but in all the self aware meta jokes that poke fun at Hideo Kojima's flair for bonkers storytelling, villainous monologuing, and action hero logic. The sneaking is serviceable for anyone who's played a top-down stealth game. You can toss coins to lure gullible guards, press up against a corner to prepare to strike, and punch or shoot your way to an easy knockout or kill.
Your inventory grid will quickly fill up with seemingly useless junk that you'll need to combine together to make new tools (a slingshot made from the eyepatch of a one-eyed guard is a highlight) or complete an objective, like decrypting a radio so you can freely chat with another prisoner who bears a strong resemblance to Colonel Campbell, Snake's commander in Metal Gear Solid. Some of these point-and-click item puzzles are a little tedious, but almost always pay off with a bit of humorous dialogue. My suggestion to ease the frustration? Punch and loot everything, just like a good soldier should.
Another highlight is how frequently the world around you can change shape thanks to Jesse Fox's unreliable narration. His dialogue is riddled with embellishments, like when Jesse approaches a boss known as "Grenade Guy" but can't reach him due to a shallow ditch. Why couldn't Jesse just jump over it? Because it was filled with spears, tentacles, and zombie arms reaching up from the depths, he says. Lo and behold, the ditch is suddenly filled with an Eldritch abomination that disappears when the lieutenant waves the notion away as ridiculous. The gags wouldn't be out of place in action movie spoofs like Hot Shots or Naked Gun.
I'm genuinely enjoying the farce here. The different layers of narration, and how unreliable a lot of it can be, surpasses any bits of gameplay that don't amaze. Certainly the actual Metal Gear franchise wouldn't be as beloved if its absurdist heightening of reality wasn't enjoyable, and UnMetal finds a way to heighten things even further, celebrating and mocking Kojima's storytelling in the same breath, and creating a mysterious, anything-goes narrative that makes me want to keep plugging away at Jesse Fox's journey to freedom, and getting justice for the crime he definitely 100% did not commit.