In addition to our main Game of the Year Awards 2021, each member of the PC Gamer team is shining a spotlight on a game they loved this year. We'll post new staff picks, alongside our main awards, throughout the rest of the month.
Moving house is apparently one of the most stressful things you can do, but Unpacking takes this life event—several of them, in fact—and turns it into an incredibly relaxing experience. There haven't been many games that have really grabbed my attention this year, and I certainly didn't expect it from this cute little indie from developer Witch Beam. But within a couple of minutes of being introduced to my first cosy bedroom, I fell in love with this organisational puzzler.
You play out the various house moves of the unseen main character, from their first childhood bedroom through to adulthood. The game spans just over twenty years and the only clues you get to your character's identity during that time are through the items you take out of the carefully packed boxes with each subsequent move.
As you progress through the years—and homes—you naturally spread to more rooms, and eventually, you have whole houses to unpack. Your belongings get more plentiful, too, and you have to learn to share your space with others, from housemates to live-in partners. Everything has a place, even if the amount of stuff you accumulate between moves initially seems overwhelming when looking at the room you have to work with.
With each move, you'll learn which objects are held dear—whether that's a stuffed animal that's been with you since childhood, or a model of the Eiffel Tower, perhaps from a school trip or a reminder of a romantic weekend getaway. And that's the thing; you aren't given any background information whatsoever. It's up to you to make up your own history for these items as you unpack them.
This isn't something the game forces you to do either—you can treat it as a clinical, organisational sim if you want—but you'll probably find yourself thinking about these items and where they came from anyway. That teddy bear you've been carrying around with you since childhood? It might make sense to shove it away in a cupboard when you move in with your partner. But as you clearly have an attachment to it, it gets pride of place on the bed—in my game, anyway.
It's not all big, important stuff either. It's the random fridge magnets and the questionably tacky holiday souvenirs that help to round out the personality of the character whose belongings you're tasked with finding a place for, time after time.
There's even a certain satisfaction to be gained from the sound of opening a box and the slight rustling of the packing material as you uncover each item. And as you dig through socks and pyjamas, soft toys and books, you're rewarded with the noise the box makes once it's been emptied and flattened.
Where you place the items is mostly up to you, at least to a certain extent. A few things have particular requirements about where they can be placed. Your keyboard needs to be within a certain distance of your PC obviously, let's not be neanderthals here. But for the most part, you can have fun with where you think your stuff should go. And if you want to be free of any placement restrictions, there's a setting in the accessibility options menu that lets you get rid of the puzzle element entirely.
Unpacking satisfies that need to be organised—even if you aren't in real life—and lets you play out that inner urge to stow away your stuff in places that seem sensible to you. It's a way to put your stamp on what often starts out as a bland living space. And while you wouldn't think there would be that many different ways to place items in a room, I've seen surprising variations in a few different screenshots from other players.
Unpacking is one of the most chill games I've played this year. And while you can complete it in a few hours, the time spent organising your home(s) exactly the way you want them is genuinely cathartic. Who knew moving house could be so relaxing?