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Review: The Unspoken

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Don't speak, I know just what you're sayin'

I wasn't really on board with many of the waggle-fests that littered the Wii's library both at launch and near the end of its life. Many titles just felt like an excuse to sell more Wiimotes, and don't even get me started on the Motion Plus upsell that was only supported for a select few games. By the time Skyward Sword rolled around Nintendo had the technology, but it didn't implement it enough (swinging a directionally controlled sword is great, but waggling to swim and shimmy across vines isn't).

We're here now, though, in the era of VR. The Move controller is sufficient enough, and the HTC Vive remotes and Oculus Touch systems are a cut above the rest. One of the first games I've played in the tech that justifies the latter is The Unspoken from Insomniac.

The Unspoken (PC [reviewed with an Oculus Rift and AOC U2879VF monitor])
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Oculus Studios
Released: December 6, 2016
MSRP: TBA

The premise of a "wizard fight club" arena battler is cringeworthy in theory, but hear me out.

The Unspoken leans heavily on the new Oculus Touch controls (hardware review coming in the future), which, when used, marries a control scheme that's incredibly easy to pick up. Since there's a Touch control in each hand, the left side is dedicated to defense in the form of a runic shield (and glows a soothing blue), and the other, the obvious red magma hand, flings fireballs. I really do mean fling, too, as whipping your hand around in any direction will realistically lob a projectile in the direction of your choosing. Movement is done in a little more gamey (but functional) fashion by pressing a face button to teleport from platform to platform.

This left defend right attack concept had me right away, but the addition of gestures and relic actions sealed it. While the latter can get kind of gimmicky (hammering a javelin power-up by whacking an anvil in specific points, or unlocking a minion from a cage by inserting colored keys), the gestures help cement the use of the pricey Touch controllers. You have three gestures to choose from -- push, pull, and crossed arms -- that perform additional powers. Pushing fires a giant homing skull, pulling conjures up low damage but high area impact fireworks, and a crossed motion summons a giant shield.

The meat is in the details, though, which sizzle in the heat of combat. Having to pay attention to where bullets are coming from and putting up a shield to block one direction, while you survey for enemy movement and throw fireballs of your own gives meaning to the room-scale VR experiment. When someone teleports away to another block I get frantic, trying to listen to the directional headset cues or actually locate where they are visually. The same tension goes for when relics are unlocked and I start the miniature puzzle required to unleash them.

There's also a lot of strategy hidden inside the duels themselves. If you're unrelenting in your attacks your foe's shield will crack, leading to a guard-break mechanic, similar to a fighting game. Mixing up your position is crucial to keeping your opponent off guard, and on many occasions I'd find myself blocking with one hand without looking while focusing on where I needed to go next.

The fighter comparison is apt, because this is mostly an online brawler with little in the way of narrative or an offline component. There's a small selection of bot matches to choose from (and a small hub to hang out in), but the majority of your time is going to be spent playing against other humans. Having to anticipate their movements and tactics on the fly, while learning a completely novel control scheme is really cool, and I wish I had the opportunity to do it more often.

That's my main issue with The Unspoken. Like any multiplayer-centric game, a little extra solo content goes a long way. While I didn't have any major issues finding matches during my review session (a lot of people seem to be playing it after getting their Touch remotes, as this is the marquee game for it), one day, I probably will. Not only is the premise a little wacky in the first place but little is done to characterize the universe it's in -- so it's going to be a really hard sell when the Touch is $200 on its own.

When I'm looking at VR games I often ask myself one question -- "does this need to be VR to work?" With titles like Feral Rites (also from Insomniac) providing alternative camera angles, the answer is usually "no." But with the advent of the Touch you're going to have a lot more experiences that really do feel like they can't be done anywhere else but on the PSVR, Vive, or Rift, and The Unspoken falls into that category.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

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The Unspoken reviewed by Chris Carter

7.5

GOOD

Solid and definitely has an audience. There could be some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.
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Chris Carter
Chris CarterReviews Director, Co-EIC   gamer profile

Chris has been enjoying Destructoid avidly since 2008. He finally decided to take the next step, make an account, and start blogging in January of 2009. Now, he's staff! ------------------- T... more + disclosures


 


 


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