Uncanny Valley Review
Uncanny Valley is a 2D horror game in the pixel art style that attempts to instill a sense of paranoia, intrigue and horror in its players. Partly taking place past midnight in an empty office building and in the distorted, surreal nightmares of the player character, Tom. Uncanny Valley tasks players with figuring out the mystery of Tom’s nightmares and the secrets that are held in the game’s seemingly normal office. It’s an experience with plenty of striking moments that bring unease, but its shortcomings do detract from it as a whole and left me tense with frustration.
Unlike many horror games, Uncanny Valley primarily places its story in the almost banal backdrop that is the reality of working the night shift as a security guard at an office building. This grounds the game in a recognizable reality that makes the nightmares and revelations placed throughout that much more surreal.
Between the cubicles and half empty vending machines, is the often grisly and haunting insomnia fueled nightmares of Tom, which are also playable. These instances are the most alluring parts of Uncanny Valley. Walking down dimly-lit streets when all of a sudden dark figures begin chasing you is as exciting as it is scary. While still pixel art, the half human, half machine enemies and backgrounds that appear towards the end of Uncanny Valley have a striking look to them, including their robotic animation.
But when these mechanical enemies set their sights on you, the poorly functioning combat leaves you with little to defend yourself with. Your only real defense against enemies is a handgun with a slow fire rate put against enemies that move faster than you can shoot down, resulting in encounters that often feel unfair. Many games in this genre make players feel vulnerable by limiting their resources, but in Uncanny Valley it just feels unfair and aggravating. It doesn’t help that there is a bug in the game where Tom will still fire his gun if you press the fire button that acts as the select button while in a menu, causing you to lose ammunition.The game also has a damage system that highlights damage on specific limbs and body parts, but it doesn’t really come into effect until the latter part of the game and doesn’t have time to act on its potential.
To unravel what’s hidden, players must collect clues throughout the office and trigger the right sequence of events to get answers, which will then lead to alternate moments and endings. This branching and interconnected story is ambitious, but it often lead to me retreading once interesting moments from my first playthrough now turned annoying in my next playthrough, just to reach the same end point. I personally found the most common ending, the “bad” ending, to be the most interesting. This ending centered on my favorite character of the game, but the first time I reached that ending I just stumbled onto it without any context. It wasn’t until my fourth playthrough, the one where I received the good ending, that I was able to find enough information to make the connections to make sense of the “bad” ending. Since it seems to be the easiest ending in the game to reach, I can imagine other players reaching that ending without enough information and walk away with many things unanswered.
Uncanny Valley has some haunting, tense, and intriguing moments, but the flaws are substantial. The clockwork enemies with rotting flesh hanging from the walls. The moments when the pieces come together. Those are the instances where Uncanny Valley is strong. But when things go wrong they are actively upsetting, to the point where it’s easy to forget what it does well.
Reviewed on a retail PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita with code supplied by the publisher. Also available on Xbox One and PC.