Australian developer Witch Beam first jumped onto the scene when they released their hit twin-stick shooter Assault Android Cactus on PlayStation 4 back in 2016. They then worked to port it to Xbox One and the Nintendo Switch in the years following and I liked it so much I reviewed it twice. While that was a great first start for the team, they decided that their second game would be something completely different. Enter Unpacking, a zen puzzle game published by Humble Games that is all about following a character’s life as they move and unpack things throughout it. I didn’t get a chance to get to it when it released on Xbox, Switch, and PC last year but the PlayStation versions just launched so there was no better time than now to see what it was all about.
Unpacking is a game that doesn’t tell its narrative through text or voice overs. Rather it is a game that conveys its story through the possessions of the character that you’ll be unpacking over and over through multiple homes. As someone who spent a lot of my younger life moving quite a lot, I could definitely relate to how it felt to bring sentimental objects with me from home to home. The gameplay of Unpacking is simple on the surface as you play through eight different levels and each time you are taking objects out of cardboard boxes and trying to place them somewhere in the room. A lot of the time it is up to you where you put each object but certain ones only have certain places they can go and the game will tell you it is in the wrong spot through a flashing red outline on the object. Places you can place things includes on the walls, on desks, in a cabinet, on the sofa, in the bathroom, and so on.
What I liked about the game is that if you pay attention you can learn things about the character as you move from house to house throughout their life. You’ll learn that the character is a woman and that certain items are very important to her as they are always there in the boxes to unpack. Others might be gone the next time you find her unpacking. New objects will appear giving you an idea of what has happened in her life since she lived in her last place. It’s really amazing just how the game tells its story through what seems like such a simple concept from the outside. My only real issues with the game are that it isn’t very long and there isn’t much of a reason to replay it after finishing it. Moving and using the cursor on the controller can also be a bit cumbersome at times.
Unpacking’s tranquil gameplay is complimented by a pixel art style that is equally as relaxing to look. Everything is just so enjoyable to look at as you pull it from the box and find a spot for it whether it be a cute stuffed animal, a book, or a game console. The soundtrack by Jeff Van Dyck is also very relaxing and even uplifting in certain moments. Sound effects are done well too as interacting with certain objects like a plastic case sounds like it should and the team even made it so certain sound effects play through the DualSense speaker which I always enjoy. Trophy hunters on PlayStation will find 26 trophies to earn including a Platinum. It’s a very easy list that will have you doing some fun things with various objects along the way.
Unpacking is a wonderful gem from an independent team that tried something drastically different from their last game and succeeded in the execution. It manages to tell an emotional and intimate tale just by having you unpack objects over and over and that is to be commended. If you’re looking for a relaxing game to spend a few hours with that doesn’t ask a lot out of you then Unpacking is the game for you.
*Unpacking is available now on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC. PlayStation 5 version reviewed. Review copy provided by the publisher for this review.