Nostalgia is a very common trend with video games, where you’ll see titles arching back to perhaps something that doesn’t exist any more, and this can be for a number of reasons. With games, of course, it’s usually a technological aspect that means titles like UnMetal, a 2D top‐down adventure game, have been superseded by full 3D worlds and mega high budget photo-realistic visuals. For old bastards like me, and perhaps Jesse Fox, the game's protagonist, it will bring back very fond and warm memories of games of the past, such as Commando, Contra, and of course, Metal Gear (before it went Solid!).
So, UnMetal is a stealth action game, where you are playing the part of Fox (another reference!), and as well as playing, Fox also narrates the game. The setup for the story is that you are being questioned about a crime you may, or may not have committed - yet another Metal Gear reference! (sorry, that’s the last one I mention, but the game is full of things like this and I love it).
You are free to play the game in a couple of ways; you can run around attacking any enemy you come across, knocking them out, searching them to see if they drop items, and generally clearing areas that way. Or, you can be stealthy, hugging walls, distracting guards and enemies with noises, throwing coins and so on. This will get the guard to investigate the incident, and then you can sneak past without alerting them – or others – to your presence. It’s all done very neatly, and easily through simple controls, and it works very well, adding variety to the way you play the game.
Along the way, you’ll come across boss fights, and these will typically require a specific item to defeat them (which you would have picked up along the way), or you can use environmental elements within the boss room itself. These are really cool, and the start of the fight always has a Street Fighter-style fullscreen VS intro. There’s sometimes quite a steep difficulty spike compared to the rest of the game, but the checkpointing is such that you are put right back into the action again so it’s never really an issue.
Where UnMetal absolutely excels is the writing and humour. It’s genuinely engaging and funny, mocking the genre and of course itself - It actually feels very Hideo Kojima-esque in this regard, with its level of self-awareness.
The retro visuals are very appealing, with pleasantly styled objects, environments and set pieces - it looks suitably gritty, and creates a very convincing game world to play in. Unsurprisingly, but always good to note is that it runs flawlessly at 60fps on the Xbox Series S, and really does look cool on a big TV.
More impressive, perhaps, is the sound. The music immediately gives me vibes and memories of Metal Gear Solid, which is truthfully about the biggest praise I can give it. It sounds stunning through headphones, with really a fitting spy/stealth/military score, and then there is the voice acting - it’s excellent, with very convincing delivery and the casting is absolutely spot on for ‘Fox'.
The only real issue I had with the game was that at times, the inventory system felt a little clunky, combining items and assigning them to quick inputs. I think perhaps making it more obvious what items are assigned to what on the in-game UI would have helped. This actually gave me memories of the early Resident Evil inventory system. I got used to it then and I did with UnMetal too. It’s just a minor issue, really, and one that doesn't affect how I feel about the game.
I really loved this game. It plays great, it references beautifully one of my favourite video games series of all time, and does it with its own character and class. Although far from original, it’s an ironically refreshing experience, in stark contrast to the typical games you’ll play on current-gen consoles.
Special thanks to Aidan at Plan of Attack for the review code.