Game

Unpacking Is Impactful, Contemplative and Beautifully Crafted

 

Screenshot: Unpacking

Some of the best storytelling I’ve ever experienced in my life has been wordless. Whether it’s a particular actress or actor’s subtle, nuanced reactions, or the short but incredibly heartrending story of love and loss that is the first few minutes of Up, there are lots of ways to show and not tell that leave an impact. When I got the list of games for LudoNarraCon 2021, Unpacking didn’t leap off the page at me, though it did certainly win me over once I played the demo. Having had a full release this November, though, it’s easily flown to the top of my personal charts as one of the best narrative games I’ve played all year.

Like a lot of narrative heavy games, gameplay in Unpacking is simple, and really, consists of the titular task. Start off in your childhood bedroom, carefully arranging your stuffed animals on and around your bunk bed, hiding your diary under your pillow and pinning up your drawings, and continue on doing so until everything has a place. It’s not entirely a sandbox though, as some things have specific places they should be, which you’ll figure out pretty easily through trial and error. 

Screenshot: Unpacking

As simple and perhaps tedious as it sounds, paired with great art and an amiable soundtrack, you’ll find you don’t much mind stashing books on shelves and finding new configurations for your stuffed animal collection. There are little Easter Eggs in each level to find, too, and just that general satisfaction you get from arranging things just so.

More than that though, a story unfolds, beautifully, with every box you unpack. As you move from your childhood bedroom to your dorm room and beyond, you’ll come to understand who the character you’re playing is, and what things are the most important to her. You’ll experience her triumphs  and losses in a way you wouldn’t expect, from simply exploring the world she lives in one box at a time. 

Screenshot: Unpacking

I can hardly think of any criticism of Unpacking, save for a few moments where it just didn’t make sense where things should go, but it never affected the overall experience enough to truly count as a complaint.

It might sound crazy but Unpacking affected me profoundly, emotionally and touched me on a level I didn’t expect, all without a word. I won’t soon forget how it felt to realize your accomplishments and interests took a backseat to someone else’s and how, even in a place that’s big enough for two, there can be no room for both people. Unpacking not only tells an incredibly true to life story, but it does it with perfect pacing, so that by the time you’ve tried to fit everything in and accommodate everyone and their needs and failed, you can’t help but feel it.

Screenshot: Unpacking

While you wouldn’t think so, revealing any more of the story would serve to spoil you, so I’ll leave it at this. Unpacking is emotional, meditative, lovely and perfectly paced. It’s a game to play to reflect and re-think, and can be quite therapeutic in the end. It’s a game I won’t soon forget, and one I highly recommend to anyone who’s looking for some low key solo time with a great narrative underpinning it all.

Unpacking is available now for PC via Steam and on Nintendo Switch and Xbox where it’s also available through GamePass.

 

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