Hello darkness my old friend.
A Story About My Uncle is the debut title from Gone North Games published by indie machine Coffee Stain Studios. Yes, that would be the same studio responsible for the ridiculous and somewhat infamous game, Goat Simulator. They are also responsible for the excellent Sanctum series, so it’s not all a joke. Their latest game focuses you the player, on a young boy’s journey across the unknown to find his incredibly cool Uncle Fred. I find that I like to see more than the game itself when I start up any title, and so I always have to browse around the menu first. Normally, this becomes a perfect basis for deciding on whether the game is for me. Seeing how much depth a developer puts into the game’s menus often shows its worth, so I was most pleased to see an ‘unlockables’ option. It seemed to feature various cheats, one of which; was called ‘Goat Mode’, which came as no surprise. There were others but I won’t spoil them, all are unlocked by playing through and unlocking collectibles.
As ever, next I made my way to the options to see what was available for me to tweak and I was pleasantly surprised. There was no real lack of options and I was able to tailor my experience with various changes to what I would say was a diverse array of options. For a game so focused on exploration and sights, being able to alter the likes of Field of View and V-Sync are somewhat necessities; every other alteration was just the icing on an already delicious looking cake. But, as they say, the proof is in the pudding, so now it was time to begin my journey and experience the beauty it claimed to have. The game starts off with a Father telling his Daughter a bedtime story about his Uncle Fred. This serves as the grounding for the whole game, as the player lives out the tale in beautiful fruition. As you enter the ‘memory’ of sorts, you are placed into Uncle Fred’s home. My moves are narrated in perfect timing; it becomes quickly obvious that this is going to be a very personal experience. The title is running on the highest settings, but for what it is, the game runs and looks amazing. Being able to read books and seeing hardly any blur is really something of beauty. Each piece of text is shown in perfect clarity; it became immensely difficult not to check out everything. A simple press of the right mouse button zooms in, which became a nice yet later unused feature. The area of which I am walking around tells a story in the same way the Fallout games do. In those, it’s not uncommon to find someone dead with a trail of clues detailing how they got there. In A Story About My Uncle, it’s slightly less morbid however. Yes, Fred has vanished; but to the best of the player’s knowledge he is not dead. Around his home, energy-type drinks are scattered about as well as numerous fast food packets. Paper is everywhere, books litter the walls and overall, it soon becomes apparent that this is Fred’s lifetime work. It tells a very vivid story from very minute detail, such a feat is no easy task, but Coffee Stain Studios makes it look easy. A bit further along and I am welcomed to a nice new suit which as it happens, is perfectly suited for me. It’s not a suit in the ordinary sense, but rather, an awesome one that gives you super powers. And that’s where the fun begins. The first level disappointed me a lot, graphical fidelity seemed to have dropped massively; with textures looking blurred and in general, not good. I should make it very clear that it was not ugly as such, just not what I was expecting. It was just a huge let down to see such a downgrade in quality. Moving through the level in the super suit, it becomes rapidly clear that this could become quite joyous indeed. Holding down the mouse sent me soaring into the air and landing with a thud. In the game there is no fall damage, but you cannot enter the water. This is known since the player says it, before even entering the water. How? Who knows?
A Story About My Uncle does not introduce any other challenge than parkour elements. Death is more of an inconvenience, and treated in the same way as Super Meatboy (though not nearly as hard). The player is encouraged to continuously try again, with checkpoints never far behind. The game relies on dizzying heights to keep the player concentrating, as falling is really not something you want to do. For the most part, it’s a quite straight forward and linear game, with paths going off for collectibles being short and sweet. There is a section later where you meet people not dissimilar from frogs (as weird as it sounds), who live in a village; which ended up making me completely lost from a simple directional error. It would have been nice to have some kind of indicator, as jumping about can often disorientate ones view.
There is no real choice system in terms of how you take a path, and it’s all laid out in front of you. Though that makes it sound spoon fed, it really is not. Despite showing you the way, the game makes no effort in telling you how to get there. It becomes a serious case of trial and error until you find your way through the various gadgets you come across, the final one of which, is awesome. As leaping and bounding becomes familiar, it’s easy to forget where you are going and why, but for me, this next bit made the game shines gloriously. Occasionally, the daughter will chime in on the narration. She asks questions like a child would, and it becomes so clear that it’s a children’s story, it only serves to suck you in the narration more. It’s a shame not more of this is heard, though this is likely due to the games length.
Skip forward a bit in the story and you are introduced to the great grappling hook! For me, this was where all the fun came from, only later improved by the gadget I refuse to spoil. As if soaring through the air was not fun enough, now I could do it in the same way Spider-man could. Sort of. The hook is initially limited to one shot before you land, with it later being able to be upgraded by ‘Power Cores’ which add to your ability. This kind of upgrade system worked wonders, and makes the player really want to progress for the sake of more power.
Playing along, the game gets increasingly difficult; which was worrying, as to start it was far too simple. As progression was made, it felt like the game was really kicking in. The environments were getting really cool and my character was looking awesome. However, for everything good; something bad nearly always followed. In the case of A Story About My Uncle, I managed to complete the game in 3 very short hours. Sure, it was a fantastic 3 hours with thrills aplenty; but what I would not do to double that time. It ended far too abruptly and left me craving more. It would be possible for the story to continue in some way or other, and it definitely should. The ending was an awe inspiring moment, but it could so have been stretched out. In my eyes, the game was certainly a sleeper hit, and a welcome one at that. I just wish it was a little longer. “Making you a better geek, one post at a time!”