Many western role-playing games offer freedom of choice as a way to digest your decisions and serve you with consequences. Developed by Indian-based studio Pyrodactyl, Unrest is a bit more unconventional, as you’re not just dealing with the choices made by a singular protagonist, but an entire cast.
Set in a fantasy-clad ancient India, you’ll spend a day in the life of numerous characters residing within the walls of Bhimra; a once powerful city-state that’s now stricken with famine, drought, and poverty. India’s caste system further separates its citizens, sequestering the poor to the slums while the wealthy and religious figureheads control the city. Fearing they have no other choice amidst the famine, the leaders of Bhimra talk of negotiating a trade agreement with the reptilian Naga, which would offer their surplus population a home in exchange for foodstuffs. There are no right or wrong answers, but the choices you make will affect the lives of everyone. No pressure!
Unrest is a text-heavy role-playing game where you’ll spend a majority of your time reading bulk amounts of dialogue, whether it be journal entries, item descriptions, or character biographies. You’ll navigate each character along an isometric playing field, but there are no spells to fling or dragons to slay — just text to read. Lots and lots of text. And since none of it is voiced over, you may find yourself having to break for a few minutes just to give your eyes a rest. The dialogue is well written, so it was always a pleasure to read, but you’ve been warned about the non-stop walls of text in advance.
You’ll flip-flop between different characters, like a peace-seeking Naga, a poor, young teenage girl forced in to an arranged marriage, and a priest who questions the motives of his own temple, with each of your decisions possibly affecting the outcomes of characters you haven’t even controlled yet. Scenarios play out with you being introduced to the character by way of a small biography sheet, but then it’s off to converse with the townsfolk and complete quests until there’s no one else to talk to.
Speaking with NPC’s is a lot like playing 20 Questions, but in this version your answers are what set your character on their path. When tasked with distributing medicine to the sick, do you sell it and pay mercenaries to watch over your own family instead? Do you go through with your arranged marriage for the good of your family, or devise a plan to escape? Who you talk to and what actions you take with one character will play over to the next, and so on for the remainder of the game.
The concept of Unrest is definitely an interesting one, especially when choices made during my playthrough felt “right”, yet ended up getting someone killed, or put a large portion of the population at risk. However, I’m not sure if that wouldn’t have occurred had I done something differently, as there are no clear cut ways to determine that what you want to happen will actually happen. The entire game is basically one giant gray area, no matter the choices you make. This will heavily add to the game’s replay value if you feel the need to see every storyline play out, although sometimes the changes didn’t really feel significant enough to warrant subsequent playthroughs.
The city-state of Bhimra is beautifully hand-painted in vivid watercolors, and ordinarily I’m drawn to these types of art styles, but the bright colors really didn’t match the darker themes Unrest portrayed within its text and classic Indian-inspired soundtrack. Each environment was wonderfully created, but aside from the Naga, character models were generally dull and stuck out against the hand-painted backdrops like a sore thumb. Characters also moved and interacted with such odd mannerisms, seemingly floating along the surface one moment while slowing to a snail’s pace the next. It’s these technicalities, along with a rather poorly designed map system, that drew me away from the overall experience; especially when the only things there to keep my attention were the non-stop walls of text to read.
As far as role-playing games go, Unrest is truly unique in its approach, but it wasn’t really my cup of tea. I’m always interested in other cultures, and I enjoyed its collection of fantasy and real-world caste-driven politics, but its patchwork-style art direction did little to assist its sullen cast in delivering their message. Despite the game’s heavily text-driven narrative being a hard pill to swallow at times, I did enjoy intimidating, bribing, and negotiating with citizens to see how (or if) my results would differ from my previous attempts.
Unrest is a lot like a choose your own adventure novel, but sometimes the outcome of my decisions were so unpredictable that the ambitious concept of the game seemed to fade away. Some of the hardships each character endured were heartbreaking, but I didn’t always feel that had I changed my mind, it would have ended any better for them, or for Bhimra. I suppose that depends on what your view of better is though, right?
Bradley Keene is the Executive Editor here at What’s Your Tag?, generally handling reviews, public relations, and our social media communications. He’s an aspiring video game journalist, Baltimore native, and a diehard Orioles fan that favors roguelikes, horror games, and point-and-click adventures. His favorite console is the Dreamcast, favorite game is the original Metroid, and he could watch The Goonies for the rest of his life. Contact him by e-mail at the address above, or follow his insanity on Twitter.