Here’s the difference that good presentation makes. When I got stuck in SVRVIVE: The Deus Helix [Review: 4/10] a few weeks ago, the murky, dark environments, bland textures and lack of a hint system meant I quickly lost my patience. When I get stuck in Unearthed Inc: The Lost Temple from Glo Inc, though, the vibrant surroundings and joyful atmosphere helped me keep a cool head. They’re very similar games, but I ended up having a much better time here.
Unearthed is far from perfect, but its impressive production values, varied environments, and slick mechanics made this one of the better puzzle games I’ve played in VR this year.
In Unearthed, you play as an explorer on the trail of a legendary Dragoon Egg. You’ll tackle a handful of levels using position-tracked controls that let you realistically interact with objects and use telekinesis to either grab things from afar or shoot them through the air at high speeds. You’re accompanied by a hovering Droid who will provide hints as you progress.
At times, this feels more like a hidden object game than it does anything else. The solutions to most puzzles involve combining one item with another, and if you don’t have one of the two required components, it’s probably nestled in the environment somewhere. It requires a keen eye; whilst searching for a set of gears I completely missed a small crack in a wall behind a lantern that hid one. Sometimes you have to be a little too meticulous, as a tiny key to the first puzzle appears as a small blip on a leaf thanks to Vive and Rift’s screen door effect.
For the most part, though, there’s a satisfying flow to Unearthed. You’ll start out each level by identifying the blocked paths and locked doors, and as you systematically work your way through environments, which are comprised of a few locations to travel to, you’ll understand where most of the items you pick up need to go. If you don’t, you’ll probably understand soon enough.
There were a handful of times I became completely stumped, though, and these were frustrating moments. It became tedious; I’d sometimes find myself scanning entire environments with one hand, hoping that it would highlight an object I couldn’t see but to no avail. There’s a hint system in place to help you out, though it will only focus your attention on the next puzzle to solve, not give you clues as to how to actually solve it. The worst crime is that the droid doesn’t remain quiet at these moments, but continues to spout the same two or three lines of dialogue he has for that area, which begin to grate very quickly. Fortunately, you can throw things at him.
You can definitely see slight hints of puzzle design taken from the book of Double Fine here, as you’ll sometimes desperately try to combine items that have no business mixing together. I know that news will come to the delight of some and disappointment of others, so think carefully about what types of games you enjoy before picking this one up.
It requires persistence (and I suspect some YouTube watching, which is a luxury you don’t have with reviewing), but puzzles eventually fall into place. At one point, however, I was able to break the game and lean into a locked cupboard with positional tracking and take the items needed from inside. That’s not really a complaint as it takes someone willing to cheat to break the game itself, though these issues could have been fixed.
Each level also culminates in a boss fight which, frankly, are more fun than they have any right to be. The first duel with a giant spider has you ducking and weaving as you desperately fire rocks back at it. It’s mechanically far away from almost everything else in the game, though there is also a fun if throwaway zombie survival mode that you can unlock.
Unearthed doesn’t rewrite the rule book on VR puzzling — which I’m starting to hope someone does do soon — but its clean presentation and varied boss encounters make it a pleasant experience, if a sometimes frustrating one. It’s far from an essential purchase, but any puzzle fan that does want to check it out likely won’t be disappointed.