It’s rare to see a game come out that is so unlike everything else on the market – something without dialogue or written text but that somehow tells a deep story. Unpacking is that game, a zen game that follows a person on their multiple moves across their life and somehow helps us understand her as a person, without a word of dialogue.
In Unpacking the main goal is to move from room to room unloading boxes and placing items in the best possible spots. The game starts with a single room and eventually spans full houses/apartments. The true magic is the consistent items that move from home to home and the challenges that arise in making the space work as her life situation changes.
It’s clear as we move from place to place that the character we are helping move starts as a child with an inclination towards art. As she grows she moves to a bigger room, then a college dorm and various “adult” homes either alone or with roommates.
One of the most compelling aspects of the game is when many items are already in place belonging to a partner or roommates and I had to struggle to make the space work for my life. I distinctly remember a location where it was obviously a move-in with a romantic partner and he took so much space I had nowhere for my art supplies/tablet and I was frustrated and hoped this relationship wouldn’t last (it didn’t).
The game is ludicrously simple yet complex once the spaces become shared, confined or spacious. The number of items grows, the spaces change, and trying to balance form with function as boxes are unpacked can get compulsive. I had to get all games on the same shelf, all books arranged by height and similar toys/collectibles together.
I think the developer Witch Beam realized that when we move we hate packing up our house, but there is a true joy possible in unpacking the boxes and placing our items in new and diverse ways. I really enjoyed being able to customize a living room, kitchen or bedroom to suit how I would like to see items placed. I imagine even the basic rooms look radically different from player to player, which is amazing.
The game itself is very simple at its heart, with only a few mandatory placement locations required on each level to proceed; other than that as long as bedroom items stay in the bedroom and kitchen items in the kitchen the levels will complete fairly easily. The true joy is just completing the spaces and seeing where she moves onto next.
As mentioned, Unpacking does not have any dialogue, but simple and pleasant music and movement noises abound as items are unpacked and moved. The airy quality of the visuals and the simple and intuitive controls make this game a true joy to explore and discover.
In this crowded market of Halo, Forza, Deathloop and other AAA games it is a true delight to see a game like Unpacking come to fruition. I originally experienced this title at last year’s PAX Online and knew it was something special. Having played the full experience I have to say Unpacking is one of the best games to come this year and I truly hope as many people as possible experience this game and enjoy the thrill of following a journey as boxes are unpacked.