It was a pleasant surprise to see Unpacking pop up on XBox Game Pass for PC hours before it was slated to officially release, and on a night where I didn’t have much else that I needed to be doing. I didn’t intend to complete the game, mind, you just take a slightly closer look to see if – at least for me – it was something I’d want to spend enough time with to justify what felt like a rather steep asking price of $20.
Now, I don’t make games, and I don’t even have any aspirations to make games. Sure, I get an idea every now and then for something that I think would make for a fantastic game, but I wouldn’t have the slightest idea of where to start. What I do know is that every game takes infinitesimally more work than anyone who has never made a game could ever imagine.
This digression is a round about apology for what I’m about to say next: after playing from start to finish, I would be furious if I spent $20 on this one.
Which is not to say there were not parts of it I loved very much. The care that went into making sure the environmental storytelling was spot and would make the player feel something cannot be understated. In fact, I’d say that for me, the story was probably the best part of the game – it was masterfully crafted without actually saying much of anything at all. The only text in the entire game is a single sentence at the end of each level. Still, I feel like I learned a lot about the nameless protagonist to whom all of this stuff belonged throughout the years.
And at first, the gameplay is also immensely satisfying. But as there are more room to unpack, and more objects that just don’t seem to fit where the game wants you to put them, every level ended in a burst of frustration. Maybe it’s because I am a person who lives my life in clutter, but some of placement puzzles felt too rigid. Why can I put something on this windowsill, but not that one? Why can I move some of the stuff that’s already present, but not all of it? Why must the ice cream scoop live in a drawer instead of on a shelf? I realize it’s a game, and a game must have some sort of success and/or fail state, but I dreaded the last few minutes of each level. In a game that’s all about putting things where the player thinks they should be, I hated looking for the one or two items that the game insisted were still out of place, because damnit, isn’t the whole game about me – the player – deciding what to do with my things?
But my biggest gripe is the length of the game relative to its price point. I was done in less than three hours, and as I felt like the story was the best part of the game, I just don’t see it as having any replay value. Having followed the developers on Twitter, it felt as if the concept really resonated with people, and maybe they just set the price at what the market will bear, but I know I would have felt ripped off. For the asking price, I would expect a second (and maybe third) protagonist’s story. For the game I played, I’d expect a retail price of about $10, half of what the game sells for.
Truthfully, I’m kind of annoyed with myself for this way of thinking. I really have been enjoying compact but fulfilling experiences lately, and Unpacking came so close to hitting that mark for me. But in a world where there are so many games taking up space on my virtual shelves, I just don’t think I want to try to find a place for this one. I’m glad I played it, don’t get me wrong, but I have no need to carry it around with me.