Unheard Review – NEXT Studios tries something different
With Unheard, NEXT Studios tries something different. Anyone who has access to this proposal will face a series of cases settled through proceedings based on the hearing. Since it is narrative-led work, players have their attention and listening skills tested in a row. Removing the ability to make decisions based on what we read or our ability could go rather badly. Do not run.
The longevity is enshrined in about four hours, the time it took me to find the right solutions for the five cases included in the title. The first is mainly to explain the basic processes, followed by a quartet of crazy situations in which we put into practice what we learn. They are tests and cases are recordings that are justified by a narrative startup that skims the comic.
The game says, “As you know, technology is changing the way we conduct investigations, so we are looking for ‘exceptional candidates’ to test a new human-computer interface system.” Okay, Unheard, tell me more about this new cutting-edge technology. “By now, you may have realized that you’re looking at some sort of surveillance footage.”
“All this information is contained and is processed by what we call the ‘Acoustic Detective System’.” As you can easily realize is not a starter with an eye placed in the Nobel and maybe the Pulitzer is for another time. All this to mention that they are trying to create a new research department that will depend on this invention to solve cases that were thought forgotten and new ones that may arise.
This revolutionary system is presented to us on a tablet and displays illustrated maps as if they were plants from the locations of the recordings we are investigating. We can move our character through different divisions, but we can not interact directly with whoever is speaking. At the bottom of the interface, we have controls to manipulate the audio through the timeline. Think of any music player and you will be very close to understanding the controls.
In this space of time, what we hear in a certain division in which we mark presence is not the same that is happening in the other divisions of the map where other characters have autonomous lines of dialog. In practice, this means that we are always afraid of losing something important, with the aim of working on the timeline until we can hear all the pieces of information that are important for the investigation.
We start each case without knowing who is who. We have characters illustrated on the map as circles that vibrate when a sound is emitted and a list with names in the upper right corner. Thus, the first objective of each recording is always to discover what name belongs to each voice, which is obviously indispensable for the discovery of the truth at the end of each case. Consequently, this forces us to explore virtually every corner, listening to the conversations and accompanying the characters to witness their next interjections.
Not surprisingly, cases are increasing in difficulty. At first we only have to match four names, for example, but in the end, we are working with more than a dozen names. This holds our attention, not least because the truth we seek is expressed in the way we correctly answer several questions about what we have learned – or not – during our analysis of each recording.
Going back to the first case, we are asked who hid the drugs in a case involving two twin brothers. But it was not long before someone had taken a bomb to a squad. In this case, we have to answer the questions who is this bomb took and who, after all, detonated it. The most difficult case was the last, since the question “who are the real patients?” Of a psychiatric hospital, we have to respond with five names. This leads to our ability to study personalities to extremes. Moreover, we are involved in a situation with fourteen characters moving through the various divisions.
When they reach this point of Unheard they have left behind a case in which in an exhibition mysteriously appears an empty frame. The investigation goes on to find out who stole the real picture first and who still got the valuable object at the end of the recording. Another mysterious recording takes place in a theater. We do not hear the blows of Moliere, but we have again in our hands the investigation of the facts about another homicide. It is clearly a game full of smoke and mirrors, and it is also a video game that does not test anything to put some creeps in the way of who is trying to perceive what really happened, testing who is really attentive.
It should also be noted that some recordings take only five minutes, which is obviously not the total time for completion since you will always have to add the amount of time you spend with the audio back and forth in search of the various tracks. However, there are other cases that pass the ten-minute mark, so in practice, there may be more than an hour trying to figure out what the answers to the questions are. In these longer proposals, losing the thread to the skein makes the frustration come more easily to the surface of the emotions.
Personally, the best way I found to play my detective role was to follow a certain character through the different divisions, noticing the name changes and beginning to have the master beams of the investigation. Imagine an umbrella. These first steps are the rods, what follows is the cloth that will unite the details until the investigation begins to make sense, until in our mind finally lights a lamp.
The play also puts another tool at the disposal of the player that allows us to write our comments during the recordings. Imagine that you need to remember any detail in a particular brand. They write the comment – which actually works more like a note – and when they reach that time stamp, no matter where they are in the room, they are reminded of that important point they noted in one of the previous passages thanks to the text that appears to slide horizontally across the monitor.
This is because the producer understood from a very early age that it would necessarily have to have a group of actors that would be able to deliver different personalities to the different characters only through their voices. The imagination of the players do the rest, that is to say, thanks to a good diction and to different vocal registers we make appearances for who is in the rooms with us. Unfortunately, occasionally writing presents what is felt with some sloppiness.
Although the startup is what has been described before, the overall plot of the argument is not bad, with almost all cases having interesting twists and minimally sustained by the unfolding of events. The problem, or rather, where the feeling of making the minimums is most felt is in certain dialogues, which are not always natural and occasionally unfold with forced tirades to fulfill schedule.
Even at the end of the game, once we have solved all the proposed cases, there is one last question asked to our character about our character. It is a somewhat unstructured ending that has several choices and, consequently, several possible endings. After I had thrown them all I got the clear idea that Unheard could have finished without the need of these devices.
Graphism has little relevance in a work that lives to and from the sound-proofing, but still, it is the note that the plants the buildings count on some details to create atmosphere. Unheard seems to be struggling to bring about a similar effect to what we feel when we read a book or hear a podcast: the creation of characters based on the voices and scenarios through which they move.
As you probably already have noticed, Unheard has some flaws in execution. However, it is a daring work in the form chosen to convey its narrative arc. It was a choice that could have gone terribly wrong, especially if the player’s interest had not been captured. Yes, there are some aspects to the amateur side of the production process, but everything done and arranged is an interesting proposition, capable of some captivating twists and spurring of our imagination and deductive capacities. If you play it, do not forget your headphones.
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