Have you ever stuck your nose into something and wished you hadn't? That's the basic premise of Uncanny Valley, a 2D survival-horror title developed and published by Cowardly Creations. It's a pleasantly minimalistic setup, bolstered by superb atmosphere and graphic design. Unfortunately, poor narrative and design choices make this a fairly underwhelming experience.
In Uncanny Valley, you play as Tom, a newly-hired security guard assigned indefinitely to a post at an abandoned facility. Stranded in snowy nowhere, your only companion is Buck, the day guard, and an enigmatic squatter named Eve. As you begin snooping around, you'll pick up narrative clues and keys that will draw you deeper into the facility, where you'll encounter the hidden dangers that most certainly played a role in its abandonment.
This game is unique in that it explicitly recommends multiple playthroughs, each of which will most likely clock in at under two hours. With each playthrough, you'll (probably) encounter more and more information allowing you to piece together the mystery of what happened in this creepy building. In the first half of a given playthrough, you'll be serving your shifts and going to sleep while gathering info. In the second half, at least in later playthroughs, you'll be in the middle of a true survival-horror experience. Once you get your bearings to explore the lower floors, this half is where Uncanny Valley shows momentary flashes of brilliance. And then it ends again.
The one aspect that I positively love is the visual design. The pixel art on display here is nothing short of gorgeous, with each little square contributing to a larger canvas of intricate, eerie detail. It perfectly communicates abstract concepts such as despair, boredom, and of course, fear. The music and soundscape are less outstanding, but they get the job done. Oddly enough, there is a problem with the text, which comes at you in staggered bursts with certain letters that are difficult to read. Nonetheless, the presentation is easily this game's strongest aspect.
Particularly in its first few playthroughs, Uncanny Valley suffers from constantly shoving you along before you have any idea of what's going on. The game's decision to obscure Tom's reason for being there robs the narrative of context, and when you discover it, you'll just wonder why he would put his job in danger by messing around with people's stuff. Worse yet, the story has an unfortunate habit of rewarding your progress with disappointment. It was at the end of my first and second playthroughs, where I made the least progress, that I got the most memorable endings of the four that I experienced. And those were plagued with plot holes.
The worst design choice of the entire game afflicts the first half of every playthrough. Each shift is only seven minutes long, wherein you're expected to read and listen to data, solve puzzles, and traverse several rooms while the clock races onward. Within two minutes after a shift's end, you'll pass out on the floor if you don't hurry back to your room, though I could not discern any consequences of this mechanic. Once you learn how to get downstairs, the second half becomes something of a nice, creepy treat. To detail what it entails would be to spoil much of the story, so let's just say it brings a welcome blend of more familiar survival horror tropes to complement its excellent visuals.
It's a crying shame that Uncanny Valley spends so much of its time crippling your play time with contrivances and strict time limits. Once you learn how to make progress, you'll enjoy a second half akin to what the entire game should have been, but then its endings get less memorable. Uncanny Valley wants to be an engaging survival horror romp, and sometimes it gets to be, but it's ultimately an experience that can be best described as mediocre.