There is a trend of older games being ported to the Xbox One at the moment and it's offering Xbox gamers an opportunity to try titles they may have missed on the PC or Wii U. Unepic is the latest in line and is surprisingly deep, considering it was largely developed by one man in his spare time. It's a role-playing platformer with a retro visual style in which players explore a castle named Harnakon and battle the many enemies within.
Unepic's 'hero' is a young man named Daniel, a normal guy who's a little on the nerdy side but certainly not exceptional in any way. One night, during a tabletop role-play session, Daniel nips off to the bathroom when suddenly, the lights go out and he is transported to a mysterious castle in a world not too different from the RPG he was just playing. He assumes he is hallucinating and decides to indulge his fantasies until he returns to his senses and wakes up (presumably) on the bathroom floor. With this mindset, Daniel embraces all of the strange things that happen to him with a kind of dismissive air, so when he is possessed by a mysterious shadow, he simply accepts that this is par for the course within his delusion. The dark spirit Zera however, is incredibly unimpressed that he cannot control Daniel and has now become trapped in his body and can only escape if his host dies within the confines of the castle. As such, the "buddy cop" scenario is laid out and the hi-jinx can begin with Daniel and Zera each attempting to find their way out of a place in which they don't want to be.
At first, the player will simply be wandering around the castle, doing some light platforming and collecting items but with time, Unepic reveals its hidden depths. Aside from the main task of working out why Daniel has been transported here and how on Earth he will get Zera out of his body, there are several side quests to discover and complete, which will further flesh out the world. The dialogue is reminiscent of The Secret of Monkey Island at times, with Daniel and Zera chatting back and forth, each following their own agenda and considering the other crazy for their way of thinking. As Daniel explores the castle, Zera repeatedly tries to lure him into deadly scenarios so he can be free, while his host is merely exploring his hallucination, awaiting a return to his reality. Along the way, they encounter other residents of the castle including vendors and quest givers, but most intriguing are the pure spirits which are locked in golden boxes chained to huge rooms throughout Harnakon's many areas. Is Daniel here to rescue these spirits by taking down the lord of the castle or is this just another part of his delusion?
Castle Harnakon is split into several sub areas, each with their own types of enemies and their own set of sub-quests. There's a lot of back tracking through these in order to collect quest items, reveal more areas of the map and eventually, find the boss monster who holds the key to the next area. Each biome is easy to distinguish from the others and each brings its own challenges, with the difficulty ramping up as Daniel becomes more adept at fighting his way through the castle. Unepic may surprise you with how it handles enemies at times. For example, in the sewer area, we walked past a sign that read 'BEWARE LEECHES' - unperturbed, we waded through the water to the other side but for some reason Daniel's health was dropping at an alarming rate. It was only when we opened our inventory and found it full of leeches that we realised what was going on!
The blend of platforming and role playing isn't new but Unepic handles the RPG side of it incredibly well with an intricate skills and stats section. As enemies are slain, The character gains experience and levels up to earn points which can be spent on improving his skill with various weapons, spells and armour. The player has the opportunity to craft their character to suit their style of gameplay and preferred method of combat. Beware though, those specialising in melee may have a harder time of it than those who choose magic, as the game seems considerably easier for spell casters. Very quickly, Daniel will have access to a vast arsenal of weapons, each offering an advantage against a different enemy type, so there's a wonderful logic to the enemy weaknesses with skeletons taking considerably less damage from swords and arrows for example (due to the lack of all that pesky skin and flesh of course.) Another bit of real world logic that is seldom applied to game worlds is the ability to equip up to eight rings at a time. Because that's how many fingers you have and no, thumb rings don't count, guys. These little touches feel fresh and new and help Unepic stand out from other games of this type.
Unfortunately, the actual movement and user interface are not as refined as the customisation. Weapons, skills and potions are mapped to various button combinations on the Xbox pad and it can be tricky to change weapons in a pinch. Too often there will be a moment of fumbling panic as you try to switch from your sword to your wand to take down a distant enemy while also jumping over fireballs and attempting to target with the right trigger. Targeting is also a little hit or miss (sorry) and we experienced several instances of it not engaging as designed. This can take a boss battle from tricky to infuriating and the game would benefit from a bit more finesse in this area. Although walking around and interacting with the environment work fine, jumping feels unnatural, with Daniel hanging in the air awkwardly or getting stuck under an errant pixel at the edge of a ledge. None of it is game breaking, but it does add an unnecessary layer of frustration.
Despite its flawed interface, Unepic is a very enjoyable title with a ton of content. There's easily twenty hours of gameplay available and the intricacies of the crafting and customisation options allow for a character perfectly honed to the player's taste. The retro art style and music will not appeal to everyone, but beneath that lies an interesting game with humorous dialogue, for sure.