In the wake of recent successes such as Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and Gone Home, there have seemingly been numerous attempts to capture the lightning in the bottle that those games did. You could probably load up Steam right now and find several games with simple gameplay mechanics that are short, narrative driven experiences. Having truly enjoyed these types of experiences recently, I was excited when I loaded up A Story About My Uncle. While actually playing the game is arguably more fun than games such as Brothers and Gone Home, the narrative is so poor that it actually detracts from the overall experience.
Contrary to what the title might suggest, A Story About My Uncle is barely about an uncle at all. Instead, it’s about a father who is tucking in his daughter at night when she asks him to tell her a story about an adventure. He is reminded of an experience of his own, and the game begins when he starts the narration. You control the father who, as a young boy in the story, is visiting his uncle’s house. His uncle is an inventor who frequently travels for long periods of time, but usually sends postcards from wherever he is. This time, he was gone for months without so much as a letter. While investigating his house to look for clues about his disappearance, you discover a power suit that fits you perfectly and you put it on. You also find that your uncle has invented a platform of sorts that makes trash disappear when placed upon it. You find the device, put two-and-two together, and step onto the platform yourself. You are then teleported to a mysterious world and you set off in search of your uncle.
That’s about as complex as the story gets. It’s not hard to piece together what exactly is happening even early on. I find myself not caring about the relationship between the main character and his uncle, so I didn’t exactly care if I found the uncle at all. Even if I did, I wouldn’t really care if he was dead. You find other characters who also speak extremely highly of the uncle, but only in vague terms. His character is never really developed. We are just told that you love him unconditionally and you will stop at nothing to find him. Although I wish I wasn’t told anything, because A Story About My Uncle features quite possibly the worst voice acting I have heard in over a decade. It’s really that bad. I found myself baffled at the delivery these “actors” were giving. To be fair, though, they were given some extremely poor dialogue to read, as well. There are several instances of characters using verbal ticks such as “like” multiple times in one line. There is a moment where your character is trying to explain to his daughter what the word “figuratively” means and it is hilarious – only not in the way they intended. I found it extremely difficult to take the story seriously with such atrocious performances.
That can be forgiven, however, if the gameplay end holds up. It’s a good thing, then, that the mechanics in Uncle are generally fun. The power suit you’re equipped with allows you to jump very high and far. It also allows you to grapple onto walls and platforms and pull yourself to them. While they change it up a little bit throughout the game, this constitutes the entirety of the play experience. You will look around this open world looking for a place to jump and/or grab onto and then you will attempt to get across pits and gorges. You will not fight any enemies, solve any puzzles, or make any moral choices here. You will jump and grapple and nothing else. When you do it right, it can be very exhilarating and fun. Early on, you get the ability to grapple multiple times while in the air. This makes for some really challenging obstacles to get through, and some of the jumps that you will make can be quite lengthy. It takes quick reflexes and you will most likely fall many, many times throughout the game. While there are some questionably placed checkpoints, most of them are placed in forgiving spots – usually right before you make a major jump.
This mechanic almost remains interesting throughout the two and a half hours of the campaign (longer if you engage in finding collectibles), but I was definitely tired of it by the end. The few things they do to try and freshen up the experience doesn’t change it enough to make it less repetitive. It also doesn’t help that the controls aren’t always completely responsive. Sometimes your grapple or jump will just refuse to go off for no apparent reason. These instances are rare, but they can be frustrating when you’re on a roll and you fall due to no fault of your own.
The design of the obstacles themselves is pretty tame. They get the job done, and there are definitely some pretty crazy sequences that you have to go through, but they generally feel like they were constructed to use the game mechanics at their most basic level. They don’t take full advantage of system they have in place. The rare times where I felt they were trying something new, it felt as though I got through the level in a way the designers didn’t intend to be possible. They definitely could have taken further risks with the world they created.
The same thing applies to the visual design. When you enter the trash-teleporter thing, you emerge in a cave with glowing colored rocks that illuminate your path. The lights reflect off the water and other reflective surfaces. The color palette blends together perfectly in this area. The world itself is constructed of (you guessed it) trash and the contrast between natural vistas and manmade junk piles is really striking. This area lasts for about one third of the game, and I wish the creativity remained throughout the rest of it. The other levels are a generic-looking level that takes place on the peaks of mountains and an ice cave. Yes, there are two cave levels taking up approximately 2/3 of the actual game time.
While there are some fun moments in A Story About My Uncle and I generally enjoyed my time with it, the unbelievably bad dialogue, bland story, and repetitive gameplay make it hard for me to recommend. Maybe on a Steam sale you can buy it, get some friends together, and have a good laugh at the performances.
A PC copy of A Story About My Uncle was provided by Cone North Games for this review.