Unpacking

There was a period in my life when I was moving about once a year. Most of those moves were haphazard, and some were even unexpected, so I sort of got used to a chaotic relocation process. But then, the most recent time, I decided to actually take a four-day weekend for the move. The first day was move-in day; the next three days were simply about unpacking and setting up my stuff.

There’s a sense of clarity that comes with the latter type of move. You can slowly pick through your stuff, envision a layout that works for you, then experiment with it and see how it looks in actuality. Three days is a lot of time, which turns the process into something relaxing rather than something stressful.

And this is the exact energy that the Unpacking game has. You’re basically thrust into pixelated, isometric rooms filled with boxes. You’ll slowly make your way through the contents of each box, deciding where each item should go. There are a few obviously wrong answers (don’t stick a toaster in the bathtub — come on, you know better!), but you are given some amount of freedom in how to set up this living space.

Unpacking

Now, I’ve seen this unpacking simulator show up on a lot of Game of the Year lists, but I think a lot of folks are overselling it a bit. This is a simple, three-hour game where you do nothing but unpack boxes.

But that’s not to say it lacks charm — no, this is a cozy, evening-sized game that resonates really hard with a lot of folks. As you’re unpacking, you are serenaded with chill music, and if you pay close attention, you’ll see a compelling story unfold in the background. By the game’s final puzzle, you’ll be familiar with the character’s belongings to the point where you can tell her stuff apart from the stuff that belongs to her girlfriend.

Because so many of these items have stories to tell. Unpacking is never really explicit about what’s happening in the character’s life; you just sort of get to know her by unpacking her stuff in different locations. For example, you’ll help her set up her dorm room, which is an obvious indicator that she’s now in college. Later, she’ll move into a boyfriend’s place, then back in with her parents — in the latter puzzle, the music feels almost somber. While nothing is stated outright, you can piece together that this relationship didn’t work out.

I really do like short, emotionally driven puzzle games, so I enjoyed my three or so hours with Unpacking. While I don’t think it’s the best puzzle game I played recently (I thought Lego Builder’s Journey and FAR: Lone Sails were both more affecting than Unpacking), it is still worth spending an evening with. There’s something really satisfying about seeing pixelated belongings fall into place, and then getting hit with some subtle story implication that you didn’t expect.

Unpacking

Unpacking is a masterfully told narrative with a compelling gameplay loop. The concept might not be enough to build a really deep game on, but it’s the perfect premise for a three-hour experience. And sometimes, a really satisfying three-hour experience is exactly what you’re looking for.

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Sofia
4 months ago

Hi

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