Dave Gilbert’s Blackwell games have been some of my favorite point & click adventures for years. Good stories, likeable protagonists, a distinct sense of place, and that trademark Wadjet Eye style had me anticipating each new episode like Christmas. I was certain that Gilbert’s games couldn’t get any better, that he had “found his voice” as a game developer, so to speak.
Well. I was wrong.
Unavowed switches the old amnesiac protagonist trope around. You know who you are – problem is that you’ve been possessed by a demon for the past year. And thanks to your “guest’s” murderous rampage across New York City, you’re now a wanted criminal. It’s a good thing, then, that your saviors, a group that calls itself the Unavowed, not only banish that demon, but also recruit you into their ranks to find out exactly what the demon wanted and why there have been so many supernatural occurrences lately.
This is urban fantasy in the vein of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files or the Hellblazer comics through and through, featuring all kinds of supernatural creatures in its short, episodic chapters. Each of those has you travelling to another part of NYC to uncover the source of, uh, something strange in the neighborhood. It is quite apparent that Dave Gilbert loves that city. Every locale feels distinct and more than just some backdrop. This is one of those games that make you want to seek out its places in the real world, so that you can compare them to their fictional counterparts.
Every episode, you’ll have to make a choice which of your fellow Unavowed to take with you. By the end of the game, there are four different party members, and the way to solve each problem depends heavily on your choice. Do you take the fire mage with you, or rather the acrobatic half-djinn who can tell truth from lies? Your choice affects the puzzles you’ll face, the dialogue options available to you, as well as the banter between your companions. I’ve played through the game once, but I am itching to replay it, just to see how things shape up when I take other people with me.
Compared to Unavowed, the Blackwell series feels positively quaint, like a master’s early work. Take, for instance, your way of interacting with the game world. In traditional adventure games, you click on something and your protagonist shares their thoughts on the matter. Unavowed saves you that click and lets you read a description of the item as soon as you mouse over it. Small change (which, it should be noted, Gilbert borrowed from Brotherhood Games’ Stasis), huge difference. The pacing of every scene subtly changes, letting you enjoy the story without clicky interruptions.
The game is polished to near-perfection, with Wadjet Eye Games regulars Ben Chandler and Thomas Regin reprising their roles as lead artist and composer, respectively. The saxophone-heavy soundtrack is a delight and the voice cast stellar. However, all of this wouldn’t mean a thing without good writing. Thankfully, Unavowed completely won me over with its characters, its pacing, and its plot, which resolved quite satisfyingly (and felt complete on its own while also leaving room for a sequel). I am gushing praise, but I cannot help it – the game really is that good.
You can purchase Unavowed from Wadjet Eye Games, GOG, and Steam. For more information, visit the game’s website or follow Dave Gilbert on Twitter.