22/01/2018

☆ Review: Unforgiving: A Northern Hymn "A Beautiful Nordic Nightmare" ☆

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Developer – Angry Demon Studio
Platform reviewed - PC (Steam)
Rating – Ice Cool
I know what you are all thinking after reading the title of this video game, but no, it’s not about a group of men from Yorkshire walking around, singing religious songs and refusing to excuse people’s faults.
Unforgiving: A Northern Hymn is a horror game set somewhere in Scandinavia and voiced entirely in Swedish with English subtitles. Considering its status as an independent game, it has extremely high production values and approaches its story with a keen eye for pacing and scares.


The game starts off as it means to go on…very, very ominously.
You play from the POV of a young woman who begins Unforgiving tied up on the back-seat of a car, driving through some woods at night.
The driver of the vehicle is on the phone talking to an unknown party and making reference to taking you away to a secluded cabin, after a few seconds you kick the driver in the head, causing the vehicle to crash.
You awake on the banks of a river shrouded in fog, the driver approaches you to help you up and reveals himself to be your brother, Lukas, supposedly taking you away from your life for a while to help you with your ‘addictions’.
Following some banter between the siblings, you make your way after him through the forest…
The first thing that grabbed me about Unforgiving was its quality, the voice acting is strong and the fact that it is delivered in Swedish adds to the cultural divide and sense of alienation when playing. It quickly becomes apparent that all is not well within these woods and the things you glimpse and hear may well be of supernatural origin.
The graphics are strong and immersive, as I made my way through the game towards foggy blinking lights in the distance or the silhouette of a building that may help me on my journey I was completely hips deep in the atmosphere. Enemies are wonderfully sparse and also terrifying and memorable and the location is surprisingly expansive and well-realised.
The real high-point of the game though for me was the sound editing. There are sections of the game where the inherent creepiness of the inhabitants of this forest are slowly unveiled through eerie sounds that drift through the darkness, from the heavy breathing and slow, thudding footsteps of a troll to the distant cooing of a witch or even the gently lilting violin playing of a seemingly benevolent forest creature. Every time I heard a new sound or musical cue, I was instantly on edge and it doesn’t let up throughout the game.
Aside from the sound effects, ambient tracks and other in-game audio, music in itself plays a large part of the game with some of the later sections reminding me of Lucasarts’ LOOM (good) but considering how plain this game could have been with its outdoor, Nordic settings, each claustrophobic cave or swaying copse of trees you have to work your way through had me genuinely wishing there was another way through because I was so taken in by fearing the locations and what hidden dangers may lay therein.

The game does have flaws but most of them minor. For example, a lot of the items that you come across in deserted villages can be picked up and examined but are ultimately useless and a lot of the books you find hold no real information beyond a strange title. I also found the narrative of the game to be overly cryptic in parts, especially in regards to what the ‘addictions’ were that were discussed during the introduction sequence although the dream-like quality of the events that unfold does add to the mystery of the game.
As the enemies are so well-designed and memorable, I couldn’t help but feel that I wish there was more information regarding them in-game beyond the brief sketches and snippets we are given as it would have added more weight to the fear present. The latter half of the game is also the section with the most puzzles and stealth sections which are in contrast to the first half where the areas the character can traverse feels so open and yet a light in the distance or a looming shape will hold your attention, it’s a testament to the games design that what is essentially a linear walk feels so expressive for the player.
As mentioned though, in the final segments of the game, spent picking up certain items in a mysterious town can feel a bit of a chore and one or two puzzles may have some people reaching for a glance at an online guide for a few seconds although this could be more from my lack of knowledge of Scandinavian Folklore, hence why maybe some information at the start of the game could have been a good inclusion.
I have seen some comparisons to Outlast online and I definitely preferred Unforgiving to both Alien Isolation and the Outlast games as it wasn’t so reliant on hiding away from constant danger for tedious periods of time.
Your character can sprint seemingly infinitely and only a few sections rely on waiting for an enemy to move away so that you can proceed, which doesn’t take away from the game’s solid pacing. The sheer size of the journey in the game gives a sense of scale and scope as well, you really feel that you are making some serious progress as the looming cliffs and buildings cut through the fog.
Unforgiving is between 3-5 Hours in length which seems about right, the game ends before running out of tricks and still felt fresh to me. Most of the puzzles are logical with the exception of one or two that I needed to look up but when I found the answer, it wasn’t preposterous, more that I had missed a particular sign or item as I made my way through.
I’d also like to say that this is the first game that I’ve ever played that actually does the ‘failing light source’ idea well. You collect matches that burn for a decent amount of time and when the game drops you into the darkness you light up another FAST, there was NO WAY I was standing in darkness in some of the caves I stumbled into.

Summary:
Unforgiving succeeded fully in scaring the cack out of me (the ‘babies’ at the end had me inhaling through gritted teeth and resulted in me taking a sudden interest in my cuticles). There was never a moment that I felt I could relax and the main thrills and scares are planned, scripted and don’t feel cheap because of the solid pacing, my girlfriend actually dropped the pad a few times when playing and I had to take over, always a good sign.
If you are a horror fan and feel jaded by recent releases, this is a great title to work your way through in a couple of days and I am looking forward to seeing what Angry Demon Studios have up their sleeve for us next. Quite frankly,  it may be nappy-wearing territory.
And of course, the most important part...when you look down you can see your body so you don’t feel like a floating camera.
Right, I’m off to light some cooking matches and run through some haunted woods, what could possibly go wrong?

RATING: ICE COOL

Ratings Explained
ICE COOL (Great Game Recommended)
MELTING (Recommended with reservations, one to consider if you are a fan of the genre)
MELTED (Not A Recommended Purchase)