There have been some gorgeous virtual reality (VR) projects created by illustration and animation tool Quill by Smoothstep, from Oculus Story Studio short, Dear Angelica, to Baobab Studios’ latest, Namoo. Rather than a VR short, Brazilian studio Ludact has used the software to create UNBINARY, a puzzle experience that’s a visual treat, putting you inside a simulation design to test an AI. However, like most software, there are bugs making UNBINARY a less than flawless execution.
In the world of UNBINARY you find yourself in the company of Webby, an AI being put through their paces to see if its suitable enough to govern mankind – because we’re bored and can’t do it ourselves. Webby’s conscience has been collected from human behaviour that’s made her both smug and sarcastic making for a fun companion. You’re there to test if Webby is fit for the task by completing a series of challenges, rather than letting some homicidal AI loose on humanity – like that ever happens?
What you’ve got are a series of mini escape rooms, essentially trying to get from one side to the other. Whether that’s unlocking a series of doors, hacking systems or physically clambering up and across surfaces, UNBINARY keeps things generally interactive at all times even if they aren’t always the most polished. Buttons take a couple of presses as your finger invariably disappears through the first time or flipping a lever just doesn’t have that nice clunk you’d expect.
This might be down to the art style which is undoubtedly UNBINARY’s most striking factor. Like being inside a comic book, the bold use of colour and the fact that lines don’t always meet give the environments an organic character that you don’t often see in a VR videogame. This does have both plus and minus points. Yes, it looks great but only a few items are interactive and there were multiple times when it was possible to walk through environmental objects.
Probably the most annoying aspect of UNBINARY though was the movement. Locomotion was split down into continuous, blink and shift, the latter two designed for comfort, whilst teleportation was also available. Using continuous almost became unbearable due to the fact that every few seconds there was some invisible nugget or lip creating an immediate halt. Sometimes there was a pipe or grate on the ground whilst during other moments there was nothing.
Which was a shame as the rest of UNBINARY is an enjoyable puzzle experience. All the puzzles revolve around three robot masks, a green one that allows you to interact with similar robots giving them a cheeky wave; a yellow mask unlocks physical abilities so you can pick up boxes or climb ladders, whilst the purple mask enables hacking. Nothing is too overly complicated you just need to be aware of your surroundings. Additionally, to flick between your masks you’ve got a bracelet on your left wrist and a laser gun on your right to shoot hidden targets that unlock doors. And no before you ask, there’s no left or right-handed switching of those bracelets.
What gives UNBINARY its lasting character is Webby herself. She’s got just the right amount of sarcastic wit to be humorous without being annoying, and in some weird way sounds like an ‘80s school teacher telling you off.
UNBINARY delivers a wonderfully paced puzzle experience that’s vivid and alive, even if it’s meant to be a digital simulation. Those pretty visuals aside, it’s such a shame that so many other factors hamper the overall enjoyment. Those random walking issues, janky teleportation and random bugs like preferences being in Portuguese when the language is set to English. For a game that lasts around 3-4 hours depending on where you get stuck, it needs more polish, so that completion feels truly fulfilling. There were moments where it was delightfully satisfying to be in UNBINARY as if trapped in an abstract painting you don’t mind being locked inside. By the end though it was nice to get out.