Typically, I am not a fan of the horror genre; I always actively avoid jump scares and the feeling of anxiety when watching movies or playing games. Nevertheless, I have always enjoyed puzzle and stealth games and I thought Unholy might offer a captivating fusion of those aspects. Regrettably, Unholy misses the mark on all fronts, failing to live up to its incredible potential.
The stealth parts seemed either not needed or confusingly difficult, the combat parts didn’t always make sense and the puzzles never really felt like they required much effort involved. The only time I felt anxious playing the game was when I worried about dying from something I didn’t understand. I was often afraid I would be starting much further back than I thought was fair and therefore feared failing again. On top of some poor performance elements that required me to occasionally dial down my graphics to low (even when exceeding the PC recommended requirements).
“Although advertised as an exploration game, the story and gameplay in Unholy are very linear”
In Unholy, you assume the role of Dorothea — an individual who is a devoted mother and a member of a society tinged with cult-like qualities. The narrative unfolds within an Eastern European town where the grip of a wicked and cruel religious cult extends over generations of inhabitants. The initial stages of the game see the cult’s leader steal Dorothea’s young son, instigating a solo mission to rescue him.
Her journey switches between the real world and an alternate universe called the Eternal City. In this parallel dimension, a menacing plague looms large, threatening the city’s very existence. As the story unfolds, we come to learn that the corporeal form is only one part of the living and that the Eternal City provides an entirely different universe.
Although advertised as an exploration game, the story and gameplay in Unholy are very linear. The game provides ten chapters that must be completed in order to advance the narrative, leaving little room for deviation. Each chapter is relatively short, allowing players to complete the game in 7 to 10 hours. Therefore, the exploration aspect predominantly revolves around finding hidden collectibles that can be exchanged for new skills and locating slingshot ammo.
“The one main positive was the visuals which I found set the environment really well and were quite stunning and detailed”
Unholy contains three primary gameplay components: stealth, puzzles, and combat. The stealth segments require skilful navigation through the Eternal City while evading detection by guards or the sporadic zombie-like creatures spawned from the plague. Personally, I found the stealth aspect to be the most exasperating, often giving me headaches during my playthrough.
Frequently, enemies would become immobilised or stand in positions that made stealth impossible. Furthermore, the use of hiding spots like lockers often felt useless in Unholy, and there were instances where enemies apprehended me in ways that didn’t make sense. This inconsistency led to multiple deaths as I tried to learn the optimal path for progression. Eventually, I resorted to just running past guards to reach my objectives as they couldn’t seem to catch me.
“The only source of enjoyment within Unholy stemmed from when I collected items.”
The puzzles predominantly revolve around deciphering codes or locating essential items to advance. However, these puzzles often felt like obstacles when I was trying to avoid enemies, rather than providing genuine challenges. Moreover, many of the code-based puzzles lacked difficulty as they typically relied on discovering a clue elsewhere in the environment. Unfortunately, the only source of enjoyment within Unholy stemmed from when I collected items.
The combat elements involve using your slingshot as a weapon, with four distinct emotions that function as your powers. These emotions include “Shock,” which destroys circuits and triggers explosives; “Sadness,” which obscures the enemy’s vision; “Anger,” capable of breaking specific environmental elements; and “Desire,” a tool to shift enemies from their routine paths. The orbs empowering these abilities must be collected from defeated foes and specific sources scattered throughout the game. While this aspect of the game seemed intuitive to me, there were instances where it took me a while to realise I needed to use my slingshot to distract an enemy before blowing them up.
Throughout Unholy, you rely heavily on a special mask, akin to night vision goggles, that allows you to see obstacles, interactable objects, and collectables. As the game unfolds, you gradually unlock new skills that augment your mask’s capabilities, such as the ability to walk through toxic gas. Furthermore, you’ll also encounter mementos that grant you access to new skills, like sliding or expanding your inventory capacity. Nonetheless, this is quite a stock-standard feature and doesn’t seem to provide any additional excitement to the gameplay.
“Unholy’s standout feature undoubtedly lies in the stunning and meticulous visuals.”
Threaded into the gameplay are numerous story cutscenes aimed at immersing players in the game’s atmosphere and propelling the narrative forward. Regrettably, I found these cutscenes marred by characters’ lacklustre lip synchronisation. Their rigid, robotic movements failed to keep me engaged in the storyline.
On top of this, Unholy‘s well-crafted soundtrack, which aims to enhance the eerie ambience of exploring the Eternal City, doesn’t harmonise with the evolving voiceovers and narrative. Consequently, I, once again, struggled to become genuinely engrossed in the narrative, making it hard to persist with the game.
Fortunately, Unholy‘s standout feature undoubtedly lies in the stunning and meticulous visuals. I distinctly recall a particular scene where the Eternal City is burning, and from the vantage point of a building’s balcony, you can witness it all in its spectacular nature. However, this excellence comes hand in hand with a drawback — I constantly struggled with performance issues, forcing me to turn my settings right down, despite my PC being well over the recommended specs.
The disappointment continued with the game’s camera movement. Whenever I climbed an object or simply moved past a new object it would take my eyes a moment to adapt and discern what lay before me. In my assessment, the game camera has positioned a tad too far forward and caused me endless moments of grief.
“Given its current state, I would not recommend the game.”
On the whole, Unholy is an exploration of bringing multiple gaming elements together in an unsettling environment without the jump scares of a traditional horror game. The game offers a stunning well-crafted world, and the music adds to the overall energy as you explore its mystery. However, it misses its goal of providing a fun stealth and puzzle platform combined with a horror game.
Unholy is currently available on Steam for US$29.99 / AU$43.95. At the time of writing, the developers have already acknowledged existing issues and are actively working to resolve them. Given its current state, I would not recommend the game due to its nearly unplayable nature. If they fix the performance problems and the enemy AI issues that make some sections hard to navigate, then the game might be worth its current price.
Unholy blends diverse gameplay components in a non-traditional horror setting, yet falls short of expectations. Visuals excel but suffer from performance hitches; Gameplay balance is uneven, with frustrating stealth segments and underwhelming puzzles; and Camera issues also persist. Despite its potential, Unholy needs much refinement to fix its gameplay issues and justify its current price.