UnMetal by Fran Games is, at first glance, a Metal Gear parody. Released in 1987 on the Nintendo Entertainment System, Metal Gear was a pioneer of stealth/action gameplay. The series is celebrated to this day, and is one of my personal favourites. The basic premise involves starting off with no equipment, focusing on stealth to avoid direct combat, and finding useful gadgets to solve problems along your way. UnMetal pays homage to all of these elements…with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek.
The story begins with our hero, Jesse Fox, being imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Locked in a dingy cell, you must use your wits and whatever is available to orchestrate an escape. By means of a quick and intelligent tutorial, you bust a rusty wire off your bed and scrawl a false suicide note on some toilet paper using your own blood. This fools the guard into entering the cell: providing your means of escape.
UnMetal’s narrative is told from the perspective of an arrested Jesse Fox. Following the events of the main game, he has been detained by the military to tell his story. During the action, the game cuts to Jesse telling this story to allow for player based decisions. How many guards are in a room, what items he found in boxes, what challenges he faced in an area…however the player chooses to “remember”the story can change the action in the game. Choosing the most ridiculous sounding option always gave me a chuckle, and kept me engaged in both the gameplay and the narrative. A great example would be the time Jesse recalls the sewers to be infested with “assassin rats”. Choosing this option causes evil rats to chase you and turns your character into a piece of cheese while a remixed Benny Hill song plays.
Controls are simple and smooth. Punching is your main form of object and enemy interaction. A few jabs to anything will unlock secrets, items, or induce unconsciousness. Jesse may also perform a quick roll to avoid bullets. Items may be combined together to create new weapons or solve puzzles. Weapons are mainly used during boss fights, as Jesse Fox is not an assassin and must heal any guards he mortally wounds with his own first aid kits. If any guard is left to die, the player is met with a game over screen.
Taking down enemies without being seen will award experience. Leveling up allows you to choose between two unique upgrades. Some choices changed how the game felt, and made me very curious how the game would play if I had taken the other option. Most games allow players to fill up an entire skill tree with perks, making every player’s experience largely the same. I was impressed that UnMetal’s level-up choices were meaningful and distinct.
Boss fights are fun and full of variety. While some simply encourage the use of the most recently found weapon, others range in style dramatically. Examples include battling against a helicopter from a hovercraft, firing torpedoes at a massive eel during the submarine mission, or even a dialog battle with a drill sergeant! UnMetal continued to explore new battle mechanics throughout the entire adventure, making each major encounter memorable. I played the game on medium difficulty, which made boss fights feel balanced and fair. The only criticism I can offer here is that the dialog battle was based on guesswork, with incorrect answers leading to a game over screen. However, the checkpoint was nearby and the humour made it worth all the attempts.
I am attempting to avoid mentioning the humour component of UnMetal as much as possible. This is because I feel the game uses humour to enhance what is already a great experience. While some of the jokes are genuinely funny and others merely eye-rollers, the game stands tall without needing to lean on the fact it is clearly a fully functioning Metal Gear parody. After my 9-10 hour playthrough I was left fully satisfied. The beautiful pixel art was charming and nostalgic. The music was appropriate and moving. The gameplay delivered what I expected, and surprised me in a few ways I didn’t see coming. UnMetal is an easy game to recommend for fans of the series it parodies, but also for gamers looking to have some fun with laughs along the way.