Unsighted Review

Unsighted is a top-down action and adventure videogame about an android’s quest to reach the source of Anima, the energy that gives her and others like her sentience. I play as Alma, a relatively new android—or Automaton, as they are called here—with impressive combat abilities. The leaders of Gear Village, the Automatons’ refuge, need Alma to help them with a crisis. Their Anima is running low, with some only having a few days’ supply left. When an Automaton runs out of Anima, they become UNSIGHTED, causing them to lose their individuality and go berserk. 

Alma is recruited to track down five Meteor Shards around the abandoned human city of Arcadia. These shards can be used to make a weapon that will pierce the barrier sealing the meteor that brought Anima to Arcadia—a barrier erected by hostile humans who want to destroy the Automatons. I guide Alma as she scours the open world of Arcadia for the five Meteor Shards, each protected by a powerful UNSIGHTED Automaton, in a race against time to save the surviving Automatons from oblivion.

Alma’s creator introduces her to the Anima meteor.

My time playing Unsighted is divided between combating UNSIGHTED Automatons and exploring the open world of Arcadia. The combat is straightforward, providing only a few options to suit individual player styles.

Alma may equip two weapons at a time, each assigned to their own button. Weapon categories feel deliberately limited. There are a variety of ranged weapons, but they are weak unless I pump lots of money into expensive upgrades. Melee weapons are the main source of damage, of which there are two kinds: Swords and axes. Swords are fast and deal small amounts of damage. Axes are slow and deal large amounts of damage. There’s nothing stopping me from outfitting Alma with two swords or two guns, though I play it safe and make sure she is always equipped with one of each throughout her journey.

Alma deflects an enemy attack with a perfectly timed parry.

UNSIGHTED Automatons flash red when they are about to attack. I can direct Alma to dodge attacks with the press of a button, sending her hopping a short distance away, or to parry with another button press. Dodging an attack is a safer and comparatively effortless choice, but if Alma parries just before an enemy attack connects, they will be left prone and vulnerable for several seconds. Attacking them in this state deals a critical hit, dealing many times more damage than a standard attack.

My preference is to avoid parrying in videogames that feature it since my success rate is usually abysmal. To my initial dismay, parrying is not optional in Unsighted. Some of the most challenging enemies demand to be parried to be defeated, to say nothing of the bosses. While my learning curve is not gentle, I do find myself succeeding at it more often than not after a few hours practice. The window for a successful parry is narrow, but Alma is not harshly punished when I am a little early or late with my button press. The enemy is simply pushed back without becoming vulnerable to a critical hit. This allows ample room to practice without discouraging setbacks.

An enemy staggered by a perfect parry takes increased damage from a critical hit.

Though Alma begins Unsighted with a sword equipped, I find I prefer to give her an axe. This is due to the stamina system. Every attack, dodge, or parry that Alma performs drains her stamina. Emptying her stamina entirely leaves her briefly vulnerable, limping instead of running and unable to perform her defensive skills. The meter refills quickly, but the second of vulnerability is often all an UNSIGHTED Automaton needs to harm Alma. I find that dodging or parrying an oncoming attack, then responding with a single axe swing, is a good way to react to an enemy’s actions without draining Alma’s stamina. A critical hit from the axe is enough to kill most basic enemies anyway.

When I fail to dodge or parry with the correct timing, Alma will take damage. To recover this damage, she can use a syringe filled with life-restoring fluid. Though there are occasional containers that can refill this syringe after it has been emptied, the primary method to refill it is by executing successful attacks and parries. The more damage Alma deals, the faster the syringe refills.

Powerful bosses like Frost Automaton Maria push Alma’s combat prowess to their heights.

These parry and healing mechanics combine to make Unsighted’s combat systems heavily skill-based. The only way to succeed against many UNSIGHTED Automatans is to successfully parry. The only way to refill Alma’s life-giving syringe is to successfully deal damage. Thus, the only way to recover from a failed parry is to succeed at the next one. Alma is described throughout the narrative as the most talented fighter the sentient Automatons have. I have to embody her reputation through my controller if I am to see her quest to completion.

Alma applies her fighting prowess around an impressively dense and interconnected world. Almost every space in Arcadia is connected to the areas adjacent to it, though these passageways are usually blocked in some fashion. Sometimes a special ability is required to bypass an obstacle. At other times, an impassable barrier seals the way which can be removed by activating a switch accessible from one side of the barrier, and usually not the side we find first.

Alma pulls herself across a gap using a hookshot.

These obstacles and barriers render Arcadia into a labyrinth with innumerable circuitous paths leading to many far-flung destinations. As Alma gains more abilities and unlocks the many barriers, our ability to move unimpeded grows. By the final hours of our adventure, we can stroll in direct routes to almost any area we wish. There are no more locked doors to bar our way.

Unsighted exploits this labyrinth to make itself tantalizingly replayable. There is a prescribed path to the five Meteor Shards which is numbered out for us by the leaders of Gear Village. Though we must do some investigation in the immediate area to find out how to reach the next Meteor Shard, I am never left wondering which part of Arcadia Alma should visit next.

Alma hurls a giant shuriken which may be steered after it leaves her hands.

The paths through this environment are well-designed enough that the numbered order may be reduced to a mere suggestion. Alma finds useful tools like the Shuriken, a bladed projectile whose path I can control after it leaves her hand, and a Spinner, a giant spinning top that can break fragile walls and grind on narrow rails. Though finding these tools in the prescribed order provides the most deliberately authored route through Arcadia, there’s nothing stopping me from sending Alma after the final Meteor Shard first. A little foreknowledge of the map and a lot of creative application of her available tools makes this possible.

As much as I admire and enjoy Unsighted’s combat and thoughtfully designed open world, they are not its best and boldest features. That honor falls to Anima, the energy that gives the Automatons their sentience.

Alma’s remaining hours of sentience appear each time she enters a new screen.

Anima is much more than a plot contrivance to drive the central conflict. It is a real dwindling resource that places a ticking clock on every character in Arcadia, including Alma herself. One in-game hour lasts about one real-life minute. When Alma awakens in Gear Village, she has 325 hours of Anima left, giving us a little over five of my hours to complete her quest.

Each character’s countdown to going UNSIGHTED is difficult to miss or ignore. Every time Alma moves between screens, her remaining time flashes on screen. Every time she speaks with a non-player character, their remaining time is listed beneath their portrait. When Alma meets Teresa, a grandmotherly Automaton in Gear Village, I see that she has about 110 hours of Anima left. She will turn UNSIGHTED in less than two of my hours, taking her gentle demeanor and the helpful powerups she sells with her. This makes me feel pressure to get the journey underway without preamble or procrastination.

The enemies immediately outside Gear Village are among Unsighted’s most difficult.

As soon as Alma sets foot outside Gear Village, I am confronted with a harsh truth: UNSIGHTED Automatons, not Arcadia’s labyrinthian design, will be my main obstacle in beating the time limit. The zen garden outside Gear Village is crawling with a one-two megaton punch of complementary enemies. Archers pelt Alma with arrows from a distance, while tiny assassins generate illusions of themselves to surround her, attacking from all sides with deadly knife lunges. It’s a real trial-by-fire, requiring me to utilize all of Alma’s combat skills—especially parrying and gunplay—at a highly-skilled level to overcome. This enemy duo prove among the most difficult enemies we encounter. Even when Alma returns from the most far-flung areas of Arcadia with all five Meteor Shards in her pockets, the enemies encountered in the zen garden feel like the greater threats. 

Most of my deaths in Unsighted are not to the bosses which protect the Meteor Shards. It is to this tenacious pair outside Gear Village. The consequence for death is Alma returns to the last fast travel point she visited. The practical effect of this consequence is clear: wasted Anima. Wasted time. Unsighted does not believe in RPG cliches like rodents of unusual size to cut my teeth upon. It pushes me to heights I have not yet learned to attain from the word go all the while sand drains from an hourglass, counting down to game over.

I beg prospective players: Do not be intimidated by this description. Stick with it. It gets easier.

Alma discovers a dose of Meteor Dust on a rooftop in Gear Village.

As Alma explores Arcadia, we discover the tools Unsighted provides to combat the time limit. The main method is with Meteor Dust. This residue from the Anima meteor is stored in chests sequestered in Arcadia’s hidden corners and beyond simple platforming challenges. To keep me from wasting too much time scraping corners for Meteor Dust, there are visual indicators on screen which shows when a dose may be found in the immediate area. Whether Alma has the tools to reach it is another question.

One dose of Meteor Dust grants a precious additional 24 hours of sentience when it is gifted to an Automaton. It’s not exactly a scarce resource—at times Alma has almost ten doses in her inventory—but I still feel how limited it is. I give the first few doses to Teresa to keep her alive, but as Alma’s clock ticks ever lower, this feels ever less prudent. Keeping the friendly old woman from going UNSIGHTED feels good in the short term, but as the hours waste away, it becomes harder to ignore that I am endangering Alma’s quest and the lives of every Automaton the more effort I put into saving a few of them.

Teresa is grateful when given a dose of Meteor Dust to extend her life.

As a resource that extends life, Meteor Dust is a valuable currency throughout Arcadia. Some of the most influential Automatons have plenty of Anima compared to others. A few even have twice the Anima that Alma begins with; there is almost no danger they will ever go UNSIGHTED during my time playing. I am still incentivized to give the precious Dust to them as it improves their relationship with Alma. A grateful weaponsmith or village leader will confer powerful new weapons and tools upon Alma. Merchants will provide their goods and services at a reduced rate.

The time limit is also roped into some of UNSIGHTED’s most difficult decisions. Alma’s single recovery syringe feels inadequate almost from the start. We stumble across a scientist who can create additional syringes, but they demand three pieces of Meteor Dust for each additional syringe. We sacrifice three days of an Automaton’s potential life to make combat a little easier for Alma. It’s a hard bargain, but a necessary one.

If Alma ever runs out of Meteor Dust, there are still unsavory options available to her.

If all of Arcadia’s Meteor Dust is squandered and Alma’s remaining time has almost ticked down to zero, there are still options available to buy her a few more hours. These options are sinister and make me question if finishing Alma’s quest is even worth the sacrifice. I am grateful that I do not have to resort to this option, though it exists for players who need it.

If I were to decide the Anima time limit is too much, I may activate Exploration Mode. This disables all the time limits, allowing me to explore the sandbox with the thoroughness to which I am accustomed from other videogames.

When I first begin Unsighted and am stymied by the difficult enemies outside Gear Village, I make a deal with myself: If it looks like I will run out of time for Alma and the other Automatons, I will activate Exploration mode so I may carry on and say I finished the videogame, even if not in the way the designers intend. I am not enthused by the thought of all my efforts going to waste, of having to restart from the beginning, because difficult enemies and my own anal exploration habits cause me to run out of a dwindling resource, rendering the quest unbeatable. 

Exploration Mode lets me enjoy Unsighted without the pressures of the Anima time limits.

I’m glad I make this deal with myself, because it keeps me playing Unsighted despite my initial feelings of discouragement. I wallow in the omnipresent pinch of time. As Meteor Dust dwindles, I have to make difficult choices. I make the conscious decision to ignore some of Gear Village’s less useful Automatons, like Teresa. It doesn’t feel great, but there is not enough Meteor Dust to save everyone. 

The more I play, the more I find Meteor Dust is available in abundance once I know where to look. Were I to ignore all the other Automatons, I would have to make a conscious effort to make Alma run out of Anima. There is enough around to keep her going for dozens of hours. By playing Unsighted many times, I could learn it well enough to speedrun it and save everyone. But this is nearly impossible on a first visit. Learning to accept this, to accept my limitations, that saving everyone is a nigh-unattainable goal, is the main lesson I take away from Unsighted.

Alma spends an intimate moment with her teacher and lover.

Unsighted would be an incredible videogame on the merits of its challenging combat and dense, intricate open world. I can even play it on those merits alone if I choose thanks to Exploration Mode. It’s the addition of Anima which pushes it into the top tiers of greatness. Anima elevates the central conflict beyond a simple device into an integral mechanic. As time grinds on, I feel the consequences of our failures. I feel it each time we part with a speck of a scarce, life-giving resource, each dose of which may spell the difference between success and failure. I feel it with each life in Gear Village I consciously allow to go UNSIGHTED because saving them might mean the end of everyone else. It’s the happiest I’ve felt while being frustrated by a videogame in a long time. Beyond being a well-made videogame, Unsighted is great because it makes me feel for its characters in a real way.