Future Unfolding is a top-down adventure game full of puzzles and endless exploration. You drop into being like a dollop of new paint on the world’s canvas and without a tutorial or directives set off into the unknown to unravel the mysteries within.
You are a streaking blue humanoid wandering through wooded areas, breezy open fields, and dark caves not really knowing what you should be doing in this vibrant, colorful world. Eventually you’ll find yourself drawn to the enormous, tantalizing orbs that act as conduits of wisdom and a way to transport you from one world to the next.
As you search for these orbs, natural obstacles impede you: a strong wind that pushes you back, a rock covered path blocking your way, or a pack of menacing animals. Each with solutions that can be either mundane or supernatural. These puzzles are interesting and clever though mostly vapid with solutions leaning more towards thorough exploration over strict problem solving.
It is immediately apparent that Future Unfolding is unconventional in its appearance and enigmatic demeanor. It feels like a bizarre spiritual journey, a walk-about or vision quest type experience that evokes a surreal feeling of being in a dream.
The art style is vibrant, colorful, and layered with a variety of distinct brushstrokes that complete its gorgeous paint mosaic. Not only is it beautiful to regard but also in the way you move through the world and how the world feels as if it’s moving around you.
There are moments when the visuals feel hypnotic. A particular movement creates an odd feeling, almost replicating the illusion of an old western, with the background moving and a cowboy galloping in place. There is also great use of foreground images to give you the feeling that those scattering birds emerging from the trees are rising up into your aerial view.
The soundtrack is also fantastic. I would purchase it on its own merits even if I hadn’t played the game. The music does an interesting thing where it reacts to the world and seamlessly blends with the whimsical sound effects like an improvisational symphony. It’s something I can’t really adequately describe in words and should be heard.
Over, under, through to yonder
In Future Unfolding, you have that feeling of being lost, but neither rescue nor escape is the objective. It’s as if you’re not even alive, there is no threat of a real death. You float around and discover the world in blissful confusion.
The game divides into nine different worlds. At each world’s beginning, the destination is marked off in the uncharted wilds of the map. You chase it through intuition as you explore. Maps are procedurally generated around certain variables regarding layout and puzzles, which in turn randomizes the journey over each playthrough.
This is implemented reasonably well and you might assume it adds at least some level of replayability. Despite the differences it feels very much the same one world to the next. As this persisted, I felt that the game went on far too long for what it provided. There was an amount of repetition from puzzles to visuals that diluted its original novelty and intrigue.
Even the puzzles are not necessarily presented to you, in many cases instead found organically, appearing like obstacles instead of an overt structured puzzle. It could simply be a pile of rocks in your way, some antler wearing animal, and a hopping mess of rabbits, but it’s not a puzzle until you realize that’s the direction you need to go. It’s an interesting construction that promotes the exploration and understanding of the colorful landscape.
As harmless as interactions in the puzzles can be, there are some encounters with threatening animals. But even they are not coarse. The snake is a deep evolutionary enemy who moves to the sound of what I can only describe as a rainstick. There is a lion or beast of some kind that pounces, trapping you in an unassuming grey splotch of paint to reset you back to a checkpoint.
Each of these encounters has a part to play in the larger mystery of the game. The colourful static discharge from the snake remove boulders in your way. Interacting with a sheep in a particular manner teleports you to a different part of the map. There is a pleasant cohesion throughout the world, a connection between its components that relates to the puzzles.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started Future Unfolding. I had assumed a reasonable challenge and a flexing of some analytical thought, but that’s not what the game provides. It diverges somewhat from general puzzle play and focuses more on a beautiful world of pleasant exploration and discovery.
Along the journey it gets into some loose philosophical narrative that attempts to provoke thought. About what is not immediately clear instead feeling unrelated to what you are doing and experiencing in the game. Rather it’s more abstract and open to interpretation, but the two aspects feel completely separate at times.
The brief text bubbles that appear throughout are cryptic, saying things like, “Death will come, resurrection might.” Other times they’d provide a subtle hint to a puzzle or how the world works like, “Pet a bunny, make a friend.”
Those that provided hints are interesting, but not all that challenging to decipher. While those abstract philosophical quotes are unfortunately forgotten and discarded in favour of continued progress towards the finish. It fits the tone and direction of the game, but feels unimportant.
This is not a game for everyone. It is experiential and an unconventional sort of dalliance, rather less about puzzles and more about exploration, and ambiance, placating the fervor from more frustrating and intensely engaging games. It’s soothing and satiating, like a gentle summer afternoon. The sounds of rustling foliage, the hot sun searing the back of your neck, absorbing into your hair, the gentle splash of the tide against a rocky shore, wind chimes in tune with the shifting breeze. The majority of the game emulates such a feeling.
Unfortunately, the game comes to a close in an unsatisfying and mostly meaningless way. It doesn’t reveal answers to questions or even validate what you’ve been doing over the last several hours. While there is some pleasure along the way and it’s nice to bask in the vibe, the game is too consistently level without any impressive highs or depressing lows.
Should you buy?
It’s an unusual, pleasant, and enjoyable experience, but ultimately underwhelming. It’s quite good when you are solving puzzles that are an organic amalgamation of the environment. But displeasure arises with the repetitive elements of the worlds and the quick dissipation of the unknown – setting aside the philosophical gibberish that isn’t interesting enough to engage.
Where it was once a mysterious world waiting to be explored, it becomes familiar. The enigma fades away all too quickly. It’s a mysterious game in its cryptic messages and purpose, but not in the puzzle aspects; they are mostly too simple and straightforward.
In carefully weighing the pros and cons, there isn’t a broad appeal beyond the superficial for a general endorsement. But there is just enough in Future Unfolding to consider recommending at least to a fan of the atmospheric puzzler sub-genre.