Unforgiving: A Northern Hymn gets one thing undoubtedly right: exposition. Some games fail to understand the beauty of ‘less is more’ when it comes to this fundamental concept. They all too readily give us reams and reams of backstory, setting and character bios before you even log into the game. For some games, this is what we need (I’m looking at you Final Fantasy) but for other narrative driven games, it doesn’t lend itself quite as amicably.
Horror is one such genre. Take the Soulsborne games as lead (OK, they aren’t really horror) but they whipped their respective fanbases into frenzies by just merely hinting towards an event or history. These games didn’t ram every fact and figure pertinent down the player's throat and some would say this enabled the production of one of the better stories to be told, or rather untold.
Unforgiving does something very similar. Considering its alpha state, I cannot say whether this is a design choice at this point – but it should be – or whether due to lack of polish. But there is no starting cutscene. A few sounds of water, breathing, a heartbeat quickly moving to a lack of anything and then you begin. How the female protagonist came to be there, why she was there and what happened prior are not even alluded to. But they don’t matter. You are there, in the moment with her, and all that matters is her survival and ultimately, therefore, yours.
Exploring the rest of the game becomes one dark, match-lit footstep after another. A lot of what occurs in the game is always just out of sight, but usually within audible distance. Small noises contribute to the greater narrative here that culminates in a crescendo at certain points of high-octane action. Sometimes you just aren’t sure if that faint sound was anything at all. Only time will show you.
Deep Understanding Of Storytelling
The game was developed by a team of five students, and what is really amazing here is how much they have accomplished. The game is very stable, highly polished and shows a deep understanding of storytelling that can be lost on those with years of experience. If this is their debut, I cannot wait to see what they accomplish when they are experienced.
The game itself is available over on GameJolt free of charge for those that might want to dip their toe into Swedish folklore. If you’re a fan of horror, this will be right up your street. I am excited to see what direction they now proceed. One thing I hope they don’t change is the beginning. I want to be lost in an unknown world once more.