06 Jun, 2020
Umurangi Generation is not a game for everyone. It doesn’t try to appeal to as many people as possible, instead only being concerned with being the best photography game it can be. That is why it’s such a brilliant game.
Umurangi Generation is ostensibly a photography game, but it’s so much more than that. At its core, it’s more of a puzzle game designed to teach the player two things – about the fragility of Earth and our failed efforts to maintain it, and the basics of photography. While those may sound like two contrasting subjects, developer Naphtali Faulkner weaves them together beautifully. It makes sense considering what inspired the game: the loss of his mother’s house during the Australian wildfires, and trying to teach his cousin photography.
You have a lot of freedom in Umurangi Generation. You’re given a list of what you need to take pictures of at the start of each level, but aside from taking those pictures, the rest is up to you. The game doesn’t score you based on how good your pictures are, nor does it force you to re-take pictures if it decides they’re not good enough. This isn’t that kind of game, it’s more of an artistic tool that lets you explore its world and take pictures however you want.
That being said, the game does subtly guide you through the use of money. Take a picture of a blank wall that’s out of focus, or a picture that’s too dark, you’re rewarded a tiny amount of money. But snap a vibrant shot radiating light and color, and you’ll get much more money. Earning more money unlocks new lenses for your camera, and editing filters. You can also earn more money by doing the bonus objectives. Take a group shot of your friends, find X amount of film canisters, recreate a post-card, that kind of thing.
Otherwise, the rest is up to you. You can take dull pictures of what the game tells you to and speed run the game, you can spend hours taking detailed shots of every gorgeous scene you stumble across, or you can cosplay as Alfie Zimmer as you snap pictures of all the graffiti scattered throughout levels.
You can do so with a variety of tools you unlock with money along the way. Lean left or right, zoom in or out, apply a bunch of different lenses like a fisheye, telephoto, or wide-angle lens, adjust the focus, and if you’re photographing people, you can get them to change their pose. Once you’ve taken the picture, you can then edit it on the fly, adjusting the color depth, saturation, equalization, and a whole lot more. You can even save it to a photo album and look at all your pictures whenever you want from the main menu.
As for the other side of Umurangi Generation’s unique coin, the story is told in the background. At first glance, you’d think there’s no narrative in the game at all. There’s no dialog, no text at all except for your checklist. But the more you explore these levels, the more you find. Newspaper headlines give you a look at the world behind the bright colors and hellish landscapes, and the graffiti reveals itself as being more than just pretty art. There’s a deep story unfolding in the background, but you have to find it yourself – if you want to.
Soundtrack and Visuals
What’s most striking about Umurangi Generation though has to be its soundtrack and visuals. The music is all this new wave synth flair. It’s upbeat and energetic, and gives the game a strong pulse that makes you want to keep playing and find all the secrets in each level. The art, meanwhile, is (mostly) bright, vibrant, and funky. There’s the gorgeous graffiti everywhere and bright colors highlighting what would otherwise be dull, utilitarian structures and objects.
Just about the only problem with the game is on the technical side. It runs at a solid 60 FPS throughout, but the game has a severe case of screen tearing. It’s not too bad in some of the smaller levels, but in the bigger ones, you get massive amounts of screen tearing just about every time you turn the camera.
But that’s the only real complaint there is to have with Umurangi Generation. This is not a game for everyone. There’s a lot here that many people won’t like, from the lack of a clearly presented story, the lack of any real challenge or obstacles to overcome, it’s short at eight levels and three to four hours of gameplay. If you liked what you read, then go for it. If not, then playing the game for yourself probably won’t change your mind.
Umurangi Generation isn’t a game for everyone, but if you dig its cool aesthetic, it’s desire to teach you photography, and subtle storytelling, there’s a lot here to love. You can buy and play the game now on Steam.
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