Unpacking review

There’s possible a top 3 list of stressful things to do in life. New job, Figuring out what you want to do after school or college, and moving house. Unpacking tackles the final point here of moving house and you tackle moving through a series of moves from the main character’s point of view over a number of years from 1997 to 2018. The game manages to remove all the stress, and create a fun, engaging, and feel-good game that’s simple in mechanics, but takes you on a memorable journey.

There’s something very zen about Unpacking. In real life, it’s a bit of a pain, to be honest, but in video game form, unpacking various items and placing them in a room or home is a very cathartic experience. When I was a kid my parents like to move house. We only ever moved around the same town, but we moved house approximately every 5 years or so. Then I moved away to university and subsequently moved into shared apartments and houses over the next 10 years. A new place starts to feel like home when you start to get your stuff, whether you are putting up posters and photos when you are younger, or when you are older putting art on the wall and buying furniture and kitchen utensils. Unpacking manages to capture that feeling of settling in really well and provides a soothing gameplay mechanic to do so.

Unpacking gets you immediately into action. There’s no complicated onboarding or explainers, you simply start to take stuff out of boxes and put them in the ‘right place. The gameplay mechanics are nice and simple, it’s essentially a point and click game where you can move items out of boxes and put them where you want. Things start out small in a child’s room, then as the game develops the main character gets older and the living spaces become more elaborate – more rooms and more complex items. The items themselves tell a rich story about the main character, which is very true to life, and as you are playing I am sure you’ll be looking around at your stuff, wondering what kind of story they tell of you. There are no major time pressures on the game, meaning no countdown timers, so you can move at your own pace, which all adds up to the relaxing experience.

Unpacking moves through a series of living spaces, which roughly reflected back my own experiences. There was a child’s bedroom, a university dorm, and a shared apartment. The items you unpack provide clues to who the person is. Items range from photos, postcards, video game consoles, and things related to hobbies. As well as photos, there is also a camera found in possessions. This unlocks a photo mode, but it feels like a small addition rather than a main feature of Unpacking.

The overwhelming sense after playing Unpacking is a relaxing one. Sometimes after playing games I leave feeling more stressed than when I went in (looking at you PUBG), but Unpacking is a relaxing experience through its zen-like placement of items accompanied by the nice music and gentle pace of the game. The general idea is to unpack items in the ‘correct way, it’s the game that will stop you from moving onto the next level or location if you don’t. Generally, you can unpack things anywhere, but bathroom things should go in the bathroom, kitchen things in the kitchen, that kind of thing.

Unpacking is a feel-good and unique game, that does a great job of telling a story, without going around, speaking to NPCs, and other regular video game mechanisms. The storytelling here is done through the process of unpacking and placing items, and as well as a touching story, it’s also a cathartic activity for you to enjoy. The one thing this game does really well is takes you on a journey, not only through the houses in the game, but also a trip down memory lane making you think about your own moves. I’d not heard of Unpacking before its release, but I’m glad I got to play through it.

Developer: Witch Beam
Publisher: Humble Bundle
Platform: PC, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, iOS, Linux
Release Date: 2nd November 2021