What if all that was left of a crime scene were audio tapes of every relevant conversation? That is the peculiar scenario presented in the detective game Unheard.
In this new PC title co-developed by Tencent’s Next Studios and Bilibiili, you’re tasked with a few crime cases in which you have to identify witnesses and determine the perpetrators by listening to their conversations. Sometimes the hints are obvious, but not always.
As the premise suggests, this game involves a LOT of listening. Since there are no subtitles, you will have to scrub through the recordings over and over again should you need to re-listen to some of the more cryptic conversations.
As a voracious audiobook and podcast listener, I consider Unheard a rare gem that has beautifully married a detective puzzle game with the best qualities of an enjoyable audio drama. While it requires great patience to explore all the conversations, the quality voice acting in Unheard kept me engaged all the way through the game.
The gameplay is also intuitive. With each crime case, you are given a map of the crime scene, be it a mental hospital or a police station. To start sleuthing, you guide your avatar into any of the rooms where you can eavesdrop all the conversations recorded there.
The first objective of the game is to match a list of names with all the interlocutors. The second objective is to -- you guessed it -- identify the culprit. Depending on the crime you’re solving, the culprit may be the thief of a valuable painting or the murderer of a famous actress.
Without any transcriptions of the dialogue, keeping track of all the information at once is a challenge. To help you out, the game allows you to add your own annotations. If there’s a sentence you find particularly revealing, you can pause the recording and add a note to that clip.
These notes are supposed to help you remember who said what at which time. They are supposedly the most handy when different conversations are being held concurrently at different locations of the crime scene.
I say “supposedly” because the annotation tool didn’t quite work for me. I ultimately found it easier to write down all the clues in a Google Doc and time-stamp them manually.
I may have struggled with the game more than others. While some braggarts have said they finished the game in about three hours, it took me closer to six. Either way, this is a game that requires patience.
Unheard seems deceptively easy at first. Each scenario is an average of about 13 minutes long. However, once you have 12 people to check across eight different rooms in one scenario, the conversations multiply significantly.
Like many detective games, Unheard has a dark and mysterious tone. Coupled with the quality voice acting, I had no problem getting drawn into the story of each case.
While the game is good at building up suspense by introducing many different moving parts, the payoff in the end didn’t feel as satisfying as I hoped.
This could be partly my own fault. There are no consequences for failing to solve a case. The game simply asks you to try again. Since I was never able to solve a case during my first go-around, I was able to automatically exonerate a number of suspects on my next try, eliminating some of the initial suspense.
(I would have preferred to have some consequences for my failures. Consider what Hitman 2 did with its elusive targets campaign -- and poor Sean Bean -- in which a player gets only one shot at killing the target. If a player fails, there’s no second shot.)
Although Unheard delivers a high-quality auditory experience, the game is weak in terms of graphics. For the most part, you are interacting with a floor plan, and in between cases, you interact with a woman who presents you with each case.
Fortunately, it is not essential for Unheard to have great visuals. The lack of visual appeal doesn’t detract from the game’s eerie and suspenseful vibe.
That being said, Unheard is not a game for everybody. This is a slower game for those who appreciate a good audio drama. If you have a soft spot for audio content and theater performance, Unheard just might be your jam.