Developer: NExT Studios
Way way back when I began looking into indie games, I had the chance to play a demo of Unheard at a gaming conference. I was really interested in the premise and picked it up a while after launch, but it ended up in my backlog for a while. It turns out it's an excellent game to play on Steam Deck (with headphones on!). Unheard is a detective puzzle game where you use past audio recordings to figure out what happened at the scene of a crime. Unheard is plain in its gameplay and visuals, but it has satisfyingly-challenging puzzles and stories full of twists.
You're introduced to the game's objective by an unidentified woman in dimly-lit room. She informs you that you will be testing out a new detective tool that allows you to listen to "return to the scene of the crime" by listening to audio recordings from before an incident. It appears you are being tested on older cases to see if both you and tool are successful at solving the questions of the case. This tool allows you to not only listen to past recordings, but move through different rooms of a building to listen in on the different conversations happening simultaneously. You'll need to listen multiple times in order to catch all of the different conversations, then you'll be able to assign names to each voice. Once you have these names assigned, it will assist you in figuring out true questions about who is responsible for the crime. As you progress through the game, solving more cases, the conversations with the woman in this interrogation room begin to get more and more strange and off-putting.
Unheard relies much more heavily on audio than it does on visuals. In the scenes where you receive your next assignment from the mysterious woman, her face is obscured so you mostly just see the dingy small room. Most of the game, though, you are just relying on a top-down schematic of a building where you can move around rooms to find where the conversations happen. I think it's fine that this game didn't need to rely on visuals, but it would've been interesting to see a little visual of the characters and story that play out in each of the cases. Unheard recommends using headphones, as you'll need to listen closely and audio will come from different directions depending on your position. I think the sound design and voice acting was well done, even though the dialogue could sometimes come off a little cheesy. Since you need to rely on narration, you don't have a lot of music to listen to in this game. Only in the scenes in between and the title, you get some mysterious and eerie music that helped with the tone.
Each story or case you solve appears to be self-contained - at first. They range in complexity from just a few characters in a scene to a whole cast of over 10 people, some coming in to the building later into the recording. The audio is well executed in that it corresponds to which directions or distance characters are from you. However, it would have been really interesting if they didn't make doors basically soundproof. Sometimes you're close enough to the door that you should be able to hear what happens in the other room, especially if there is no door, but it doesn't work that way. Regardless, the game allows you to make notes at timestamps in the tape you listen to so you can always go back to the specific time if you wanted to listen to a different room. Unheard is an interesting concept because it really made me think about the idea of a surveillance state - sure, if we had recording devices everywhere that we could recover after a crime, we would find the culprit much more easily.... but at what cost? It also made me wonder if people really say such incriminating information when they're on a phone call, but I think that's just something the game sort of plays with to provide information.
Unheard has actually released a couple of free and paid DLCs for the game, but only one is available in English. When I finished the game, I was itching for more so I decided to download this DLC called "The Lethal Script". It adds one new crime to solve, except this one is quite large and difficult to solve. I appreciate that they added more complex levels for those who wanted to play more, but the main game itself is very reasonable to solve. I'm still working on completing that long additional chapter, but I definitely would play more of this game if they release future DLCs.
Unheard is simple in its premise, but its story does slowly escalate during each puzzle. I really enjoyed getting sucked into its puzzles and thinking deeply through all of the dialogue. I'd definitely enjoy a sequel to this game that had a little bit more visuals involved and a little more "realism" to the way the audio works, in terms of distance and rooms. I recommend this game if you like detective deduction games where you have to sometimes make decisions based on limited information. It's a fun, short game that works perfectly on Steam Deck.
Unheard is available on PC, Switch, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and macOS
Played on: PC (Steam Deck)
Last Played: 4/18/2023
Playtime: 5 hrs