The act of unpacking all of your belongings when you move house is undoubtedly something that fills us all with dread. But not in Unpacking, the gloriously relaxing – and surprisingly emotive – game from Witch Beam.
Unpacking your stuff isn’t always stressful, granted. I remember taking great glee in finding just the right space for everything when I moved into a new bedroom aged nine. And again upon moving into my university dorm, having “my very own space” for the first time in my life was a thrill. The older you get and the more stuff you accumulate, however, the more arduous a task it becomes.
Unpacking replicates this process, but in a way that never becomes arduous or stressful. In fact, Unpacking might be one of the most chilled-out games we’ve played in recent years. It’s far more enjoyable than a game about taking stuff out of boxes has any right to be, and that’s testament to just how incredibly clever the team at Witch Beam is.
Because, really, there’s so much more to Unpacking than, well, unpacking. At the heart of the game is a narrative told only through items and the location you’re in. There’s no dialogue and, aside from a photograph of the back of their head at the end of the game you never even see the game’s “protagonist”. You only see where they live, and their stuff.
Related: The Pleasure of Unpacking
But how the items you find yourself rifling through can tell a story is nothing short of genius. Whether it be the teddy bear that travels from home to home, or the art supplies that gradually increase as the years go on; each and every item you unpack helps us paint a picture of the person whose life we’re in charge of unpacking.
As do the locations you’re in. From a childhood bedroom to a university dorm room, to a house share with friends. It’s a usual trajectory that many of us might have taken and as such can empathise with. Having to squeeze in your belongings alongside someone else’s; making a home feel like yours even though you’re not the only person living there. It’s no mean feat, and Unpacking captures it beautifully.
No chapter is quite so telling as the mid-point of the game, where our protagonist is moving in with – who we assume to be – a romantic partner. Their apartment is already full with their worldly possessions. It’s up to us to create a space for ourselves, moving their stuff to make way for ours. This is a home for two now, after all.
Then comes the moment when you surprisingly find yourself back in your childhood bedroom. It’s changed a little; your cabin-style bed replaced with a standard single, for instance. But it’s still your old room, even with some of your old posters on the wall. Moving back in as an adult is poignant; fitting your grown-up life amongst memories of your childhood isn’t easy. And if you’ve ever had to move back in with your parents as an adult, you’ll know all-too-well how it feels.
By this point, you’ll feel like you know the person behind the boxes in Unpacking. You’ve never met them, but you know so much of their intimate details. You’ve even put their underwear away, for crying out loud. You’ve seen their fashion sense change over time; you’ve seen them adopt the stick insect of an old roommate. And so going through their highs and lows, so raw and obvious through each house move, becomes an emotional affair.
But as remarkable as Unpacking‘s ability to tell such an intricate narrative is, it’s not the only thing that stands out about this game. Each item has a feel to it; picking up a DVD case makes a distinctive plasticky sound; you know, as if you’re opening and closing its case. In the kitchen, and the pans make a metallic clunk as you place them in a cupboard. Playing on PS5, this effect is even more incredible; pick up a hot water bottle, and your DualSense will make the sound of water sloshing around as you move it.
The items themselves will raise a smile or two, too. You might recognise the odd DVD case; there’s an unmistakable pixelated Ghost World and Donnie Darko, amongst others. And let’s not forget the GameCube, that’s eventually replaced with a Wii, that gets lovingly unpacked underneath the TV. From stereos getting replaced with iPods to cumbersome desktop PCs being replaced with lightweight laptops, practically every item will resonate with you in some way. It’s a pixelated trip down memory lane, particularly in the game’s earlier chapters.
The only negative of Unpacking? That it eventually comes to an end. Lasting around three hours, I could have enjoyed the serene, peaceful gameplay for dozens more. And I can only hope that Witch Beam might follow up with someone else’s house-moving journey at some point in time. This is something that could work incredibly well as a series, and I don’t think it’s at risk of losing its magic any time soon.
You shouldn’t hesitate to pick up Unpacking. This is a true indie gem; a game that deserves to be celebrated for years, or even decades, to come. From the clever storytelling through objects to the incredible sound design imprinted into each and every item you pick up, every minute spent with this game is a joy. You’ll be invested from start to finish – and you won’t want it to end.
Unpacking Review – GameSpew’s Score