Detective Games aren’t exactly common. Sure, many games have detective-style elements, or do hold some level of mystery in their narratives that the players uncover, but there aren’t many more games like L.A. Noire appearing out in the wild nowadays. This could be attributed to the amount of writing work and careful planning that goes into a mystery that many writers feel they aren’t equipped for, and that’s very understandable. If you saw my review of Backbone not too long ago, you know that constructing a layered story with theoretically infinite amounts of narrative twine isn’t something that can be churned out in a night.
Then comes something like Unheard, released in 2019. I picked it up on sale after it appeared in my recommended games. You as an “Acoustic Detective” (sounds like a bad folk singer honestly) listen to audio from crime scenes and piece together what actually happened. You have to identify each player (much like The Return of Obra Dinn) and then answer some questions about the scenario. Preface: I am still playing through this game as of writing this.
This is a very unique game. It offers a different slice of the detective genre than the average player is used to with the focus being solely on listening as opposed to the usual rigmarole associated with the profession. You as the “acoustic detective” move around a floor plan where different suspects are interacting, not being physically present while it happens, so you can move freely from area to area. What this does mean though, is that you can only hear the conversations of one or two people for a session, before you have to restart the video and tail someone else. This style of gameplay is something akin to the eavesdropping missions in Assassin’s Creed, but the nature of your position is purely to solve crimes. You’re also allowed to take notes and make comments as the video plays which don’t disappear when you have to restart the video, which is very beneficial to those more inclined to note-taking. What’s also important is that you are not penalised for taking your time and analysing each scene thoroughly. It allows you to work at your own pace and comfortably.
The voice acting for the English version of this game is very good. Each character per individual case sounds different enough to be distinct from one another, so confusion is kept to a minimum, however the written word suffers some small translation issues, but it’s excusable as the meaning is still easily discernible and it doesn’t have too much of an impact on the stories being told. The audio overall is the biggest credit to give this game, as it is expertly done. Games that have a high focus on one aspect need to make sure that is polished almost above all else. Sea of Thieves does this with sailing (take a chance to look at the sky and the water, they’re beautiful), and Unheard belongs in that upper echelon of games that do audio to a brilliant degree. As not all people just openly admit guilt to each other, you will have to track certain people through personality traits (i.e. a bald guy is referred to as “Chrome Dome”), or tracking the movements of a stolen item (or two), but the audio makes it just challenging enough if you listen hard enough. The only caveat is that you must play this game with headphones.
The gameplay could be considered repetitive, but that’s just a cross any game with one mechanical focus has to bear, and even then most of them do it well. Unheard isn’t an exception to this rule in the slightest.
The writing is good, however, it isn’t something like Thimbleweed Park or L.A. Noire, where the writing is the pure selling point, but there are distinctly worse games trying to do some similar things.
If you want a unique journey into the detective genre, then Unheard definitely is for you. It’s not too expensive and is great to have in your chequebook. This style of mystery solving would be an interesting experience to do in real life as well (in a simulation obviously). Emzy Leigh has started recently doing murder mystery packs on Twitch and they seem to go down well, and I myself have ran a murder mystery game of D&D with special guests. It may be something I’ll have to experiment with at some point. Unheard, consider me inspired.
You can pick up Unheard on steam here.
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