Umurangi Generation is just that good.
Every now and then, if you’re lucky, you’ll come across a piece of art, media, or a work that you know you’ll probably think about for the rest of your life. The earliest example of this for me is Kingdom Hearts 2. Another example is the underrated anime Boogiepop and Others. The most recent title that I know this will happen with, is none other than Umurangi Generation.
Let’s start with how the game plays. In the tutorial the game uses first person shooters as a reference point for how the game works, and if you’re completely new to photography it’s honestly a useful place to start. You begin the game with a simple set of tools: a standard kit lens, and the ability to change exposure, colour balance, and colour tint. There’s nothing particularly complicated about using the camera, as it’s just like using a real one. Everything plays very smoothly, although the menu for the photo editing can be a little confusing at times. You’re assigned photographs and tasks that you have to complete, the former you have to do in order to progress, the other latter unlocking bonus features for your camera. One of the tasks is completing the photography bounties within 10 minutes, but on a first playthrough it’s mostly inconsequential. It does add an amount of stress to taking all of the pictures, but a feature that’s been added to the Switch port is the timer disappearing after the 10 minutes are up.
The biggest addition to come to the Switch port of the game, is the gyroscope controls. If you’ve played a first party Nintendo Switch title, you’ll no doubt have faced some motion controls along the way. It’s clear that the design philosophy behind this is to make it feel like you’re using a real camera, and it does. Getting in the right position and clicking down on the ZR button genuinely feels like you’re taking a photograph, albeit with a very long camera. There is an awkwardness to it because of the length of the switch, but I didn’t mind. It reminded me of trying to get in just the right position to take a picture myself, and purposeful or not it made the experience of playing this way feel fun.
I also want to touch on the impeccable soundtrack by Thor High Heels. In places, the music feels like it could easily have come from a PS2 game, with some tracks being reminiscent of the sounds you might find in the original Ratchet and Clank. What makes the music stand out is how it evokes feelings of the future; it does this not through electronic instruments (which it does use), but because it sounds like music we could hear tomorrow. It doesn’t sound like music from some far off distant time, it sounds like something you’d hear late at night on BBC Radio One. And I think that lends itself to the world perfectly. There’s nothing in the game that isn’t plausible (except for some physically huge things that I won’t spoil for you), and this extends right down to the soundscape that Thor builds.
The aspects of Umurangi Generation that truly won me over were it’s unabashed politics and setting. The world is one that is faced with ruin, although to state exactly what this is would spoil some impeccable storytelling. It is very clearly a left wing game, with the Macro DLC having one level that directly parallels the protests we saw last year against police brutality. This particular level has graffiti littering the ground and walls, with some sayings things like “watchdogs who are lap dogs to fascists aren’t heros.” Others read “riots only start when cops show up ready to kill.” There plot of the game is mostly implied through the locales you visit in each level, but the Macro DLC makes one thing clear: the government will not protect you when faced with disaster.
The ineptitude of multiple countries around the world in their response to both the global pandemic as well as the many protests around the world that we’ve seen proves the messaging of this game right. More than anything, this game is so powerful in it’s delivery because of the raw truth it delivers to the players. With developers like Ubisoft constantly making claims of there being no politics in their games, to see an indie title say “fuck you, people are dying and that’s a problem” is several breaths of fresh air all in one. You should play this game because it’s a good game, and could actually teach you something about photography. But if you looked at the last year and felt ambivalent about it all, maybe there’s a lot more you can learn from the red sky generation.
A review code was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
Pros: Impeccable world building. Genuinely educational toolset.
Cons: Character can be slightly difficult to maneuver. Some performance issues.