I've long maintained that Unpacking is one of the best games that launched in 2021 – something that our own Tom Orry also argued back when the title launched into Xbox Game Pass back in November 2021.
On the surface, Unpacking may seem quite trite: you move from house to house, unpacking items as you go and organizing them into your new living space. Given this task is so dreary and unfulfilling in real life, it’s amazing to see a game make it such a profoundly moving – and incredibly engaging – experience.
And it’s not just us that think so, it seems; last night, Unpacking took home BAFTA’s highly-coveted Best Narrative award (beating out It Takes Two, Life is Strange: True Colors, Returnal, Psychonauts 2, and even Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy). This award is given out by a pre-approved list of judges, but the other BAFTA Unpacking managed to clinch – the EE Game of the Year award – was the only category in the whole show voted for by the public.
Given that Unpacking seems to have won over more players than even the sublime Metroid Dread, it’s definitely worth talking about, right? The game, developed by Witch Beam Games, is a small underdog indie title… to see it win out against established industry names like Josef Fares (with It Takes Two) and massive studios like Arkane Lyon (Deathloop) is really reassuring – and shows us all that there’s certainly place for short, emotionally-charged indie games in the middle of all the triple-A open world stuff we’re often so hyped up for.
The game itself is built partly around Tetris-ing items to fit onto shelves, into cupboards, and around quirky bits of stubborn furniture, and partly around a slowly-does-it peek into one person’s life. Ranging from triumph to tragedy and back again, Unpacking is a mute game that says so much more with its few well-realised mechanics and meager selection of levels than some RPGs do with over 100,000 lines of dialogue. You can complete it in one sitting, if you care to – and perhaps it’s the intensity and brevity of the game that work so well together, and another reason this lovely little title has won over so many loyal fans in such a short amount of time.
With Unpacking, it feels like you’re getting an incredibly intimate and under-the-covers look at someone’s life; going from organising their underwear drawer to lining up all their art supplies is a great way to let you see the minutiae of a stranger’s lived experience – who knew? And the way that it forces importance and focus onto what could be seen as otherwise innocuous items is nothing short of genius. Who knew it was possible to form such an attachment to (and get so angry about!) a framed diploma? Truly, the way Unpacking makes you relate to inanimate items is as magical as what Pixar did with Toy Story back in 1996.
If you’ve not had chance to experience this delightful charmer of a game yet, there are plenty of options for you: the title is still available to download via Xbox Game Pass or indeed buy for Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One and PC, and it’s also available to buy on Nintendo Switch.
But if you’re a PlayStation player, you’re going to have to wait a little bit longer – not to worry, though; a recent press release from publisher Humble Games noted that the title is due to hit PS4 and PS5 consoles ‘this Spring’. Though there’s no date attached just yet, given that we’re already well into April, we’re going to assume that the launch isn’t too far off.
And that’s great, because as we move from spring to summer, playing Unpacking again (or for the first time on PlayStation) seems quite apt. It is a game, after all, about falling in love with new beginnings.