The best upcoming games of 2020 (and beyond)
Umurangi Generation describes itself as "a first-person photography game in the shitty future". It's like if Pokemon Snap was about loitering in demilitarized zones. It's a game where you try to frame a photo with ten seagulls or seven unique instances of the word "gamer" without getting beaten up and sent packing by occupying peacekeeper forces.
It's about some kids who are just trying to make the best of things as ecological fires set by earlier generations lick at their heels. It also has heavy Jet Set Radio vibes, which if I'm being honest is the main reason I started playing it in the first place. While you were the one tagging walls in Jet Set Radio, Umurangi Generation lets you capture its graffiti art - and many more subjects - with a professional photography kit.
The lenses you unlock as you play feed into the required shots you must take to complete any given map: sometimes they offer a hint about how to complete a certain task, while other times they challenge you to pull off a seemingly basic shot in a less conventional way. After you snap a photo you can play with how to develop it: crank up the exposure for a dreamy look, fiddle with the hue shift to make the colors feel alien, then boost the chromatic aberration to make everything look like the UI from The Division.
Finding the proper subjects for your checklist and framing them correctly is the challenging part of Umurangi Generation, and I enjoyed the time I spent searching around its levels as I tried to get a roll of film filled with the perfect shots. I left my amateur photographer aspirations behind a long time ago, though, so it was mostly just a means to an end for me to soak up more of this game's world.
At certain points, it's sharp; like the stylized polygonal faces of your friends and the photorealistic enlistment posters pasted on the walls. In others, it's soft, all pastels and cute cat/penguin photos. Umurangi Generation looks fantastic, proving in a new way that you don't need The Last of Us 2's budget to fill a world with beautiful sights and intriguing details.
I won't spoil too much of the story, which is told ambiently through the progression of environments rather than through any overt exposition. I will say it's the kind of a world where you can find a street party - with dancing young folks and their souped-up, underlit racing cars - a block away from the devastation wrought by a fallen giant robot. Also, the giant robot's pilot is taking a smoke break nearby, still in their blood-spattered plugsuit.
There's a moment where the stuff you've been reading about in scattered newspapers and warning signs suddenly becomes very real, and the rest of the game feels like an extended goodbye. All of this without any dialogue. Umurangi Generation is not an optimistic game.However, I wouldn't call it pessimistic either.
Most of the games that I'd describe as pessimistic also have an indulgent, protective layer of cynicism. They shield themselves from the upsetting realities they describe with the distance of dark humor and irony, or they simply revel in the grimdark abyss.
Umurangi Generation is a game about accepting that your way of life is probably coming to an end, it's not your fault, and it sucks. But that's just the way it is. You might as well enjoy the time you have, dance with your friends, and take plenty of photos so you can always remember.