Unpacking’s title marvellously — and succinctly — informs you of what to expect. You inhabit the life of a young woman across a number of years, living in her shoes solely through unboxing her worldly possessions. One year you might be decorating your college dorm room, the next moving back home to live with your parents, and later a picturesque home as you welcome a new child. Seeing which possessions stay with you every step of the way, and which items vanish never to be seen again, makes for a surprisingly robust environmental storytelling experience. And best of all? Playing Unpacking is just really relaxing.
On a surface level, the title is a puzzle game, but that does a disservice to what the experience is really about. As you open boxes, there are very loosely-defined spots you have to place certain objects. You can’t leave a toaster in the bathroom for instance — though there is a menu option to disable such restrictions — but beyond that, the game lets you kowtow to your obsessive-compulsive heart’s desire.
Do you have to organise every book or garment of clothing by colour to beat the level? No, but it sure is satisfying to do it. The game provides these big empty rooms, and then pushes you out of the nest, letting you populate them in whichever manner you see fit. The majority of the game’s eight levels are relatively simple, only providing a few rooms to juggle, which contributes to the calming atmosphere. Items in boxes rarely belong in different rooms from where you’re unpacking as well, further easing the challenge. The only level that really feels complex is the final one, as you are given an entire multi-storey house to populate.
The music contributes to this relaxing atmosphere, with a whimsical chiptune / acoustic guitar soundtrack that perfectly floats through the background of the experience without drawing any untoward attention its way. The delightful pixelated art style works in sync with the sound, providing a bright, vibrant realm to inhabit and lose yourself in.
The game nails absolutely everything it sets out to accomplish, with the exception of maybe the controls. While the cursor system functions adequately on a controller, the title is definitely better suited to a mouse and keyboard. Additionally, placing items behind other objects or trying to tuck them into corners will very often be uncooperative. But these are minor obstacles on the way to enjoying such a uniquely wonderful game.