Unknown 9: Awakening Preview – Unknown No Longer – Game Informer


Announced at Gamescom 2020, Unknown 9: Awakening hasn’t had much in the way of news since its reveal. That promising trailer gave us a basic idea of what the game, which is a small part of a multimedia franchise, is going for, but beyond the basic premise laid out by the series, we haven’t learned anything new about the game in quite some time. However, I recently had the chance to meet with publisher Bandai Namco and developer Reflector Entertainment to learn more about the game and see the first gameplay footage.

What is Unknown 9?

As a multimedia franchise, the story of Unknown 9 follows the story of the Quaestors – powerful people who are keyed into the way the universe works – which folds out across various platforms. This preview specifically talks about the game, but the story unfolds across media like comics, a novel trilogy, a podcast, a web series, blog posts, and the game. However, Reflector designed the story of Unknown 9: Awakening to be a self-contained story that anyone can enjoy. Still, if they feel compelled to dig deeper, they can do so through other media.

The Unknown 9 universe centers around empires’ cyclical rise and fall across human history. As the next empire’s end approached, nine individuals with a strong connection to a mysterious hidden dimension known as The Fold were shielded from death. Those joined the quest of trying to break the cycle of destruction. Out of this premise, two separate groups formed with a shared goal: trying to learn the power of the 9. However, they want different things with the knowledge and power they seek. The Leap Year Society hopes to gain the knowledge of the 9 to tell it to humanity for their betterment. On the other side, the Ascendants want the knowledge and power of the 9 to break the cycle, then use the power for selfish means. As you might imagine, in Unknown 9: Awakening, the Leap Year Society is often painted as the good guys, while the Ascendants are the more antagonistic group.

Awakening Gameplay

Unknown 9: Awakening follows Haroona, a woman raised in the streets of Calcutta, India. Played by Anya Chalotra (Yennefer in Netflix’s The Witcher), Haroona’s powers awakened during her childhood. Now, as an adult, she’s learning how to train her powers while on a mission for revenge against Vincent, a member of the Ascendants who killed her father. 

Unknown 9: Awakening

The gameplay of Unknown 9 operates on three main pillars: Stepping, Combat, and Active Stealth. Stepping uses Haroona’s unique powers, allowing her to jump into the body of an NPC and control them. You start with one Step Token but can upgrade to four by the end of the game. When you take control, time pauses, and you map out their moves. For example, you can Step into one enemy and force them to drive their melee weapon into an explosive object in the environment to take out the three guards, then Step into another enemy and have them open fire on a couple of other nearby guards. Moves like these level the playing field for Haroona as she faces insurmountable odds on her quest.

Outside of Stepping, Haroona also has various other powers, including the ability to pull, push, and crush objects in the world. Using this, she can detonate objects or alarms to distract guards. She can also heal, an Umbric Rock to distract enemies, don a cloak to turn invisible, and use her senses to see the locations of enemies and objectives. All of those allow Haroona to take out enemies craftily, but when things hit the fan, more straightforward methods come in handy; Haroona can also perform light and heavy melee attacks and use an Umbric Attack to stun enemies, and can block and dodge on the defensive side.

Demo Recap

Unknown 9: Awakening

My demo takes place in Suknasari Forest, a location players will encounter in the first three hours of Unknown 9: Awakening. The minimal U.I. elements assist with immersion, showing just one single element in the lower left corner to tell you your health, Tokens, and powers. As you explore the environments, you find skill points within anomalies. Unknown 9: Awakening doesn’t use a traditional XP system, instead relying on these anomalies – some of which are on the main path, some of which require some exploration – to allow Haroona to unlock upgrades.

Across several sequences, I watch the developer giving the demo Step into the bodies of guards between Haroona and her objective. In some instances, Haroona forces the guard to kill other guards. Other times, the guard is compelled to run head-first into an explosive. Stepping definitely feels like a fun additional fold into traditional stealth gameplay. 

Unknown 9: Awakening

Playing through the sequences stealthily, Haroona sneaks through the tall grass in typical stealth-game fashion, but her stealth takedowns are devastating in a way Assassin’s Creed could never pull off; Haroona looks to be removing their souls from their bodies. Or maybe she’s simply removing their consciousness and then putting it back using her added senses. Either way, it doesn’t look like something I want done to me. 

After a couple of sequences of smaller minion-type enemies, I watch the demoer take on a tougher enemy. This brute blocks a lot, so standard melee attacks won’t work as well. Instead, you must use Haroona’s powers to Step into other enemies to attack environmental objects like incendiary lamps and explosive barrels. After dealing a good deal of damage to the heavy, Haroona finishes him off by pushing him into an explosive barrel, putting him down for good.

Unknown 9: Awakening

The demo ends with a segment where Haroona must steal an airship from Vincent. However, before infiltrating the hangar, she must remove the anchors that are keeping it grounded. After watching the demoer battle through the first wave of enemies, he loosens the first anchor, which unleashes another wave of baddies. Some of these guards are the standard melee guards, while others have high-powered rifles, and others still are the heavy-style enemies from the previous encounter.

Each loosened anchor unleashes a new wave of enemies, and I delight in watching the developer playing the game show off how creative you can get with these encounters. After dropping a lamp on the last enemy’s head and setting him ablaze, Haroona removes the final anchor. With that, the path to the airship is opened up, and my hands-off demo comes to a close.

Unknown 9: Awakening

While there’s still so much we don’t know about Unknown 9: Awakening, I liked a lot of what I saw. The universe is ripe for exciting storytelling, and the gameplay reminds me of a strong mix of Control, Uncharted, and Assassin’s Creed. I’m sure we’ll learn more in the lead-up to the launch, but for now, my interest is piqued. Unknown 9: Awakening arrives this summer on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. 

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