Umurangi Generation is a stylistic and serene game about being a photographer in some weird dystopian, vaguely cyberpunk world where somebody is paying top dollar for your random pictures of birds. It’s actually a really neat concept that fumbles the execution in certain spots, but still retains a certain meditative quality that I appreciate.
When I jumped into the first level of Umurangi Generation, I honestly felt a little overwhelmed by what I was supposed to do. You’re given a list of photo objectives, most of which just want something specific in it like a mountain or a flag, but some will have an additional piece of criteria that asks you to use a specific lens or be at a particular distance from the subject. As I played more however, I started to feel more comfortable with the suite of tools I had and when to use them.
What doesn’t get easier however, is the unnecessary vagueness of some of these objectives. Often times the objectives are straightforward, asking you to get a certain amount of an object in one shot or asking you to recreate a postcard. Then there are objectives that are so purposefully vague that you’ll end up spending several minutes trying to even comprehend what you’re actually supposed to be looking for.
For instance, an early objective was to find a sarcastic version of the phrase, “Property of the United Nations.” This level looked like some military outpost, so literally everything had the phrase, “Property of the United Nations” on it somewhere. But not knowing what I was exactly looking for caused me more frustration than satisfaction when I eventually discovered that one of the soldiers was wearing a helmet that said something cheeky on it. Like, it was a decent joke I suppose, but the punchline didn’t land because I had already wasted twenty minutes trying to find the damn thing.
That nebulous goal was only made more infuriating by the slow and imprecise movement of your character. My main issues are the speed at which you move and how often I found myself getting tangled up on level geometry. I’d get caught on corners and ledges for the most part, which were less than ideal when you have ten minutes to complete all the objectives in a level.
Technically you can go over that time limit, but you’ll take a penalty for it. In Umurangi Generation, you pay for every roll of film you use in your camera, and get paid for the content and accuracy of your shots. I never really felt the financial impact of wasting time or film in the early parts of the game, but I imagine that could change in later levels. You’re also dinged for having any “blue bottles” or man o’ wars in your shots, something I feel I should mention because they’re literally everywhere. It’s this extra obstacle that makes you find more creative ways to get the perfect shot.
Once you take a picture, you get the opportunity to edit it. It starts simple at first, only allowing you to change the exposure and color tint, but by the third level I had unlocked a saturation slider as well. Umurangi Generation has a decent progression system in it too, where you unlock a new tool as you move from level to level. The first unlock I got was a telephoto lens, followed by the aforementioned saturation slider. I don’t know if Umurangi Generation will keep up the pace of unlocks as I progress, but I sure hope it does.
Umurangi Generation is an extremely cool concept for a game that does a really good job with the photography mechanics, but has some rough edges on almost every other aspect of it. That being said, I really like Umurangi Generation. When the weight of the timer or the nebulous goals isn’t pushing down on me, it truly feels like the meditative experience I want from a game.