Epic Llama Games’ Unusual Findings is an 80s-calibre love letter straight to my chrome sci-fi heart, taking the form of a point ‘n click adventure. After the recent years of Stranger Things mania, it didn’t take long for a spoof to come onto the market. Naming conventions aside, there are only some loose comparisons to the hit show – the decade it’s set in, an underground “bad guy” facility, a mysterious creature, and the recurring use of cult classic songs.
But Unusual Findings ultimately feels less Duffer Brothers and more Spielberg. Spielberg directed many movies involving groups of people (often young people and during the night-time) who have weird alien encounters – Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T, Super8, and War of the Worlds: Tom Cruise Edition, to name just a few.
Unusual Findings follows the story of three teen boys who were on a simple mission to sneak out and watch hot chicks on TV by way of a dubiously scientific satellite rig. Instead of buxom beauties, they intercept an alien broadcast and witness a fireball crashing somewhere not too far from town. What follows is an adventure that takes A Regular Guy, A Science Kid, and a Tough Guy across multiple locales, involving puzzles, nostalgia, and that good old ‘point ‘n click logic’ to make your brain burn into overdrive.
As someone who loves science fiction movies, Unusual Findings drips with references but doesn’t overdo it. The setup of a fireball falling outside of town and the alien appearance is almost definitely a direct reference to the original War of the Worlds. “Tripods” in Unusual Findings are smaller land-based “Striders,” and their face has the appearance of the tri-coloured probes the Tripods sent down in the movie.
The world building around the time is great, and what makes it feel more genuine is that the references are more visual than dialogue based, so it doesn’t feel forced on the player in a way that is stuffing nostalgia in our faces for the sake of it. You can interact with the world and get little snippets of a look back in time, whether it’s a car, film poster or even a mechanical riding toy.
Through all your site spelunking and social sleuthing, you [Possible spoiler?] learn the Strider is not actually a bad guy after all, despite us witnessing it slicing a park ranger through the chest; and that there has been an infiltration of a humanoid alien race who are planning to wipe out the Strider planet by turning ours into a huge wrecking ball and warping us directly into theirs. It was nice for the reason for that to not be a bittersweet self-congratulatory pat on the back for mankind “we were becoming too powerful, our nukes too much of a threat and exploring the other planets was a signal to blah blah blah,” but rather a sci-fi equivalent of someone snapping their fingers at you and calling you basic.
As a rough estimate, Unusual Findings is about 4-5 hours long but I easily spent double that time to complete it. I spent a lot of time going between locations feeling absolutely stumped and having no idea how to move things forward. I had to retrace steps and make sure I selected every dialogue option, searched every possible container, and even tried combining items. Sometimes the answer was to not answer at all, and other times felt like it completely went against the grain of what you would really do in those situations – but that’s what made it enjoyable.
There would be moments of getting bottlenecked and feeling like a complete fool until you notice one little thing for it to unlock the floodgates of progress. Other times, some puzzles just take time and practice, while a few even call for good old note-taking.
I was surprised when I completed the game to learn that I had gotten one of three endings, which is exciting because Unusual Findings is enjoyable enough that I want to find out what the other endings are. I have a feeling the periodic dialogue choices during conversations with your friends play a part in your ending, perhaps your choices dictate your path after a certain point, I’m not sure but I’m likely going to find out.
I was more surprised to learn I had completed 0/18 hidden puzzles. I’m definitely going to play it again because I can’t believe I didn’t even catch a whiff of any.
There is a lot to enjoy from the sultry Vapor wave soundtracks and the feeling that your brain is going to be on hiatus for a little while afterward. The characters are well-defined, and all serve their purpose no matter how odd. The only downside is having Dead or Alive’s You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) stuck in my head.
Unusual Findings is available now on all formats. Published by Buka Entertainment.