When I interviewed developer Naphtali “Veselekov” Faulkner for the Indie Game Website this past summer, he revealed the story in Umurangi Generation, released back in May, was largely a response to the Australian government’s handling of the 2019 bush fires. The game casts players as a photographer documenting how society is handling a kaiju-robot war from the ground level, and its scenes are laced with commentary on government incompetence amidst environmental devastation. A lot has happened in the real world since May, and the game’s Macro DLC, released earlier this month, doesn’t hesitate to weigh in on it while expanding its own setting, themes, and gameplay.
For those not familiar with the base game, Umurangi Generation is basically a DSLR camera simulator where players advance through various locations by photographing “bounties” and generally just taking stylish pictures. Atmospherically all the levels fall somewhere between Jet Set Radio and the background ambience of a Neon Genesis Evangelion episode while also carrying influence from Faulkner’s native Maori culture. For $10, Macro adds four new levels, plenty of new tools for players to mess around with, and a hefty new soundtrack from composer Adolph “ThorHighHeels” Nomura.
It’s about the little things
The same attention to minute detail — despite the low-poly graphics, that makes photographing all Umurangi’s environments fun, is still here in all four new levels. I don’t wanna spoil too much about where Macro goes, but the first new level is a high-class bar and emergency shelter that doesn’t hesitate to lambast consumerist gamer culture. The main game already hinted at doing this with some knocks on VR and today’s video game advertising. Macro’s “Gamer Palace” level is littered with gamepads and dudes gawking at 2D waifus while your buddies (who follow you through every level) are left to sulk outside because they can’t afford to get in.
From there, Macro gives you a closer look at corners of the world Umurangi set up, like giant robots and armed resistance groups, while being completely unashamed of tackling current issues like police brutality and political polarization. Again, without spoiling, the last of the new levels ties it all together with the core gameplay in a way I haven’t seen any other game pull off in 2020.
Make a stand
Being an indie game largely from one person, Umurangi has more flexibility to take a clear political stance than a AAA game from a 2000-person team might. Still, it’s shockingly refreshing to see Macro directly call out some of those games for trying to say they “aren’t political.”
The new tools are mostly new camera lenses and other features to play with things like depth of field or shutter speed. I’ve personally never messed around with a DSLR camera so I can’t get into the details beyond how some lenses might make capturing some bounties easier, but what works about Umurangi, in general, is how palatable it is to both avid and novice photographers.
Get set radio
The immediate stand-out addition is the rollerblades that, along with the spray can, form an admission of Umurangi going full-Jet Set Radio. The rollerblades are legitimately useful though since the default movement speed is a leisurely walk and players unlock extra items by speedrunning. A more subtle but still excellent new unlockable is a set of pads that let you go prone, further expanding the range of shots you can take.
Simply playing through all four of Macro’s new levels probably takes just a single brief sitting, but doing everything in them took me around four hours. The middle two levels are probably more complex and multi-layered than anything in the base game. This DLC’s additions successfully round out and elevate the core gameplay and themes.
[Reviewed on PC]