An independent game studio made a big splash this week with footage of its project Unrecord, a first-person shooter in which players take on the role of a police detective. What sets Unrecord apart from its FPS contemporaries is its presentation: Players witness the action through the slightly warped lens of a police body camera.
Unrecord looks unsettlingly real due to its Unreal Engine 5-powered, photorealistic graphics, but there’s more to the game’s presentation than just convincing lighting and believably derelict game levels. The fisheye-lens distortion and herky-jerky movement as the player chases down and shoots at suspects look nearly indistinct from real-life bodycam footage that we’ve been inundated with as police departments release similar footage to the public, often for incredibly distressing reasons.
In fact, some viewers have questioned whether the gameplay footage of Unrecord is gameplay footage at all. The studio behind it, known as Drama, says it is — “We do not use any real videos or external rendering,” it promised — in an FAQ released on Thursday.
“There have been many doubts raised about the authenticity of the gameplay,” the studio said. “The game is developed on Unreal Engine 5, and the game footage is captured from an executable and played using a keyboard and mouse. It is not a VR game. In reality, it seems rather flattering to compare the graphics of Unrecord to reality, but fortunately, we know that a game first focuses on gameplay and universe on which we primarily concentrate. Considering the high production costs of a video game and our global reputation at stake, if Unrecord were a scam, it would be a blockbuster scam.”
Reaction to Unrecord has varied from disbelief (“I refuse to believe this is gameplay.”) to astonishment (“Holy shit, to say the least”) to concern (“very cool, but deeply uncomfortable setting and vibe”). Popular (and controversial) streamer Trainwrecks, in response to Unrecord programmer and co-director Alexandre Spindler, expressed anxiety about the footage and ensuing political response to it, saying “This level of realism for shooting & killing makes me feel uncomfortable as if I’m watching a real leak from a military or police operation.”
Despite the highly realistic recreation of all-too-familiar police violence, Unrecord is also receiving its fair share of joking reactions, including “big fan of games that tackle insane and out-there concepts like ‘what if cops don’t turn their body cam off.’”
Me, vacillating between being amazed at the graphics and horrified by the subject matter https://t.co/Hz3Krbp64S pic.twitter.com/lUEVQvyH3V— Haus of Decline (@hausofdecline) April 19, 2023
Developer Drama has responded to its hyper-realistic portrayals of police gun violence, effectively trying to paint the game as apolitical. In an FAQ, the developer wrote:
As a French studio addressing a global audience, the game does not engage in any foreign policy and is not inspired by any real-life events. The game will obviously avoid any undesirable topics such as discrimination, racism, violence against women and minorities. The game will have no biased or Manichaean take on criminal acts and police violence. We also respect and understand people who may feel disturbed by the game’s images. Art cannot fight against interpretation.
Justifying the undisclosed content of the game would be a spoiler, and you will discover the direction of the themes for yourself. The public generally trusts film, series, and novel writers on the intelligence of the point of view when it comes to detective, gangster, or police stories. Why not for a video game? If the game presents political messages, they will be made consciously or in your interpretation. If the game aims to be subversive in certain countries, we will assume the label.
However Unrecord turns out, it already appears to be a lightning rod for conversation. If and when it does come out — Drama lists the game’s release date as “to be announced” on Steam — and players finally get their hands on it, that debate will likely be increasingly charged.