I’m not sure quite when it happened but, sometime in 2020, I began to make much greater use of the screenshot button on my Switch Lite. As I flitted from remaster to indie romp on the hybrid handheld, I saved up a stockpile of souvenirs in the same way that I do when I travel overseas.
There’s no specific reason I do this, so the reason might as well be because taking photos is just plain fun. Finding a subject, playing with composition and camera angles and messing with post-processing after the fact is an engaging and rewarding creative endeavor.
Umurangi Generation takes that dynamic and builds a whole experience around it. Set in a cyberpunk future reeling from the events of an off-screen catastrophe, the first-person photography game tasks you with making both sense, art and money from the world around you.
Chill Lo-Fi Beats To Make Art To
If there was ever a game that understood the power of show-don’t-tell, it’s Umurangi Generation.
The presentation here is arcade-like in its simplicity. You boot up the game and jump into the first level. There’s no dramatic introduction, cut-scenes or set pieces. Just the rooftop of an apartment block where you can take photos while the sun goes down around you.
Divorced from the trappings of more traditional in-game storytelling, you’re free to marinate in the sheer vibe of the thing and piece together the intriguing backstory behind the game’s stylish setting. The graffiti, movie posters and discarded newspapers in Umurangi Generation draw you in in a way that no amount of conventional dialogue ever could.
In theory, your goal in each level of Umurangi Generation is to tick off each entry on a list of bounties by capturing the appropriate image as fast as you can. One level might ask you to take a close up of the word COPS. Another might request a shot where the word GAMERS is visible seven times. Each of these requests turns the game into a 3D puzzle of sorts, as you navigate and learn the layout of each level and try to frame your shots accordingly.
After taking a photo, you can then tinker with it using sliders that adjust things like contrast and saturation. Later, you’ll even unlock new lenses and post-processing settings that open up new creative possibilities.
All but the main objectives in each level of Umurangi Generation are optional and, while the game does encourage you to complete each stage before the on-screen timer runs out, it’s incredibly easy to lose yourself in the environment and the practice of photography.
There’s a special postcard shot to try and recreate. Then, there are hidden film reels to collect. There are also bonus bounties to pursue. In some ways, there are comparisons to be made here between Umurangi Generation and the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games. Like those games, Umurangi Generation is about the joy that the craft involved gives you in the moment than anything else.
The bounties in each level simultaneously encourage you to experiment within a set of limitations and pose questions and trick you into learning more about the world the game is set in. Why are there billboard ads seeking to ight the wrongs of the United Nations? What parts of the picture aren’t you including in your photos? Does that even matter? Why are there strange jellyfish lying around that you receive negative points for including in any of your photos?
The more time you spend in the Umurangi Generation’s groovy-but-deeply melancholic cityscapes, the more you piece together what’s happened.
Not that it matters. Ultimately, Umurangi Generation feels more interested in finding an addictive tranquility, joy and satisfaction in a place where the worst has already happened than in finding solutions to the problems facing that world. It only takes a few minutes of listening to the game’s effortlessly-cool soundtrack for sentiment to sink in.
“You’ve come to the end of the world, why not take a few pictures while you’re here?”
The Bottom Line
Umurangi Generation isn’t particularly long or complex but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a game where you make your own fun and while 2020 has plenty of those, few evoke the kind of atmosphere and free-form creativity here that this one does. You even get a few souvenirs to take home with you once the credits roll.
Umurangi Generation is available now on PC via Steam