In-Focus, Finely Tuned, and a Sight To See
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but having a snappy camera can’t hurt in portraying that beauty. Photography at its core is the practice of seeing one’s point of view encased in a still frame. These points of view can come from all emotions: fear, love, admiration. These emotions can form from any location: a concert, a political event, or in some cases, the impending end of the world.
As a courier for the Tauranga Express your camera is your job. You and a group of friends are dispatched through various territories in an alternate-future Tauranga Aotearoa (actually known worldly for its diverse culture in religion and arts), tasked with showcasing the city’s vibrant and booming culture whilst an impending world-dooming, intergalactic war shadows in the distance. Each location is given a set of objectives to supply your parcel, how you supply that parcel is entirely up to the shooter.
Umurangi immediately captures vibes of Pokemon Snap mixed with a little I Spy as objectives are tasked to small details like ‘Union Jack’, ‘3 Targets’, or ‘The word XCF’. At first glance these won’t make a whole lot of sense but a few laps around each area should eventually find what you’re looking for, even if some are deceptively hard to attain, and may require a google search to recognize its terminology. Photo Mode, which is activated by default, will allow on-the-spot color correction and lighting for each photo. You can tinker with color hues, bloom, focus, and exposure to perfect the acquired taste (fun fact: all screenshots shown were tinkered with the in-game Photo Mode). Additional parts for your camera will unlock with each completed parcel, and objectives will later ask for specific lenses and distance, requiring a keen eye and a good brain-racking to find that perfect shot.
Finding that perfect shot could not be more enjoyable with the radical areas that are ripe for the snapping. Taking references from the likes of Jet Set Radio and Katamari Damacy while coating it with a stylized graphic palette that would find home on a PlayStation 1, Umurangi mixes together a beautiful cocktail that’s enjoyable to look at to the point of indulgence. Sunset-kissed rooftops sheltered in a rainbow of spray paint and markers, neon-smeared streets submerged with loud music and dancing citizens barricaded under UN protection, hazy back-alleys coated with candles and memories of those fallen. It’s such a treat to not only provide your own photos of the world around you, but to absorb that world’s past and current issues through completing the parcel.
As the atmosphere of each area is brought together with its visual achievements, the cherry on top is the fantastic selection of tunes chosen to bring even more life into Tauranga Aotearoa. Bombastic beats riding shotgun with lo-fi vibes and smooth b-side instrumentals compliment each area, though I did notice a slight pause in play a majority of the time the tracks switch, but nothing to really deter from the gameplay.
Once the initial tour of Umurangi is complete special optional objectives are around to continue your stay. These optional objectives are available immediately while playing, but it’s best to keep these for repeated attempts as to not deter from the initial experience of each stage. Optional objectives aim for a set amount of money earned (fancier shots earn bigger payouts in your parcel), recreating the postcard supplied on each stage, finding all the extra film hidden (which also resupplies your camera’s 24 picture count) and getting a sweet shot of all of your buddies, all while completing the main objectives in a set time. Finishing these objectives will grant more equipment to tinker around with and further expand your palette.
For budding amateur photographers and lovers of the vibe-y, low stakes genre of video games, Umurangi Generation is a no-brainer. Spending a couple hours bumping tunes, snapping pics, and watching the world slowly burn has never looked so good and been so fun.
Playable via Steam.