Yellow text scrawls across the monitor.
“Someone is in the house. They shouldn’t be here.”
The screen flutters with an eerie hum, the desk lamp flickers, and you swear you can feel someone standing right behind you.
In a chilling love letter to Stranger Things, the developers over at No Code brought text-based adventure games back to life with their genre-bending experimental title Stories Untold.
While the game doesn’t quite hit the narrative genius of the Duffer Brothers’ Netflix Original, it does have a similar feel to the hit 80s inspired show. Hell, the game’s attractive poster art is designed by Kyle Lambert, the man behind the Stranger Things’ promotion posters, not to mention the synth-heavy intro track closely resembles the show’s opening theme.
Stories Untold certainly has an impressive aged feel, but the game doesn’t just bring you back to the 80s with its visual style, it uses old-school mechanics to drag you head-first back to a time when text-adventures were king, think Zork and Amnesia. While the first-person game predominantly runs inside various retro screens, you spend your time in an incredibly intricate 3D world moving back and forth between aged devices, and at one point, leaving the computer to do the unthinkable – head outside.
So what about the horror? If you are wondering whether this psychological thriller is going to have you leaping out of your seat, probably not. Rather than utilising cheap jump-scares, the developers opt to slowly build tension until you feel the overwhelming spine-bending sensation that someone is standing right behind you.
The game has four episodes in total, each spanning around 30-minutes in length. The episodes tell an almost stand-alone story, while cleverly connecting to one another with bite-sized details. While Stories Untold’s first episode certainly had me hooked with its 80s aesthetic and clever delivery of narrative, the game was not without its issues.
The first episode, The House Abandon, brought a wave of nostalgia and text-adventure fun, albeit with a few frustrating moments due to unknown commands and an abundance of unrecognised terms. Should I ‘walk to the door’ or ‘go to the door’, ‘should I find the key’ or ‘look for the key’. However, these minor moments were only a slight nuisance.
In episode two, The Lab Conduct, and three, The Station Process, the game introduces slightly heavier puzzles. These puzzles weren’t particularly difficult, but they did force you to remember code sequences, zoom in on smudged manuals, and listen to a voice repeat phrases over and over again whilst you try to complete the task.
I should note that point and click puzzles aren’t my favourite game mechanic. So, while many may adore the time-consuming tasks, I couldn’t help but feel like I was conducting repetitive chore. If you plan to play this rather short game in one sitting, and you aren’t a fan of puzzles, be aware that the mixture of piercing noises, repetitive voices, flashing lights and memory driven tasks may have you reaching for an Advil.
In the fourth episode, The Last Session, the game met its conclusion, and without giving too much away, delivered a narrative ending that felt common. While it wasn’t a major disappointment, the overarching story isn’t particularly clever or new.
While, for me, the button-pushing tasks took away from the overall narrative, the atmosphere alone made up for the clunky experience. The 80s style game was beautiful to look at, featured an incredible soundtrack, and did a stellar job of building a subtle, but creepy, horror experience.
Stories Untold is available on Steam for PC.
While ‘Stories Untold’ is no ‘Stranger Things’ the game has an impressive atmosphere, subtle horror and a prominent 80s feel. If you aren’t into puzzle games be warned, the game features repetative button-clicking tasks. While the game looked and felt impressive, its story felt common.