Video games have improved leaps and bounds in the last few decades. Eight-bit design used to be the height of technical achievement for a game.
Now it’s a simple fashion trend, something used by indie developers to save cost and provide an alternative art style. But in a world where everything has become so radically advanced, it’s surprising how many things have become quite stale.
So, when a game returns to the past and uses lessons once lost, combined with the technology we now have, the result can be spectacular. Enter Stories Untold, the text based horror adventure game you never knew you needed.
Stories Untold is a bit of an odd ball to describe for a number of reasons. At its core, this is an adventure game, but the exact mechanics are a bit fluid.
The game is broken into four separate smaller stories, each of which uses text based adventure as a core mechanic. But the game itself is not solely text. Instead, it’s woven into the gameplay on a meta-bending way.
For example, the first of the four episodes, titled The House Abandon, sees you at a lovely, fully rendered 3D computer desk. On the desk is an old 80’s style computer. You play the text based adventure game in this first episode on the computer.
But that’s not the cool part. The cool part is . . . Well . . . It’s actually quite hard to describe, because doing so would give away a huge part of what makes the game so amazing.
To try and evasively sum it up, the game manages to integrate the environment of the desk into your actions in the text based adventure in an incredibly interesting ways. It’s frankly one of the most clever bits of game design I’ve seen in years, and I wholeheartedly recommend everyone try the game out just to experience it.
It’s not just interesting, however; Stories Untold is flat out horrifying. I’ve previously written an article about why we like fear in horror games, and to simplify that tremendously, it comes down to subverting expectations. Many modern horror games, even the good ones, tend to rely on bodily harm or the extreme grotesque to horrify the audience.
And that’s fine; it really is. Bodily harm and the extreme grotesque are, in fact, exceedingly horrifying. The fact that Stories Untold is scary without relying on gore is all the more impressive then.
This game managed to leave me utterly horrified on multiple occasions, and it had nothing to do with anything gross or dangerous. It had to do with actions that were taken, some of them by me, and how frankly horrible they were. Horrible in a way I can’t tell you about because I want you to play the game.
One of the most brilliant ways this is executed is in the way the game is designed. Aside from a few moments where the necessary verbiage is unclear, the game is fairly unambiguous.
This is especially true in the moments where your only way forward is to do something you really don’t want to. Time and time again the game asked me to perform an action that just had me shaking my head while saying ‘no’ in real life. But I had to do it, for reasons that were clear in the game. And it was awful. But it was great.
The House Abandon is entirely a text base adventure, but the later three stories mix things up while keeping a flow you’re introduced to. The second level mixes text based mechanics with simple puzzles, while the third focuses even more on the puzzles. Both have some amazing surprises and incredible uses of storytelling. The fourth mission . . . I’m at a loss for how to adequately describe it. Suffice to say it’s phenomenal.
On a technical level, the game does exceedingly well. The visuals are well-done with lots of subtle little details in the environment that’ll delight and horrify you in turn as you notice them.
The audio quality, as with so many excellent indie games these days, is simply fantastic. The music is beautiful, with a clear Stranger Things vibe, and the theme that plays at the beginning of every episode is hauntingly lovely and superbly creepy at the same time.
The noises themselves are subtle but carry a lot of punch. The game has only a small number of jump scares, but those are all the more effective because the sounds involved have actual weight.
When there’s so little other noise in the game, every little detail comes through more clearly, helping intensify the mood. On several occasions, there are even noises that leave you physically uncomfortable but unable to stop them.
The most important thing Stories Untold does is simultaneously the hardest to talk about. This game works with storytelling on a level most games nowadays don’t even dare to dream about.
Each of the four stories has its own gravitas, and each in turn is chalked full of tiny little details that add up over time. They stack up, one on top of the other. Where so many games give you a story in a ham-fisted fashion, Stories Untold builds one. As each moment passes the horror of the game dawns on you, one step at a time, until your left speechless at what you’ve just gone through.
It’s beautiful, and refreshing, to see a game with such an emphasis on story. At the end of the day, that’s the point of video games. They, like movies or books, are a medium for telling a story. With some games that story is as simple as “person runs around shooting other people”. And that’s fine! Honestly, if such a story is fun to interact with, there’s nothing wrong with that.
But to play a game that weaves a story so well reminds you of what a truly good game can be. That’s what Stories Untold is: a good game. A great game, even. The kind of game I honestly think everyone should play. It isn’t the kind of game you’ll come back to time and time again.
The gameplay is fun, but it isn’t deep, and the stories are linear. The whole experience totals only a few hours at most, and it wasn’t utterly perfect. There were a few moments, though few and far between, where the gameplay failed and left me confused.
Despite all that, I don’t care. I called it an experience because it was just that, an experience. It was only of the best experiences I’ve recently had, and I firmly recommend it to literally everyone. If you’re on the fence, let me push you off. Heck, the game is currently $10 on Steam. Go! Get this game!