You’d be forgiven for glancing at the cover for this game and thinking it has something to do with the Netflix hit, Stranger Things. They both seem firmly grounded 80s culture of neon lit logos, a lo-fi John Carpenter like pulsating soundtrack, and relics from our past such as text based adventure games and proton packs. Hell, they even hired the same designer of the Stranger Things marketing materials to create their box art. But while Stranger Things soars wildly above expectations, Stories Untold sadly is not as inspired or as much fun to experience.
What started as an entry to 2016’s Ludum Dare’s competition focused on ‘Ancient Technology,’ The House Abandon proved to be a haunting experience in retro game design. It plays basically like a FPS wherein you’re only interaction is playing a old school text based adventure game on a retro desktop replete with the classic flickering CRT monitor that hums to life as you start the game. If you played Pony Island, this will feel familiar quickly as the actual ‘game’ is a minimalist experience housed inside what otherwise appears to be a fully rendered 3d world. Unlike Pony Island though, the game is remarkably taxing even on a decent computer which seems bizarre as it’s really just rendering text on a screen 90% of the time.
The first episode of Stories Untold, The House Abandon, sees you try to solve a basic text based adventure of the same name. Once the novelty subsides you will undoubtedly get annoyed by the game’s insistence to retype area descriptions one character at a time after every attempt you make to type a command – the text comes at a snail’s pace with no option to speed it up. You’ll get mad when you commit a small typo or struggle to figure out exactly what noun you need to use for a particular phrase as each failure results in 10-15 seconds of waiting to try again.
Thankfully, as the interactions you have in the game begin to manifest in the house around you, you’ll be intrigued enough to keep playing. There’s a not a huge payoff, but It’s a interesting experience nonetheless. The subsequent 3 chapters were developed post the Ludum Dare and feature similar but far improved puzzles and design — even breaking away from the machine gazing to go full-on walking simulator at times. It’s never really scary, but it does have an captivating albeit bleak backstory to uncover the more you play.
Overall, we were impressed with the concepts of the game but don’t think we’d ever revisit the chapters, especially the first one with that godawaful delay to type out room descriptions to us. We know where are! Just let us try another command already!
It’s a novelty experience and not really about any gameplay. There are some decent puzzles in later chapters but you should check it out largely for the ideas it uses to tell its story.
What doesn’t work
Other than the design limitations already mentioned, we were let down by the story that suggested concepts of The Grudge or The Thing but ended up giving us Jacob’s Ladder.
Overall: Good but skippable
Your best bet would be a quick playthrough video but for the cheap price it’s a novel experience to try this Halloween.