Stories Untold is the kind of game where I just want to say “It’s great, buy it” just to save talking about it too much. It’s not that I don’t want to talk about Stories Untold, but rather it would really be a disservice to the game to go into depth about what makes it work. In fact, I’d even go as far as saying to stop reading this review (and don’t read any review of the game for that matter) and just buy it – you won’t regret it. If you do decide to read on though, I’ve kept things spoiler-free. I’m nice like that.
I’ll admit that when I first saw Stories Untold I was a little sceptical as to how a text adventure could be all that frightening. I mean, the press release for the game suggested that it’d make you ‘s*** your pants’ – that’s setting the bar pretty high right there. However, whilst I didn’t need to resort to changing my underwear whilst playing the game, it did a very good job of feeling intense, atmospheric, and outright spooky. The feeling of uncertainty is to be expected when trekking through titles like ‘Outlast’ or ‘Resident Evil 7’, but to be nervous whilst playing what is essentially a glamorised text-adventure was a new sensation altogether. It’s powerful stuff and developers No Code deserve some credit was creating such an eerie atmosphere.
There are four episodes to play through in total, each of which represents an episode of a cancelled TV show known (quite fittingly) as ‘Stories Untold’. You’ve got ‘The House Abandon’, ‘The Lab Conduct’, ‘The Station Process’, and ‘The Last Session’. Each episode is presented in their own way; whilst ‘House Abandon’ gives you a desk with a TV, lamp, and a few pictures on show for example, ‘The Station Process’ sees you sitting at a PC and an interactive radio. Each episode adds a new way to play so you’re never doing the same thing for too long. It adds a nice degree of variety to the experience, pushing the ‘text-adventure’ genre to the boundaries by constantly introducing fresh gameplay ideas. It felt a little like titles such as ‘Please, Don’t Touch Anything’ in that you’re constantly interacting with things around you in a way that breaks the fourth wall, though the whole ‘game inside a game’ thing that Stories Untold has going on does that on its own anyway…
Whilst I won’t go into any story details, I loved the way that Stories Untold leaves everything open to interpretation. Creepy things happen and there’s always a conclusion that might feel obvious (it’s always easy to blame things on the ‘paranormal’ after all), but there’s also this sense of ambiguity that’ll keep you thinking about each episode long after you’ve finished with the game. I’ve always loved the ingenuity of shows like ‘The Twilight Zone’ and ‘Tales from the Crypt’, so seeing a similar concept explored in such a clever manner was great – especially since I was at the helm of it all.
A ton of games tell you to that they’re best played at night in order to set up an eerie atmosphere for yourself, but it feels more fitting with Stories Untold. In fact, I’d go as far as saying playing it in the light of day will actually deter from your experience with the game; seeing just a CRT screen and a lamplight in front of you works incredibly effectively in Stories Untold, whilst the other complex instruments you toy around with as the game progresses are always dimly lit in such a way that it feels like they’re literally right in front of you. It’s a feeling that stuck with me throughout the whole of the game; you feel so absorbed in everything that you really could actually be there sitting at a desk with everything right in front of you. Who needs virtual reality when we’ve got such clever game design as this?
Stories Untold brings back a classic genre with a bang, breaking the conventional mould of simply using words in a text-adventure by offering you a fully interactive setting that alters as you progress through each episode. It’s incredibly clever and also incredibly atmospheric, bringing an experience that manages to not only constantly impress but also creep you out at the same time.
Not only is the gameplay tense, but the ‘untold’ stories are great too. I really got absorbed into the experience and my only disappointment was when the whole thing was over. I’ve got a lot of love for Stories Untold and hope this is just the start of something special.
Developer: No Code
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: 27/02/2017