Stories Untold is the kind of game where I just want to say “it’s great, go and buy it” just to save myself from having to talk about it too much. It’s not that I don’t want to talk about Stories Untold, because believe me, I have a LOT I want to say about it – it’s just that it would really be a disservice to the game if I went into too much depth about what makes it work so damn well. 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, because it really is something special.
I appreciate that sometimes people need a little bit of convincing when it comes to their video game purchases though, so if you have decided to read on just know that 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. However, whilst it doesn’t provide chills in the traditional manner you’d expect from a video game, it did a very good job of feeling intense, atmospheric, and outright spooky. That sort of feeling of uncertainty is to be expected when trekking through titles such as Outlast, Resident Evil, or Silent Hill where the horrors are constantly thrown in your face, but to be nervous whilst playing what is essentially a glamorised text-adventure was a new sensation altogether and a real credit to the ingenuity and creativity of the team at No Code.
There are four episodes to play through in total, each of which represents an episode of a cancelled TV show known as ‘Stories Untold’ (duh). You’ve got ‘The House Abandon’, ‘The Lab Conduct’, ‘The Station Process’, and ‘The Last Session’. Each episode is presented in its own distinct 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, which adds a nice degree of variety to the experience and consistently pushes the ‘text-adventure’ aspects of the game to its the boundaries by constantly introducing fresh gameplay ideas. If you’re familiar with titles such as Please, Don’t Touch Anything where you’re tasked with interacting with things around you which would typically be considered inanimate objects, you’ll be able to grasp Stories Untold’s gameplay mechanics quite quickly. Not only are good observational skills and being able to think outside of the box (literally) imperative to progression through each episode, but they also demonstrate how clever the game can really be.
Whilst I won’t go into any story details, I will say that 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 everything on the ‘paranormal’ after all), but there’s also this sense of ambiguity that’ll keep you thinking about each episode long after you’re 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 and interactive manner felt particularly special – especially since you, the player, are at the helm of it all.
A ton of games tell you 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 that playing it in the light of day will actually deter from your experience. Seeing just a CRT screen and a lamp-light 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 it was all intentionally designed to played in the dark.
Of course, this could also be a little bit of a hindrance on the Nintendo Switch’s small screen. If you’re playing on your TV it’s fine, but I spent most of my time playing on the system’s handheld mode and could find it difficult to make out some pieces of text or details in the environment at times. Fortunately, there is a handy little zoom function in place that allows you to take a closer look at these sort of things, but it still takes some tinkering with to see everything perfectly. Did it put me off playing the game on the Nintendo Switch? No way. In fact, I’d go as far as saying it’s one of the best ways to experience the game despite these issues, especially in the later hours when lying in bed with just the small Switch screen acting as a light – you know, when you can hear all the things that ‘go bump in the night’.
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, which in turn offers an experience that manages to both impress and creep players out at the same time.
I’m really glad that it’s made its way to the Nintendo Switch and, outside of a few issues with the smaller screen, it’s a bloody fantastic way play through No Code’s chilling adventure. If you skipped on Stories Untold back when it originally released on PC, now is the perfect time to experience its eerie delights. Just make sure you wait until it’s dark before you start…
Developer: No Code
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC