Review: Stories Untold

Tapping into the burgeoning nostalgia for the 80’s; Stories Untold harks back to an age of atmospheric chillers created to make your spine tingle and your eyes to gaze in disbelief.

Developer: No Code
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Reviewed on: PC
Release Date: Available Now

Originally created as part of Lundum Dare #36, a 72-hour game jam where the first episode in this anthology of horror was formed.  A House Abandoned was inspired by the contests theme of ancient technologies: utilising the “Futuro 128K +2” console based off the iconic Zx Spectrum cassette based system of the same coding.   Leading with a relatively low-tech first instalment, introducing the idea of a world within a world and embedding key game concepts from the start with little effort; this chapter is effective in its creation of a tense atmosphere with little to no visual clues, letting the story and the player develop the tension it effortlessly builds.

As new chapters unlock, the intensity ramps up.  The Lab Conduct introduced the player to a more diverse range of interactions and the first of the disembodied voices who you will come to distrust as the game progresses.  Interacting with a supposedly alien artefact, the still mute protagonist must perform tests for initially unknown reasons leading to a nefarious climax.  The real sense of danger and urgency is built during this segment as the medical environment lends a tension all its own: when undertaking seemingly mundane tasks, the frequencies around you pull at your spine, leaving you craving relief.

Looking over my notes from playing this game, chapter 3 is where I lose all words and start to write in code.   The Station Process puts the player in a cold, frozen landscape akin to The Thing: isolating the player and keeping the mute adds to the tension already created in previous installations. As the most engrossing and intriguing chapter of the anthology, the player seems to be on a research station set in an arctic tundra with several similar stations within radio range.  Deciphering and interpreting what seems to be incoherent codes and signals for an unknown purpose, the situation descends into more chilling fayre the player is finally able to move; leaving the safety of their cabin for the wastes outside.  When the chapter draws to a close with a perfect “To be continued” end: I can feel my brain ticking away, attempting to connect all the threads into a satisfying tapestry of the wonderful mythos the game has introduced so far.

I was never satisfied.   The last session is the final chapter of Stories Untold, tying up all those loose ends in a less than fulfilling way.  Abandoning all of its supernatural themes leading to terrestrial conclusion; encompassing all the skills and scenarios met throughout the game with an attempt at increased tension and mobility.  As the pieces fall into place, it tore away at my theory which was first developed during the launch night play-through at Loading Bar, Dalston on 27th February (which you can watch here): a theory which create discussion and sub-theories amongst yells at the hosts for not following the slurred instructions from the crowd.  I was so engaged with this game and desperate to devour the climax to the story but it left me wanting more or maybe less, so I could hold onto my idealised finale.

Fantastic tension building
Wonderful retro aesthetic
Spine chilling sound design
Less than satisfying climax
Spelling and spacing needs to be precise
Patience is a system requirement

Overall this is a good game for a rainy afternoon, completing it in less than 4 hours, it felt like an enjoyable short story.  If you are not convinced this is for you, check out the first chapter here for free before handing over your £6 for the collection on steam.

Review copy provided by Indigo Pearl
Official Game Site

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