Saturday, 27 May 2017

Stories Untold


I don't normally do two blog posts in one day but I just finished playing an impressively creepy and original PC game and - because I have a lot of announcements coming up - I didn't want to put off telling you about it.

Stories Untold

[Note: there are probably no spoilers below but if you enjoy creepy stories and games I'd fully recommend just buying Stories Untold rather than reading anything about it. You'll find links here. The less you know, the more fun you'll have. I've embedded the trailer in case that helps!]


A game that is made up of four "episodes", or stories. Each of them is different. Until a certain point this reminded me less of a game and more of a collection of creepy short stories. I liked the range of ideas and settings - creepy houses, scientific experiments, arctic research stations. All of them begin with almost normality, then have a gradual increase in tension and mystery, which works well over four stories. My love of this kind of variety was one of the reasons I wrote my own creepy short story collection (They Move Below) - a chance to try out various classic settings. As a portmanteau for games it works well.

In Stories Untold there is no need for reflexes, just some thought and experimentation, taking your time to acclimatise to what it expects of you, and what you can do. Yet the game still managed to surprise and impress me on a few occasions. It's never quite what you think.

The sound design deserves special praise - exemplary effects and voice work, much more than just boo jumps. Subtly-appropriate effects and music really pull you in. I played with headphones on, and that added to the impact.

What I noticed was how immersive the stories felt, especially in the ones where you switch between screens in different parts of the room. I really felt part of it, interested and immersed, as if I was there. It shows how unscary a lot of other games are - for example Untold Stories is a great contrast to a game I was playing last night, FEAR 2. FEAR 2 is supposed to be scary but actually it is more of an action game, and very predictable - I was just playing FEAR 2 on autopilot, and never felt like I was there. I would much rather have a short, surprising, immersive experience like Stories Untold any day. Stories Untold was an enjoyable time. I may not return to it but each of the stories has stuck in my mind.

My only quibble, that stopped me giving full marks, was the text parser for two of the episodes. It frequently rejected words that were the correct response, but which weren't the words the game expected (e.g. "get out" versus "exit" versus "leave" versus "go out" etc.). It seems an oversight that could have been easily fixed - either by building in more variety to the synonyms and concepts accepted, or just add a "help" command that listed acceptable verbs. This wasn't a big problem but was enough to steal a bit of enjoyment from the first and fourth story, and it is telling that those were the only times I had to seek help online when I got stuck.

My favourite story was the third. It really captured some kind of cross between films like The Thing and Pontypool, and I could easily have played an extended version of this as a full game, perhaps expanding on elements along the lines of the Penumbra games. The third episode was worth the price of admission alone to me. The rest was just a bonus.

Buy it DRM-free here (and other places). If you enjoy creepy stories and games you deserve to treat yourself to this.

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