'Stories Untold' Review: A Genuinely Chilling Black Mirror-Style Adventure
It's night. Or possibly very early in the morning. You're not really sure what time it is. You should have gone to bed hours ago. You're sat alone, in the dark. Your face is illuminated by the cold glow of your Nintendo Switch. You need to go to bed. You can't. You need sleep, but you want answers.
You're completely engrossed by this mysterious horror game and the terrible truth at the heart of it. You're captivated by the unsettling events unfolding on your screen, but you know something dreadful is coming. You push on, regardless. Even though you're fully aware it's just a game, you can't shake this feeling that someone is... watching?
BANG. Your cat leaps from the bookshelf behind you onto your back, and every ounce of tension that you'd built up while playing your scary game alone in the dark is released in an instant. You leap from the sofa, very nearly launching your Switch across the room and definitely giving the aforementioned cat one hell of a fright.
That's what No Code's excellent interactive horror adventure Stories Untold did to me when I played it on Switch recently. It reduced me to a gibbering, paranoid wreck, and I don't regret a second of it. Stories Untold is effectively told across four separate "episodes" which gradually link together to form a larger picture. The first story, The House Abandon, was actually originally created during a game jam in under 72 hours, and can be downloaded for free here. I recommend taking a look to get an idea of what the wider game is all about.
First released in 2017 for PC (its obvious spiritual home), Stories Untold has now been ported over to Nintendo's home console/handheld hybrid, where I'm happy to say it remains an essential indie gaming experience. A few niggles aside, which I'll get to, this is a masterful horror title for the most part. One that manages to feels like a true evolution of the classic PC text adventures that most us are probably too young to really remember.
On that, it is important to note up front that even if you're not familiar with those old-school text-based adventures, No Code does an excellent job of making the format easy to understand and follow. There are also, obviously, all kinds of unexpected twists and flourishes befitting a modern release that play with the established formula and send shivers down the spine.
If you don't have the time for that, allow me to offer you the briefest pitch for Stories Untold. You find yourself involved in a series of scenarios, where you're tasked with solving some fairly light logic and number puzzles in order to advance the story. Each episode lasts for around 20 to 30 minutes, and each provides you with different tasks to perform.
In the first episode, you're playing an old computer game in your childhood bedroom. The second sees you conducting a series of strange experiments in a lab. In the third, you're sending and receiving signals from a radio tower. The fourth? Well, that'd be giving a little too much away. Needless to say, every story starts off normally before supernatural or otherwordly elements start to rear their heads.
Admittedly, Stories Untold is a little light on gameplay. Even the puzzles are (for the most part) incredibly simple. It's often a case of switching on the right machines in the right order, or going into the right room to interact with the proper item in the correct way. In fact, most of the solutions are always hiding in plain site, usually written down in a manual somewhere.
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It's usually just a case of following the instructions provided and thinking logically. Nothing too taxing then, but the moment-to-moment "gameplay" is simply a means to an end - a way of getting you invested in the world, drawing you in so that when the weird shit starts to happen, you feel all the more immersed... and all the more unsettled as a result.
On PC with a keyboard and mouse, performing these various tasks and solving these light puzzles obviously felt an awful lot more intuitive. My one major gripe with Stories Untold on Switch is the unbelievable lack of touchscreen controls.
This is, essentially, a point-and-click game. One that relies on you entering in codes, switching on machines, and so forth. It can become a genuine pain then, when you're forced to carry out these tasks using a control stick and a punishingly slow cursor. It doesn't exactly ruin the experience or completely derail the fantastic storytelling on display, but it came pretty damn close at times.
My other real issue with the game is the final episode. Without completely giving the whole thing away, my feeling on the game's climax is that it kind of... well, it kind of ruins all of the creepiness of the first three episodes by providing us with an explanation of sorts.
Playing a haunted computer game, experimenting on an alien corpse, and exploring a frozen research station in the middle of what I assumed to be an alien invasion: these were all successful, genuinely disturbing stories because of what left unsaid, what they didn't show. I mean hell, the game is called Stories Untold. For the final episode to wrap everything up so neatly just was a real letdown.
I usually hate it when things are left open to interpretation (I like a clear explanation, me), but Stories Untold is absolutely a game that should have been left open to interpretation.
Those issues aside, Stories Untold is a genuinely smart, immersive, and thoroughly creepy piece of work. It's the kind of story that could only ever be told in the medium of video games, and deserves a place in every gamer's library. Just maybe don't play it in the dark if you have a cat with a penchant for jumping on you.
We played Stories Untold on Nintendo Switch, using a code provided by the publisher. Read a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.
Featured Image Credit: Devolver Digital