Yes the marketing of Stories Untold is too close to Stranger Things – especially the ’80s title credits and John Carpenter-esque soundtrack – but there’s so much more bubbling beneath the surface that demands the attention of any gamer interested in a unique blend of horror/adventure.
Stories Untold is a short (3-4 hours max) horror/adventure/puzzle game from No Code, an independent developer out of Glasgow, Scotland. The production values don’t suffer from the small size of the team as No Code works beautifully within their scope, combining media in surprising and effective ways. I forgot that FMV could actually be effective.
Each episode introduces new mechanics, mostly centered around analog technology from the ’80s. The first episode for example, features a text adventure played on an old PC. The viewpoint generally focuses on whichever machine you are operating per episode, although there are plenty of surprises I won’t spoil. Again, I’ll mention the way No Code combines multimedia is truly inventive and helps Stories Untold stand out in a unique way.
The horror aspect reaches beyond the usual jump scares to expertly encapsulate a rising sense of dread. No Code embraces the #1 rule of scary movies and puts the burden of imagination on the gamer, increasing the terror far beyond anything a game developer could show on screen.
A simple line of text or voiceover often sent chills down my spine and had my mind racing. No Code has a firm grasp on what makes text adventures so compelling and incorporated those mechanics perfectly into a modern package.
The puzzles are on the easier side, allowing the game to move at a brisk pace. Closer to Paper’s Please than The Witness, the player is often given the solution via convoluted instructions or an actual manual. Easier episodes will take less than 30 minutes, while the more complex mechanics of Episode 3 took closer to an hour.
One complaint comes from the inability to skip repeated sections of text and voice. Due to the trial-and-error gameplay, I was often frustrated waiting for the slow-moving text to display the same information I had already seen a dozen times. The first episode is the worst culprit, as the text-adventure lacked a skip button when describing every room and action multiple times. The text-adventure portion is also an extremely stripped down version of the games it takes inspiration from. I spent a few minutes longer than I wanted searching for the specific word combination the game desired. This may seem like a nitpick, but for a condensed experience, it slightly hurt the flow and pacing.
Another issue worth mentioning are a few problems/solutions being a little too vague. There were a couple instances where I had the correct solution, but hadn’t disengaged a key part of the puzzle and had little guidance to do so. I eventually solved them all without a walkthrough however (rare for me with a puzzle game) and mostly enjoyed the process beyond the few snags.
The overall narrative is above average, with surprisingly good voice acting conveying the story with nuance and realism. The episodes interlock in clever ways and kept me fully engaged in the plot. The ending is fairly obvious once I saw it coming but that realization didn’t happen until very close to the finish line.
I can highly recommend Stories Untold to gamers who want to think in-between scares, and appreciate creative ways to tell a story through an interactive medium. It’s currently $9.34 CDN on Steam after the 15% discount that lasts until March 6th.
Personally, I felt like two sessions of a truly unique horror experience was worth $10, but those who need more bang for their buck might be better off waiting for a sale.
Stay tuned for my walkthrough going up on our site and channel sometime this week.