Also on: PC
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: No Code
Unless you grew up playing text adventures in the ?80s — and I?m not going to even pretend that I did, I was a console gamer even back then — Stories Untold probably won?t be like anything you?ve ever played before. There are elements of it that are kind of like Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, but Stories Untold goes well beyond that into something much deeper and much darker.
Now, it?s difficult to write about Stories Untold, because anything that goes beyond a description of the mechanics quickly gets into spoiler territory, and given that we?re talking about a short, narrative-focused game, it seems wrong to spoil too much. Nonetheless, if you?ve been attracted by the game?s Stranger Things-esque aesthetic, it?s important to know that?s not really an accurate portrayal of the game, so I?ll do my best to tell you what you?re in for without explicitly telling you what you?re in for.
The game consists of four short episodes, and, for the most part, the world around you doesn?t change too much. The first chapter is a straight-up text adventure, where you give commands into an old computer. The second and third chapters involve going back and forth between a pair of screens; the second chapter requires you to read a manual and then carry out experiments, while the third involves reading a manual and then inputting a series of codes, again on an old computer. You get to walk a little bit during that third chapter, and then the fourth chapter involves walking a few hallways, revisiting some of the mechanics that you?ve already used, and then wrapping everything up in a horrifying bow.
That?s not much of a description to go on, I know, but it?s really everything that you do in the game. As you?re sitting there — at your computer, at your manual, at your radio — the world around you will subtly (and not-so-subtly) change, adding a layer of creepiness to the proceedings, but it seldom changes what you?re actually doing.
As for the story — which, really, is the main point of a game like this — I?m not going to pretend I was a fan. At first, Stories Untold presents itself as a creepy horror game, which was fine, if a little outside of my comfort zone. Eventually, however, you realize the horror here is more mental and emotional, and as someone who isn?t particularly fond of media that?s best described as ?gut-wrenching?, I can?t say I liked it all that much.
I get that that’s a matter of taste, though, and I won’t judge anyone who enjoys stories like this. I will, though, judge anyone who thinks that the Switch is well-suited to a game that involves lots of typing on keyboards and keypads, not to mention tapping various objects. I’m sure that worked well when the game originally came out on PC, but here, it’s a lot more cumbersome. Theoretically, the developers could’ve sidestepped this problem a little by allowing you to use the touchscreen, but they don’t, so that’s a moot point, and instead you’re left with the awkwardness of moving the cursor very slowly around the screen with your thumbsticks. On top of that, Stories Untold also requires you to read quite a bit of small text, which is a challenge when you’re playing the game in handheld mode. I was able to do it, but I definitely felt a bit of eyestrain afterwards, and I imagine that most people will have that issue, regardless of how strong their eyesight is.
Control issues aside, I still wouldn’t say that Stories Untold is a bad game. Indeed, if you like emotionally heavy games with interesting, underutilized mechanics, you?ll get that here — you’ll just have to go in understanding that, without a mouse and keyboard, some of those mechanics don’t work the best.
Devolver Digital provided us with a Stories Untold Switch code for review purposes.