When was the last time you played a text adventure game? Unless you’ve been playing games since the late 1980s or early ‘90s, the answer is probably “never”. If for some reason you really want to remedy that situation, you have now a chance to do so with Stories Untold, a text adventure for the digital age.
Stories Untold is a text-based horror adventure game that’s spread across several different episodes, or stories. Each episode is designed to feel like it’s taken straight out of an old mystery TV show, like The Twilight Zone or the more recent Stranger Things. While the episodes are essentially standalone, they do connect in subtle ways to create a sense of continuity.
The variety between the episodes is fairly impressive, considering the game’s limited gameplay mechanics. One episode has you play an old-school text adventure game with a twist, another sees you running experiments on a sealed box with a mysterious object inside, and in another you’ll try and crack coded transmissions. Despite the simplistic mechanics of inputting text and pressing buttons, each episode manages to provide puzzles that will test you in wildly different and creative ways. I do wish that the actual text adventure part was more diverse in terms of commands it recognized, though. There were times I got stuck just because I did not input the exact line the game was expecting, which was a bit frustrating.
At first the episodes appear to be quite normal, and they will eventually take a turn for the creepy, weird or right down terrifying. Unfortunately, most of them fail to deliver on their promise. Once things start to get really interesting, the episodes simply end, and the final payoff is a tad weak. However, while it’s still going, the story of Stories Untold is cryptic and mysterious enough to make you want to see it all the way to the end. The game’s weirdness and unique way of telling its story, combined with a few really great moments, will keep horror fans intrigued till the credits roll.
A lot of it is thanks to the game’s retro visuals and sound. The ancient computer monitors and lab equipment, combined with the clicking of your in-game mechanical keyboard evoke a time before we were counting pixels or frames-per-seconds. The small ways the world around you chances to reflect what’s happening on-screen, especially in the first episode, create an amazing atmosphere of dread and uncertainty, where you are never sure what will happen next.
Stories Untold is an interesting experiment of a game. It uses archaic gameplay mechanics and visual design to create something that somehow feels new, and that’s quite a feat. It’s a good base for something bigger, better and longer (the game is only 3-4 hours long, and is priced accordingly). Hopefully developer No Code will continue down this creepy, less traveled road in the future, and tell us even more stories.