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Episodic TV programs and games are not a new thing, they have been much loved by their fans for a long time. People enjoy the short bursts of entertainment, and the suspense that’s generated between episodes. It creates a desire to want to return and you count down the days until you can get your next fill. The Telltale Games series has done this well by drip feeding new sections of their games at timely intervals, which has made this franchise a resounding success. My latest review game Stories Untold has attempted a different approach and doesn’t withhold any content from the start. 4 episodes are available for you to enjoy casually, or all in one binge sitting if you get hooked.
Developed by No Code and published by Devolver Digital, Stories Untold is an episodic horror point and click game that spans 4 short scenarios. You will be expected to work through clues presented before you to solve the puzzles that lie ahead. Each of the chapters bears little resemblance to the one before, yet they all have an underlying theme and style. For fans of retro gaming, and older players you will remember text based adventure games, but for those who have no clue, let me explain. A tale is displayed in text form, you will be given the option to; explore the area you are in, interact with items, and talk to anyone nearby. Whatever you decide, it will impact on the path of the game, and the outcome will alter. Think modern Visual Novels and you won’t be far off.
Text adventuring with a twist.
Unlike the old school games, Stories Untold twists this genre to make a unique and interesting concept. The text appears as if it is being narrated by another person, and you worry you are constantly under surveillance. It gives the game a creepy voyeuristic feel to it that never eases. Alongside this, you will experience a mixture of clichéd horror and weird science fiction moments. Like the American TV series, Tales from the Darkside by George A. Romero, it appears to be a low budget production, but is oddly fantastic to observe. No Code has delved into a deep and macabre theme with each part of this title. The weirdness and surreal elements build through each chapter until you question what’s real, and what is not.
Mostly, you will play the game from a stationary first-person perspective. You will be expected to flit between different objects that lie in front of you. Commands are barked down radios, or appear on monitors before you, where you must follow the instructions to unlock clues to solve the puzzles. There is little in the way of challenge with the problems that you face. All the solutions are in front of you, and it takes a small amount of logical thinking to put the pieces together. The fun and difficulty stems from the search for the information, you will have to; flick through the pages of a microfilm machine, scan through electronic documents, and fine tune a radio.
Plenty of tasks to complete.
Though each episode is short, it is jam packed with tasks to complete. Each layer slowly knits together the underlying narrative of the story and gently structures some normality to a bizarre plot. Most puzzles that you will face are enjoyable and give you a thrill when you solve them. There is however a couple of bad eggs in the basket, and these leave a bitter taste in your mouth. The poor design and muddled requirements leave you scrambling around in the dark for answers. This is not how a puzzle game should be. These are in the minority, so once you get through them you need not worry again.
Does low budget mean poor performance?
Whenever I get the sign of a low budget, I worry that something will be done on the cheap, or left out all together. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. The graphics, though not triple A rated, are of a standard expected in an indie title, and were detailed and enjoyable to look at. The change in both tone and colour helped to create an atmospheric world that was simple but wonderful to explore. The recreation of the classic text adventure for each of the displays brought back many fond memories, and it was this attention to detail that I truly appreciated.
Gone are the days when just anybody would be suitable to provide voice over work for a game. Developers recognise the need to have a well delivered script, and No Code struck gold here. The narrative is brilliantly written and keeps you guessing throughout. The pace and emotion placed into every act are simply stunning, helping you to empathise with each of the characters. You then mix in some nicely thought out sound effects, and you experience a game that jumps to life.
Sitting still makes it easy to play.
The lack of movement, and the well explained controls help to make this a pleasure to play. A clean and easy-to-read User Interface is available at all times. The instructions for each task are clearly spoken to you, and after a little trial and error you know what is required. It matches its retro theme for simplicity, and won’t cause any issues at all. It’s not all good news though, the odd time you have the freedom to walk is a clumsy affair. It’s serviceable, but wasn’t as smooth as I’d like to have seen. Like the issue with the puzzles, this element is so limited that it has little impact on the gameplay.
The beauty of an episodic game is that once you have finished it, you are free to revisit any part you want. But will you want to return to try again? The answer, probably not! Though each section is wonderful to play, once you’ve completed each one you know all the twists in the plot. Not that it has no replay value, achievement hunters will need a second attempt to complete the full hidden list.
Did No Code’s full content gamble work?
The joy of other titles within this market is the length of episodes that you get at each release. A fair amount of content is dropped in each instalment, so if No Code hadn’t taken the approach they had, then this would have been a failure. If you take this game on, you’ll get around 4 hours playtime, which isn’t bad value as it costs less than £9. A copy can be purchased here if you so desire! Do I recommend it? Other than its few shortcomings, it’s a great game and one you should have in your library. Will you be able to gather the clues to solve the puzzles? Play through each of the 4 episodes and link the bizarre plot together, one piece at a time.