Backlog Attack! – 2019 Challenge- September

It’s starting to get spooky around here ladles, gentlespoons and all manner of utensils – you are all welcome here. As the good old British weather returns to its wet and wild normal, I settled down with the last of Thero’s pick this quarter before we get into the winter months. I apologise for getting this out so damn late, but life very much got in the way.

September’s pick was the retro looking and sounding Stories Untold, from No Code and Devolver Digital. Stories Untold unfurls into a 4 part episodic game, each running with the same basic mechanics but which add just that little bit more. Episode 1 – The House Abandon, presents as an old school interactive text adventures in which you type in what you want your character to do. Episode 2 builds on this, with some interactive text but with puzzles to work out. Episode 3 adds to both and throws in some first person walking around. Episode 4 rounds it all off by using all the mechanics previously encountered.

Play time: 4 hours
Achievements: Yes
Steam Trading Cards: No
Enjoyed: I’m indifferent
Would recommend?: For something a little bit horror, a little bit sci-fi and a lot retro, yes

I wasn’t sure what to expect with Stories Untold. I had seen brief mentions of it on the various Let’s Play videos I watch, but hadn’t really explored them or the game in any great detail. I initially tried playing this for my July game, but found I couldn’t work through the first Episode (The House Abandon) in the heat we had back then. Knowing it was supposed to be a (very) mild horror, I decided to move it to my September game in preparation for Spooky season. It took me a little while to work through the four episodes simply because they were around an hour each and that was as much as I could handle at the laptop after a day of work. That’s not at all to say the game is bad, and I 100% completed it, but I didn’t enjoy it enough to binge through the game in fewer sessions. I will try to avoid spoilers as much as possible, since you should explore the game on your own to fully appreciate the differences and the end.

Overall, Stories Untold is presented as a retro, 80’s style game, with matching music and sound effects, very much like Stranger Things. The technology used in the game is all of the era as well, and although I got frustrated having the credits at the start of each episode, I think overall the atmosphere and theme worked really well.

Each episode, as mentioned in the intro, applies slightly different mechanics, adding a new one into each chapter. The first episode, The House Abandon, is entirely an old school text based adventure in which you type the actions you want to perform. The number of actions you can type is fairly limited and the path to get to the end of the story is pretty linear. The second half of the episode is much more intriguing than the first, but by the end I was glad to have finished, as the on screen text takes a long time to come up, particularly if you are a quick reader like me. I ended up colouring in while I waited for the action to resolve.

The second episode ended up actually being my favourite – suitably sci-fi and creepy and unexplained. This episode added more “puzzle” elements by way of asking you to complete some experiments on a thing in a box, implied to be some sort of alien artefact. Once the puzzle section is complete, the type-your-own -adventure comes back, but is so much more engaging, particularly right at the end. Science experiments in video games always give off some kind of horror vibe, and it definitely came across in Episode 2.

Episode 3 is a little less memorable, but reminded me of the first couple of seasons of Lost, with random unexplained transmissions being received and you having to decipher them and reply. This episode lost a lot of it’s initial mystery due to the fact you are asked to use a microfiche (in game) to read how to respond to the aforementioned transmitters. Sadly, I had to give this up after a couple of goes because I could hardly read the microfiche, and I resorted to a very good Steam guide. This episode introduced a section with first person walking simulation out in the tundra, which was spooky and unsettling, but something I enjoyed.

Finally, Episode 4. This episode felt a lot longer than the others, but brought the previous three stories together, as well as utilising all the mechanics. There’s not a lot I can say without giving away major spoilers, but I think the stories were really well resolved and explained, and looking back at what was occuring through the 3 previous stories, you realise how well they hid the underlying main thread. Episode 4 definitely felt a lot longer, particuarly as the walking simulation sections felt much slower in movement and there were a few things to do to get 100% achievements on Steam, but overall I think this was the best episode, but not my favourite.

Final Thoughts

I honestly wasn’t expecting to really enjoy Stories Untold. I knew the first Episode (The House Abandon) was a type your adventure retro style entry, and I was expecting the rest of the game to follow suit. Whilst I was glad that each episode built in another mechanic, I found I was fatigued with the game by the time I finished. Did I want to see the end of the story and how it was brought together? Yes, but I can’t say Stories Untold is going to have a massive impact on you as a gamer. It hasn’t on me, but at least it’s off my backlog.

The next entry in Backlog Attack will hopefully be a proper spooky game, to celebrate the month of Hallows, but it is likely to be run late (partly because this is late, aprtly because I’m away at EGX and also because Thero and I haven’t come together to agree our last few games as she has taken a small hiatus). Please do keep an eye out if you enjoy this years challenge, because I’ve actually enjoyed writing the entries when I get around to it!

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