So when the chance came up to review Stories Untold, a horror adventure puzzle game, I was as surprised as anyone when I decided to give it a go. Having watched the trailer I thought hey, this could be fun. Horror games may be my Kryptonite, but I’m a sucker for a decent puzzle game and I need to face my fears sometimes, right?
Told as a series of episodic tales, Stories Untold plays out over four episodes. Luckily for us, the game released on PC in 2017 and Switch earlier this year, so all of the episodes are included in the PS4 version. The first episode, “The House Abandon”, has you playing a game in which you’re playing a game, and a text-based adventure game at that, yet quickly you realise that things aren’t what they seem.
Having watched the trailer beforehand, I think I was lulled into a false sense of security – surely a text game can’t be too scary – what is this the 70s? I wasn’t five minutes in before the first jump scare came my way, and I started to wonder if I had been right in deciding to take review duties on this one.
Before going any further I will offer this up as a disclaimer – Stories Untold’s first episode leans heavily into the whole text adventure idea. Although it is only the first episode that uses this as the main narrative device, if you prefer your games with a bit more bang and a quicker pace, or reading lots just to “Open a Door” isn’t your thing, Stories Untold may not be for you. Although the following episodes do move away from this structure, it does return, and I know many people who might initially be put off at having to read so much during the opening episode, regardless of how good the game itself actually is.
Set in 1986, it is hard not to state how much the 80s has influenced Stories Untold, and this is obvious from the start. Sitting at your desk, wood veneer on the walls while you play the fictitious text adventure “The House Abandon” in the first episode, or the synth inspired soundtrack that introduces each episode like a tv anthology series, it’s clear that Stories Untold is serving as its own love letter to that decade in a way that has become popular in recent years, with Stranger Things instantly drawing to mind in comparison to the whole aesthetic that No Code has created, and it’s wonderful.
From the various gadgets and gizmos on show to the VHS grain that flickers across the screen, Stories Untold has a strong 80s identity, managing to be both familiar yet strange at the same time. This mismatch of something being recognisable, yet at odds with what you know, only adds to the eerie and discombobulating feeling Stories Untold creates, further compounding you as you try to figure out what is going on during each episode.
Considering for a good chunk of time I was playing a game in which I was looking at a screen and reading text in order to work out what to do next, Stories Untold does an excellent job of making the whole thing incredibly atmospheric. From the first jump scare to the realisation that what you’re doing in the text adventure is having an effect on the world around you in the opening episode, Stories Untold does it brilliantly, sucking me in and keeping me there until the credits had rolled.
Each episode is presented in a way that is reminiscent of a TV show, with an opening credits sequence straight off of Netflix. This works and creates the idea that you are less an active part of the story as much as you are watching something play out on screen, like an anthology series, and this works well to stand each episode on their own.
Variation is the key to what makes Stories Untold work so well. Although the basic premise is set out perfectly well in the opening episode, each one takes the idea of having your character sitting at a desk and performing a particular action, whether that be completing a text adventure in Episode one, or working at a monitoring station in the Arctic in Episode three. Each episode has their own unique take on this simple idea, and each one is brilliant to play, with the stories each episode tells intertwining to tell an overall narrative that isn’t evident until the game’s conclusion. Saying that, each episode isn’t overly long on their own, with each one taking around an hour or less to complete.
Playing Stories Untold is simple enough, and the best analogy I can think of is if you imagine how it would feel to play a Stephen King novel. Each episode is a variation on a theme in that you are looking at a computer monitor, with various text commands at your disposal. L1 opens up an Input Interface, which allows you to issue commands as if you were typing them in yourself, and L2 allows you to lean in and admire your surroundings. It’s a simple set up but it works, and it is an elegant way of sucking you into the world and the story that Stories Untold has created.
During subsequent episodes this control scheme is further developed, allowing you to interact with various objects in order to carry out tasks, such as science experiments in Episode 2. I thoroughly enjoyed this episode, and even though all I was doing was looking at a monitor, retaining some information to then interact with the correct equipment in order to carry out the desired experiment the way Stories Untold is designed makes the whole thing seamless and a joy to play.
The puzzles Stories Untold use are simple yet brilliant, and I thoroughly enjoyed working my way through them. Each one is purposeful and relevant to the game’s story, and although they aren’t too taxing, there is an innate sense of accomplishment when you work something out for yourself. Stories Untold is a perfect example of what games can do without bashing you over the head with tips and tricks, with the game presenting you with all the relevant information, before leaving you to piece it all together for yourself in a way that is satisfying while remaining fun to play.
Although I won’t be saying I enjoy horror games off the back of it, Stories Untold is great fun to play. The compelling narrative told over 4 episodes and intricate puzzles that felt meaningful and rewarding to complete were enough to keep me going, outweighing the few outright scary moments trying to get me to put the controller down and walk away. Horror fans might not find Stories Untold too scary, but if you are looking for an interesting story that just happens to have the odd jump scare thrown in Stories Untold is definitely worth your time.
Stories Untold PS4 Review
From its simple but brilliant puzzles to its compelling overarching narrative, Stories Untold is a great example of an episodic game done right, with each episode teasing something new out of the story and mixing up the gameplay in new and interesting ways.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using PS4 Pro.