Stories Untold: horror without the blood & guts

The opening credits to Stories Untold, an interactive horror game from developer No Code (one of the team worked on Alien Isolation and No Code was behind the very excellent space thriller Observation), screams old school adventure games and Netflix’s Stranger Things.

Even the intro music has hints of Stranger Things (not surprisingly, the artist behind the game poster and logo was an artist on Stranger Things) and the opening adventure in the four-part series, The House Abandon, took me back to the days of my Sinclair ZX Spectrum, right down to recreating the classic Spectrum loading screen – with the modem squeals and the data lines slowly revealing a picture.

Set in the 1980s and made up of four short episodes – The aforementioned House Abandon, The Lab Conduct, The Station Process and The Last Session – all appear separate but it soon becomes clear the further you progress that they’re very much interconnected. Stories Untold is unsettling at times but not in your face jump scares.

The House Abandon opens innocently enough: “You pull up to the driveway of the family holiday home & park the car …” but the deeper you go, you soon realise that all is not what it seems in this once happy family home and something very wrong is going on here.

Played out in the style of an old school text adventure, the first episode has you using commands like look, use, read and open to perform actions: Open door, use gun, look at book, read note, flick switch. It’s incredibly atmospheric.

The Lab Conduct has you perform scientific experiments on a strange artifact known only as “23”, The Station Process takes place in an Arctic monitoring station and The Last Session reveals that all is not what it seems.

All four episodes do a fantastic job of creating unease and tension without relying on in-your-face scares. I played the game on Nintendo Switch – it’s also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One – and the only gripe I had was although you can zoom into the text field using ZL, I still had to squint a bit to read some of the text (something that is a common problem on the Nintendo Switch).

Bottom line is, fans of text adventures, shows like Stranger Things and No Code’s Observation will be in for a real treat with Stories Untold. It shows how good writing can create tension and atmosphere without the need for graphic horror.

Big thanks to Devolver Digital’s Australian PR team Doug & Jayden for the game code – and for suggesting I give it a crack.

Byte-sized review: Fall Guys Ultimate Knockout (reviewed on PC)

Fall Guys Ultimate Knockout  – a game show-style Battle Royale featuring 60 colourful jellybeans that are systematically eliminated as each round unfolds – is taking the world by storm.

It seems Fall Guys is the gaming darling at the moment – I’m told it sold 2 million copies on Steam since August 4 – and from the outset, it’s not hard to see why: It’s got an undeniable charm about it with its bright colours, cute characters and bouncy music as players navigate a variety of mini-games designed to slowly eliminate players until only one remains. It’s also nice to see an Battle Royale game where there isn’t an assault rifle, rocket launcher or frying pan to be seen.

Fall Guys is an assault on the senses, too, and can be chaotic and frantic one moment then frustrating and confusing the next as you avoid rotating paddles, disappearing tiles and other players.

Sadly, my experiences with it swings more towards the frustrating, with my constant inability to progress much further than the first round, which means I can either watch the remaining rounds as a spectator or quit the game and find another one [and inevitably go through the same process].

Luckily, each round is no more than a few minutes long so it means each game is probably over within 10 minutes so you won’t need to wait that long for the next one, but for me, the frustration of constantly missing the cut just outweighed any fun I was having with it. I can see Fall Guys perfectly suited to someone who maybe just wants to play for 30 minutes or so then leave it until the next day. It’s also perfectly suited to young players as there is no violence or bad language [unless its from mum or dad cursing at being eliminated – again.]

I love that a cutesy, colourful game like this is taking the online world by storm and that so many of my online friends love it, but – and I feel kind of bad for saying this – I’ve decided it’s not for me, I’m afraid, and that’s OK.

Carrion (Nintendo Switch) review

Carrion is a horror game with a twist: You are the monster in the dark, hunting the humans – not the other way around.

In what has been described by its creators as a “reverse horror”, you control a red amorphous tentacled blob that escapes confinement in a secret research facility and must escape.

The publisher behind Carrion is Devolver Digital, a breath of fresh air in the games industry that is, to be honest,  groaning under the weight of companies like EA and Ubisoft who trot out the same formulaic games time and time again.

Devolver champions the indie [independent] developer, like Phobia Game Studios the team behind Carrion, allowing them to release their games to an audience that they might not otherwise have had access to – it’s smart business practice and Devolver’s actions have paid dividends for both gamers and it alike.

Carrion is Metroidvania in style, with the monster having to unlock doors to progress to the next location and that often involves backtracking to locations you’ve visited before and pulling levers that will unlock chambers in another area.

Sometimes the monster will have to deposit some of its biomass into watery pools so that it reduces in size, allowing it to squeeze ever so slightly through panels that are too tight for a large mass of gelatinous goo to fit through so it can fire sticky webs to hard-to-reach switches and levers.

Throughout the research facility are terrified scientists and armed soldiers that the monster can taunt with its roar – then devour, with some of them helping him grow in size. It’s not all beer and skittles, though, with later locations having tougher foes that require a bit of tactical nouse to outwit [here’s a tip: doors ripped off from their hinges are a great help in taking our unsuspecting enemies.] The monster also has echolocation that helps locate other deposits of biomass, which acts as save points.

Carrion loses a little momentum sometimes, especially in flashback sequences where the monster has visions of the scientists that originally found it, but overall, I enjoyed my time immensely – with one caveat: It frustrated me more than once that there wasn’t some form of in-game map [albeit an optional small one.]

I get that the developers were wanting you to feel like you were an evolving blob, not sure where you are, so having a map to find your next goal would break that immersion, but I found myself getting lost numerous times, unsure where to go.

I eventually had to resort to watching a YouTube play through just so I could see what I had to do to solve the section I was stuck on. It also required some serious back tracking to previous locations to find a switch that I should have flicked or a containment area I should have breached to gain the ability to become invisible and pass through security lasers\.

Bottom line is I had a great time with Carrion – the no-map frustrations aside. It’s also perfectly suited for the Switch and was a nice antidote to a busy day in the office.

For gamers always wanting to be the ‘bad monster”, Carrion is your chance to be that monster.  Go forth and chomp, blobs.