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I`m going to summarise my views of the horror game Stories Untold in this emboldened paragraph. After that it is spoiler town so consider yourself warned. Stories Untold is an often entertaining, occasionally frustrating text puzzle game that gets you fiddling with lots of retro hardware. It's short and cheap and gets a recommendation. Playing with old-timey buttons and knobs is fun, and allows the game a novel means to create a compelling atmosphere. But progress is occasionally held back by some obtuse text puzzle design, and I didn't at all like the ending. Why? That's what the next part of the review is about.
I spotted enough of the clues in the early episodes to realise what was going on, but the twist ending still feels like it cheats the audience. If you have seen the 2017 movie Ghost Stories then you will have seen the exact same trick; it's basically a different, comatose flavour of it was all a dream; a lazy rhetorical device that feels arbitrarily cruel to the protagonist, and worse, a denial to the audience that there was a mystery plot they could hope to solve. I get pissed off at both the wanton meanness and the red herring for a story. Shows like Black Mirror and Inside No. 9 occasionally use the same gimmick, and frankly, its a thing I can do without. You can't even avoid them, because by their nature, you don't know you are going into one of these stories until its too late.
On top of this, I have a massive personal bias against Stories Untold's ending. Today, the 14th November, marks the anniversary from when I was in a particularly nasty car accident. Since then I cant help but wince every time I see a tv-show or movie has a semi-realistic car crash in them. So it kind of sucks that last night I blundered straight into this game's secret car crash twist ending.
Moving back to things more relevant to the reader, I enjoyed the nuts and bolts of the game. It is particularly clever at generating horror from minimalist visuals of desks and flickering CRT monitors. There are no jump scares, and all the horror is generated by creepy atmosphere and interface screw. My favourite of the four scenarios is one where you work at a remote numbers station, passing along secret messages whilst something is happening outside. My least favourite is the first, which takes the form of an old ZX Spectrum style text adventure: there are few things more annoying then watching a screen gradually fill with the same descriptive text you've already read because the game misunderstood the verbs you type in; why does a game understand "Go Upstairs" but not "Walk Upstairs"? Why distinguish between "Look at writing on the wall" and "read writing on the wall"? It's hair pulling stuff, and a basic concession to modern, less patient players would be nice. Each of the scenarios has their own mystery and pay-off, but again, it all gets undermined by the almost completely detached twist.
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