Once again, we dive into the bottomless well that is the indie horror scene. We’ve dipped into this old reservoir so many times, and each time, it’s yet another disappointment. Honestly, how many times have I had to start these reviews with either frustration or moroseness; unsure if I’ll ever be able to find a good horror game on Steam.
That is. No witty anecdote from me to start the review. I’ve nothing left to give. Anyway, the most recent “horror” offering on Steam I got to experience was Mundaun—a game that I want to believe has its heart in the right place, but stumbles in every area I look to horror games for enjoyment.
Mundaun tells the story of a Curdin—who, upon learning of his grandfather’s death; returns to his grandfather’s farm in a remote valley in the alps—the very place from where the game derives its name. Once there, Curdin begins to suspect the details around his grandfather’s death are mysterious and he sets out to figure out what really happened—which involves his grandfather’s comrades from the war, and a mysterious, antagonistic figure who seems to be cursing Mundaun itself.
It’s a pretty common horror plot—a person who returns to a place of youth, upon the death of a relative, gets involved in a spooky mystery. And in the time I spent with the game, Mundaun never really deviated from the formula in any interesting ways. It hits most of the familiar beats you’d expect from a game like this—a mysterious child, an eccentric hermit, and even Curdin himself being an orphan.
But the story being mundane is at the very least inoffensive when compared to the gameplay which ranges between tedious and flat-out boring. Like most horror-based offerings on Steam, Mundaun is a mostly archaic “puzzle” game that will have you collecting items, stumbling around trying to figure out where to use them, until you finally do and move on.
One such “puzzle” occurred somewhat early into the game, where I needed to place a candle on the window sill of the grandfather’s house before going to bed. When I tried to use the bed, Curdin said he should place the candle on the windowsill and that his grandfather told him the pictures had meaning—I assumed he meant the pictures on the candle. So I examined the candle, then scoured the house looking for any kind of connection because there were nine different window sills to potentially place this on.
Eventually, when I saw no indication of any kind of puzzle connection, I just used the process of elimination until I eventually got it. And that’s pretty much all it is—it’s walking around a large area where little-to-nothing happens, and occasionally using an item on something else to advance the plot. Rarely is it ever dynamic or fun.
But the worst part about it is—broken record time—it’s just not scary. It tries to have some atmosphere with spooky ambiance, and weird looking hay monsters—which might be terrifying in Swiss folklore, but just made me laugh every time I saw one—but rarely did I ever feel on edge, or unable to slog forward. Even the main antagonist, who I’m fairly certain is just supposed to be the Devil, comes off more like a jerk than a truly terrifying presence. While there is one interesting effect where the camera will slowly zoom on key points; only once was this ever done to a genuinely spooky effect—while looking in a mirror and the walls behind Curdin slowly shifted as his face became distorted and burnt. But every other time, I kept waiting for the slow zoom to build the tension to a jump-scare, but never was it delivered.
Not only that, but Mundaun is not a very well put together game. There were so many little hiccups that constantly pulled me out of the experience. For some reason, every dialogue box needs to actively be closed with the E button, lest you be locked in place—which becomes particularly annoying after scripted dialogue cues, when you think the game will just keep moving, until you realize you’re frozen in place.
One particularly hilarious bug was during a moment in the game where it was raining stones, and being in the open would cause Curdin to take damage. The game prompts you to take shelter under a big tree, but once there you see a character you’re supposed to talk to; however you can only speak to them from the front where you are outside the tree’s protection. So during the whole dialogue encounter, Curdin was screaming in pain as the screen turned blurry from the damage effect, only to be wiped clean because the game remembered you were in dialogue and couldn’t die.
If Mundaun has one thing going for it, it’s a fairly unique sense of style—primarily in its artistic aesthetic. The whole game has a “hand penciled” look that can be quite interesting at times. It lends the game a dark, minimalistic look that reminded me a lot of The Lighthouse. However, this too doesn’t fully reach its potential, as so much of the textures end up looking repeated and messy. It’s a shame, because when you see it work in some of the backgrounds and skyline; it really works—but I can’t help but feel like had this been a more focused 3D experience, or maybe a 2D game; the look would’ve worked a bit better.
Once again I am left saddened by a game that you can see had a lot of love put into it; failing to deliver on those good intentions. I really wanted to like Mundaun, initially drawn in by it’s sense of style and seemingly dark atmosphere. But it wasn’t long before it showed all the hallmarks of bad horror games on Steam, and I checked out. It’s boring, convoluted, and not at all scary. The more things change, the more things stay the same, I suppose.