Stories Untold didn’t start out as a multi-episode game. Originally, it was a free one-episode text interactive mystery called “The House Abandon” anyone could download. While it’s initial release was on the PC almost three years ago, it’s now been ported over to the touch-friendly Switch, and it’s a good match. Set in the 1980s, the game manages to bring both a spooky, yet familiar, atmosphere to each of its four wildly different tales, each challenging players to adopt ever-changing gameplay styles and expectations.
Unlike most episodic games, you don’t have to wait months on end for the next installment. Untold Stories changes gameplay mechanics each episode, never allowing a moment to get too comfortable – or consistent – with a pre-established set of controls. There’s a constant sense of being unnerved since every episode is disturbing in its own right without being gory, and what first seemed like another typical “choose your own adventure” experience quickly turns into a buildup of tension and paranoia.
The first episode, The House Abandon, as previously stated is a text adventure game. Basic commands have to be inputted like “open glove box”, “use key”, and to find the next objective “look around”. While it starts out slow, the room around you decays over time with each new choice. Eventually, it reaches a point where unnerving events begin to take place around the room, but having no option to turn away from the screen, there’s an impending sense of doom.
The following episode “The Lab Conduit” builds off this formula through disembodied voices issuing commands to perform experiments on a retrieved artifact. This includes adjusting knobs and switching on equipment when directed from instructions on a computer screen. The third episode “The Station Process” focuses on manning a remote station in the Arctic while listening to the growing confusion and distress of your companions over the radio. The only physical connection to these people is a shortwave radio and tuning in to mysterious frequencies. Each frequency is a puzzle with a hidden message that grows in difficulty as time goes on.
The final episode, “The Last Session”, is just that – and attempts to wrap everything up in a nice, tight little conclusion, using elements of each preceding episode to further the storyline. The prevailing sense of isolation increases because, while the voices may be heard, no one is ever seen. Complying blindly with commands with no option to perform another action is incredibly disturbing, especially in the second episode. Each experiment carries the weight of being more violent than the last with a growing sense of intrusion. And I have to admit, there’s not a lot of games that have been able to pull that off so completely.
Untold Stories cleverly uses ever-changing gameplay elements to tell each of its four stories and using them against the player in fun, unique new ways. The use of 1980s tech grounds these mysteries in both a period-accurate space and time, every moment leaving players asking questions and a sense of never knowing quite what to expect. While text-adventures may have disappeared in the same decade this game is set, it may be a good time to revisit the past and learn a little gaming history while you’re at it. As a newly paranoid fan, I lift my tinfoil hat in respect to this game.