Thanks to powerful graphic cards and modern consoles, some horror game developers, and especially some big-selling franchises, go for realism and impressive environments when working on their new games. Any horror lover, however, knows that it has never been about what you show but what you make your audience feel. That has always worked for novelists and film-makers—in this case, with sound as your main ally.
The race for almost photorealistic games is why Mundaun, an indie title by Swiss developer Hidden Fields stands out. After all, have you played any horror game that's completely drawn by hand?
Welcome Back to Mundaun, Curdin
Mundaun takes place in a small rural town of the same name, now merged with Obersaxen to form the municipality Obersaxen Mundaun, in the Swiss Alps. Geography lessons aside, it's thanks to the setting that this game has so much personality. It tells the story of a young man named Curdin who travels to Mundaun after his grandfather passes away in a fire. Judging by the letter the parish of Mundaun wrote to the protagonist, it was just an unfortunate event that needs no special attention from Curdin. Once he gets to the old man's cabin, though, he immediately notices that something seems not to fit father Jeremias' narrative.
In the letter, Jeremias said Curdin's grandfather had already been buried, so why is his calcined body still in the charred barn? And if these are old Flurin's remains, who did father Jeremias buried? To make it all worse, our protagonist meets a creepy old man that introduces himself as an old friend of his grandfather in a strange vision, and he looks very suspicious...
Paint Me Like One of Your Swiss Nightmares
Everything you see in this game has been pencil-drawn, which already shows a lot of passion and investment into the project, but one of the things we admire about this game is that it pays a lot of attention to small details that help us understand life in Mundaun. It's way more than just an artistic choice. The art style also defines the gameplay: there's no UI to help you, the monochromatic environments make puzzle-solving a tad harder (good luck finding some hidden items!), and of course, this European style means a lot when it comes to immersion. Sadly, these graphical choices can also be the reason for you to ditch the game, as the chippy animations and blurry sketch-like backgrounds take some time to get used to, and we wouldn't be surprised if you end up with sore eyes after a while.
Love it or hate it, Mundaun's art style is more than just a gimmick.
Too Scared for Yodeling
How do you imagine the minds of Mundaun's inhabitants? Can you picture yourself living in a tiny, quiet village in the middle of the Alps? Although the game comes with English subtitles, all characters in Mundaun speak Romansh, an ancient language only spoken in Switzerland. For some reason, it gives the characters more depth and makes the story more believable—fear of the unknown, probably.
There are some encounters, but Mundaun is not a horror game where you actively fight evil monsters, nor is it a game where you just run and hide. It's psychological horror at its finest, with a lot of exploration, several logic puzzles, and an inevitable feeling of anguish that haunts you from start to finish. While Mundaun could be taken as a masterclass in environmental storytelling, we must point out that it's not the best example of inventory management or responsive controls, and that's bad for a video game. In fact, one of the things that feel weirder is the combat system, so perhaps it would have been better to focus on causing fear without having to fight your enemies?
Mundaun is by no means the scariest video game ever but it definitely feels like a psychological horror adventure worth exploring. It's a fresh take on European folklore, and we're sure some of you will enjoy its unconventional graphics as much as the mystery behind the death of the protagonist's grandfather.
If you have around 8 hours to spare—maybe 6 if you're good at solving puzzles—then give Mundaun a chance. It's already available on PC (Steam and Epic), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S (NIntendo Switch TBD).