Good horror games are bolstered by atmosphere. The graphics don’t have to be top of the line, but they should be evocative, you know? Mundaun, in terms of atmosphere, is a rousing success. This is a sketchbook full of nightmares brought to life, a series of detailed pencil drawings that lurched off the page and started scratching at your doorstep. Yet, as unsetting as this game is, I found myself struggling to stay hooked. Pacing, it turns out, is also an essential component of a good horror story.
You play a young man investigating the death of his grandfather. The whole game is set in a sleepy little alpine valley, one that’s packed with dreadful mysteries. Questions about his death arise immediately, along with a host of strange characters and horrible apparitions. How did this happen? Who was involved? What’s going to happen to you if you keep digging deeper? Your character keeps a sketchbook of their own, one that fills up with beautiful and unsettling details as you make more progress. When the story gets around to advancing, it’s terrific! It’s the in-between phases that will test your patience.
Terrors in Graphite and Lead
Here’s where that pacing problem comes in. If you’re spending too much time going on long walks between the same four buildings, it’s hard to keep up the spooky tension. Mundaun is beautiful and horrifying, but a lot of that ephemeral buildup is leeched away by the hours you spend searching for clues. Perhaps your own mileage will vary. Maybe the graphite linework will suck you in more effectively, or the moody atmosphere will help maintain your immersion. My experience was as uneven as the terrain. Ritual desecration and fabulous nightmares are bookended by vast stretches of grim silence. Twisted mirrors reflecting rotting flesh came only after 45 minutes of clicking on every surface in reach, running through my inventory to see which random object would advance the plot. It all just stopped seeming scary, after a while.
Which is a shame, because the atmosphere in question is downright sinister. When the music rises, the camera slowly zooms, and the crude images start pulsing with life? That’s some top-shelf creeping terror, right there. You just have to plug away for a while to get there, is all. Maybe I’m just from the wrong generation, but the old adventure game formula of ‘object + obstacle = progress’ never clicked for me. It requires a methodical patience that strains my brain something fierce. This might have something to do with my deep frustration when playing Mundaun.
My most enormous roadblock came near the beginning of the game. There was a locked door I had to open. But the keys I discovered all opened other, less interesting doors. What was I to do? Thankfully, after a scant two hours of wandering the same four paths, I stumbled on the solution. Making eye contact with a distant stranger on a nearby hilltop! They were kind enough to send me the clue which unlocked my progress. After that I was off to the races, so to speak. This happens with some regularity. My point is, pack some serious patience when preparing for this ominous mountain expedition.
Be Prepared To Get Your Steps In
These issues are no joke, but they’re buried in a gorgeous package. Every texture was hand-drawn, with a pencil no less, before being imported to the game. Every eldritch wall, each of the monsters, and all of the background details were all cooked up in an actual sketchbook. The result is an eerie little world, one that feels quite genuine. This is a proper portal into the Swiss alps, filtered through the heartfelt lens of childhood nostalgia and deep-rooted fears. This is the terror of the sideways glance, the hint at what’s to come, the graphite and charcoal promise of suffering and pain. Simple line art can tell a terrifying tale, and Mundaun uses this to great effect.
It all comes down to what sort of atmosphere you’re looking for. Do you want your eldritch horror to come down the pipe at a measured, careful pace? Or are you fiending for something more frantic, more relentless? I always assumed my appetite for horror was a hesitant one, but it turns out I can be eased into things too slowly. Who knew? If you don’t mind being patient, however, Mundaun might be right up your alley. The hand-drawn graphics are beautiful yet unsettling, the worldbuilding is baked into every surface, and the lonely horror atmosphere reaches some terrific high points. If you don’t mind some long walks through the mountains, there’s a compelling story here, just waiting to be told.
***A Steam key was provided by the publisher***
- Charming, fascinating graphics
- Careful and detailed worldbuilding
- Foreboding atmosphere
- Pacing is uneven
- Puzzles feel too esoteric
- Lot of wandering around