Not Everything Is Black And White
HIGH Finally defeating an enemy with one rifle shot.
LOW Getting randomly killed by enemies in mysterious ways.
WTF Wait… are those textures really hand-drawn? Wow!
Mundaun is the perfect example of a game whose atmosphere and narrative reign over every other element. At its core, it plays like a run-of-the-mill first person horror of the kind that came out in droves after the success of 2010’s Amnesia: The Dark Descent. If one is unfamiliar with the trend, it’s first-person adventure featuring a lot of walking around, a light sprinkling of puzzles and some limited (and mostly clunky) combat mechanics.
The setting is ingenious. The main protagonist, Curdin, goes back to his native village in the Swiss alps after the death of his grandfather. Naturally, this puts a series of foreboding events into motion that will force Curdin to deal with the sins of the deceased and the sinister history of the village. Will he manage to save everyone, including himself — or is it perhaps already too late?
In designing the village, the developers went deep in their research and used Romansh as the language that every character speaks. Romansh, spoken prominently in the Swiss canton of the Grisons (Graubünden), descends from Latin and sounds a bit like an hybrid of French, German and Italian. It will be unfamiliar to most players and is an exquisite element used to immerse the player into the distant, cold atmosphere of a minuscule mountain town and its surroundings.
Still, this is a horror experience first and foremost, hence the need for thick, disquieting atmosphere. Mundaun goes all-in with its idea to use hand-penciled textures, which almost look like charcoal drawings. Basically, the in-game world is depicted in black and white, all the way until the end. While the effect might be jarring at first, it ends up adding a lovely German expressionist vibe to the proceedings. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea given the overall low-res look and blocky polygons, but it’s one I greatly appreciated.
The puzzle aspect of Mundaun is — unfortunately — not terribly interesting. The player is mostly tasked with wandering around looking for certain objects, then bringing them somewhere else. Keys, a goat’s head, toilet paper (don’t ask…) and more. Luckily, objectives are always shown in the journal and nothing is too cryptic. Still, with the exception of the fetch quests, there isn’t much in the way of puzzles as Mundaun is mostly about exploration and trying to survive enemy encounters.
While it is possible to sneak around enemies, engaging in combat is sometimes necessary. Mundaun‘s weapons are mostly melee until Curdin finds the rifle, but unfortunately all of them are cumbersome. The fights feel slow and it’s hard to predict the timing of enemies’ blows, especially since many of them have long-range attacks which look almost telepathic in nature. With the rifle, things get marginally better.
So, with the gameplay mostly focused on exploration, Mundaun ends up being, for the most part, an experience about atmosphere and narrative — fortunately, these two elements are expertly pulled off. The narrative unfolds slowly and, while perhaps a tad too predictable, manages to remain engaging until the very end with multiple endings also available.
For those that let themselves be enveloped by the desolate peaks of Mundaun, it will be an unforgettable experience. On the other hand, anyone expecting more active gameplay might end up feeling a bit disappointed. Personally? Mundaun is my jam. I’ve been to mountain villages similar to the one here and I’ve actually felt similar sensations and vague feelings of disquiet — the devs have absolutely tapped into that terrible loneliness and parlayed it into a solid and enjoyable horror adventure, ideal for anyone on the hunt for something different.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Hidden Fields and published by MWM Interactive. It is currently available on XBO/X, PS4/5 and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PS4 Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Use of Tobacco and Violence. While the horror in Mundaun is more psychological than graphic, given the dread and supernatural themes, I’d definitely recommend it only to a mature audience. There is no sexual content or salty language.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available, but there is no color used in the game, either.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game features spoken dialogue, and audio cues (with no visual cue) are sometimes used to communicate enemies’ attacks. The game is not fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: The game’s controls are remappable. Basically, the player moves Curdin around with the left analog stick and moves the camera with the right. The face buttons are used for jumping and to bring up the inventory and the journal, while the shoulder buttons control various actions like attacking or using vehicles.
Years later, he got the idea that he was the most Sega-knowledgeable person in the world, so he opened a website in 1997, The Genesis Temple.
He's a sucker for great stories in gaming, he loves adventure and indie titles, but he never shies away from action and triple-A RPGs.
Damiano's been writing about videogames for 20 years, with no plans to stop. Say hi to him on Twitter at @damgentemp, or on his blog https://genesistemple.com (now dedicated to the history of video game design).