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There's something to be said about how indie studios, be it film or game, are able to handle the horror genre better than larger-scale projects.
Low-budget horror flick It Follows was a great example of this when it made its debut at 2014 Cannes Film Festival. Now, Hidden Fields' new indie horror game Mundaun proves the point once again. This small but terrifying title ticks pretty much all the boxes that I look for in a horror game.
In Mundaun, players travel up into the Alps to investigate the mysterious death of your grandfather. Upon arrival, we quickly learn that all is not what it seems... there is something much more sinister happening in this remote mountaintop village.
From the off, the game establishes an atmosphere of fear that continuously swells up inside the player. This effect is largely down to its unique hand-drawn graphics - there's something eerily beautiful about the art style of Mundaun. I loved it, but also felt very unsettled by it. When looking at posters or paintings within the game, the camera slowly begins to zoom in on them, building an unbearable sense of unease. Every now and then, I felt almost as if they were coming to life to get me, as I heard sounds coming from them. Either that's a mechanic in the game, or I was genuinely beginning to lose it. I'm still not sure which.
Occasionally, focusing on a poster or painting serves a purpose within the game, but players are also equipped with a few other basic abilities and tools. As you progress through the world you'll begin to find items to help you on your journey - such as binoculars, a pitchfork, a lantern, and so on. You also have a few stats that you can level up, such as one for fear resistance, and one to increase your rifle handling. You have to explore the world in greater depth to find the correct items required to level these up, but it's worth it in the long run.
Mundaun can be played almost entirely in stealth mode to avoid encounters with the enemies spread throughout it. There's a variety of creatures you come up against, from haystack monsters to demented beekeepers.
They're all incredibly unsettling when you do meet them, and I found myself naturally hugging the walls to try and sneak past them regardless of if I was prepared for combat. But what makes each beast shine in its own terrifying way is the fact that there's no reliance on jump scares to make you feel afraid. You will genuinely feel fear from simply seeing them in the distance, slowly and sinisterly stalking through the world.
When it comes to getting from one stage to the next, the game is filled with a variety of puzzles for you to solve. You'll find items dotted around areas that you might need later down the line to progress in the game. You're also equipped with a journal with which your player sketches any interesting things or places, or uses to collect any letters or cards that he finds that might help you solve some of the puzzles.
Everything is pretty straightforward to figure out, with some prompts explaining how to use your abilities. Sometimes, however, I found I was given a bit too much independence. While it was great to not be spoon-fed through the entire game, there was the odd moment where I was completely lost and had no idea what I needed to do, as there were zero hints given.
Despite that mild inconvenience, Mundaun is without a doubt one of the best horror games I've played in recent years. The unique, hand-drawn art really makes this a memorable experience and the fact that this game maintains an atmosphere of fear without reliance on jump scares shows that Hidden Fields, truly understands the horror genre.
On top of that, it's great to see the developer create an authentic experience with the game's dialogue spoken in Swiss-German, and not trying to pander to an exclusively English audience. It's part of the reason why Pan's Labyrinth still, to this day, is an iconic horror film. More developers should be open minded to creating authentic foreign horror experiences, and Mundaun is a prime example of how such a confident approach can yield a hit.
Pros: Uniquely eerie art style; captivating narrative; a proper horror experience that doesn't rely on jump scares
Cons: Lack of hints can leave players to get lost for sometime
For fans of: Oxenfree, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, What Remains of Edith Finch