Mundaun Review (Xbox One) – From Dusk Till Mundaun
Mundaun combines hand drawn, low-poly 3D visuals with an intriguing narrative and some weird vibes to create a perplexing flawed gem. The Finger Guns Review.
The term “hand drawn visuals” gets thrown around a lot in the games industry. It’s a stamp of quality, as if to say “an artist has poured their heart and soul into the visuals on this game”. 99 times out of 100, this term also applies to games that are played along a 2D plane. Google it. Look up how many “hand drawn visuals” list features are filled with games played from a side on perspective. Gris. Braid. Hollow Knight. Cup Head. Spiritfarer. Rayman Legends. I’m not pointing this out to take anything away from these games. They’re all brilliant in their own right. I highlight this to demonstrate how rare it is that “hand drawn visuals” are applied to 3D models in a 3D environment. It’s one of the main things that makes Mundaun, a 3D first person, hand-pencilled horror tale from one-man studio Hidden Fields, instantly intriguing.
I don’t think I’ve every played a game that looks quite like Mundaun before. You can see the pencil lines, shading and smudging in each and every texture from the floor beneath your feet, the faces on the characters to the leaves on the trees. Akin to Da Vinci’s pencil art work with a rustic feel, designer Michel Zieglar has created something very eye catching here. To call it a living breathing sketchbook would be to do the visuals here a disservice. It doesn’t feel like you’re wondering around inside a book but rather that the world itself is covered in paper with charcoal rubbings over the top that match the creases and crinkles of the low-poly 3D models that they’re pinned upon. You’ll see some repetition in the textures but it takes nothing away from how impressive this art style is.
In Mundaun, you follow the journey of a man called Curdin. When he’s informed of the mysterious death of his Grandfather, he journeys to the titular Mundaun, a town in a sinister valley hidden away in the Alps. While investigating the details surrounding the passing of his relative, he uncovers age old secrets that are resurfacing and a menacing force that is haunting the town’s residents. Curdin must get to the bottom of the mystery that’s steeped in the folklore of the Alps region and avoid falling foul to the evils that await him.
It’s an interesting tale that delivers its revelations in a piecemeal fashion. Flashbacks to the origins of the evil plaguing Mundaun keep the player interested in unveiling the final big reveal throughout. Some of the foreshadowing is a little too blunt and easy to spot however, which removes a little of the impact that could have landed with the ending but it’s still a story worth experiencing.
The game ticks off the first item on the horror game checklist; the setting of Mundaun is suitably creepy, but not in a traditional sense. On the surface, it looks like an idyllic little mountain hamlet. The structures are quaint, the vistas quiet pretty and it looks nonthreatening. At least at first. There’s a odd vibe to the place though, a lifelessness and underlying darkness that’s brought about by the black and white art style and the ambient sounds. That’s coupled with a near constant delivery of weirdness. The art hung on walls is disconcerting. The same curious symbol made of wood can be found repeatedly throughout the game. All of the characters you meet are either sinister or overtly eccentric and sometimes it’s hard to determine on which side of that spectrum they sit.
The core loop to this game is much the same as most other mystery horror games: Discover problem, find and pick up things that will solve problem, fix problem. A locked door? Find the key. Character won’t talk with you until you’ve brought them an item? Better go searching for it. While the art style might be revolutionary, the moment to moment game play is familiar and a little tired at times. When a character locked in a toilet asked me to bring him some toilet roll just so he would turn on the electricity so that I could continue the main path forward, I audibly groaned.
Aside from inventory management, Mundaun has a number of puzzles to solve. Using a handy scrap book which keeps all of the useful documentation, drawings, pages and snippets to refer back too, these are simplistic but enjoyable. In one example, you’re got to use a map of 3 linked terminals and match images on these terminals to images in the scrapbook.
Mundaun ticks off the final box on the horror game check list with a cast of original and creepy monsters to best. Based on Swiss myths and legends, these enemies are imaginative and well throughout out. There’s only a handful of different enemy variants in this game but they all offer a different test for the player’s skill and patience. Always accompanied by chilling music which betrays their proximity, these foes can slip Curdin off his mortal coil quickly. If they see him that is.
Stealth, crouching out of sight and slinking around in the dark and simply running away are perfectly viable strategies in Mundaun. Like in many horror games, Curdin’s offensive capabilities are limited. Until later in the game, his only means of defence is a pitchfork which breaks a little with each attack it performs. Once it breaks completely, you’ll be defenceless until you find another in a barn or old building. Later, you’ll get a rifle but ammo is sparse and the foes in this area are numerous. If you’re smart you can defeat some of these foes even without a weapon. Matches can be used to set lines of hay on fire which can spread to the monsters themselves. There are times in this game when it sets up very satisfying chain reactions of fire should you want to use them.
Even with the weaponry available, Mundaun is nothing like a first person shooter. Curdin is just a man, not a grizzled hero and when he gets close to the monstrous enemies in this game, his fear gets the better of him. Movement slows, aim with weaponry starts to sway and you can hear his heart beating and deep breathing through the games audio. There are collectables which can reduce the effects of his fear throughout the game if you go looking for them.
For those sensitive to them, there’s a few jump scares in Mundaun. While I usually don’t take much pleasure in shocks scares for the sake of them, the ones found in this game are masterfully put together. One comes out of absolutely nowhere and results in one of the most disturbing sections of the game that I won’t spoil here. Another is after the game lulls you into a false sense of security then shocks you when you think you’re safe. Without doubt, the moments surrounding and during the jump scares are the most thrilling moments of the game.
Even with these moments though, Mundaun isn’t a particularly scary horror game. It’s unsettling and tense for sure but I’d stop short of calling it actually scary. That’s primarily because the monsters in this game, except for one, aren’t particularly smart or imposing. With a bit of planning and patience, it’s easy to kill most of them off without them getting a hit on you. Secondly, it’s quite easy to abuse the systems in place here to bypass some scares. A short way into the game you gain access to the Muvel, a hay truck. This truck can run over some of the Swiss scares in the early sections of the game. Instead of sneaking around and feeling the tension, it’s possible to turn the game into GTA Alps as you career into monsters.
On the base Xbox One, Mundaun runs well most of the time but it has a few technical issues I need to mention. During some of the larger outdoor areas, the frame rate can really slow down to a chug when turning or strafing. In a later area, one of the largest, there’s a lot of pop in as you move through it and parts of the environment appear out of thin air. These are noticeable issues but they’re not anywhere near game breaking.
Despite the number of perceived issues I’ve listed here, I leave my time with Mundaun with a lot of positive feelings about the game. It’s a game that revels in the little things. There are little touches throughout which, if you’re rushing through the game, you might miss but all form a captivating experience. It’s all informed by meaningful games design with deliberate intentions. Windows aren’t just to let light in – they direct your view to the big cross in the graveyard or the mysterious man standing off in the distance. There’s optional puzzles and locations you have to go out of your way to experience but are some of the most macabre sections of the game. There’s a high level of interactivity that you don’t usually find in indie horror games. Windows open. Taps run. Curdin can use the toilet. There are moments, usually involving mirrors, when Mundaun resembles a Stanley Kubrik/Oz Perkins movie as the camera zooms and the visage changes to something much more sinister before your eyes. These little things, coupled with the unique visuals, pave over a lot of the broader issues.
A flawed gem that’s an obvious labour of love, Mundaun combines unique hand pencilled visuals with an intriguing narrative that’ll keep you engaged until the credits roll. It has a few issues and the game play can be a little reductive at time but there’s a lot more to love than hate with this game.
Mundaun is available now on Xbox One (review platform), PS4, PS5, PC and Xbox Series X | S.
Developer: Hidden Fields
Publisher: MWM Interactive
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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