Mundaun, the debut project from one man developer Hidden Fields, is a stunning hand-penciled horror that unfolds within the Swiss alps. It is the brainchild of Michel Ziegler, a developer and illustrator, who has worked on it independently since in 2014. The game is entirely comprised of Ziegler's drawings, and it stands out from many other titles within the genre, as it's monotone world feels distinct and has been painstakingly crafted.
In Mundaun, you find yourself returning back to the titular mountain town where you once spent your youth. Sadly, you aren't returning for positive reasons, as it turns out that your grandfather has perished under some pretty mysterious circumstances. Things become increasingly curious when you reach the town, as you find that your grandfather's grave is empty and the doors to the neighbouring church are sealed shut. The roughly four hour story here sees you explore the town to learn more about your grandfather's past, and the mysterious events that appear to be occurring within the town.
Something that I should note right off the bat is that the dialogue is completely within Romanish. This language, if you aren't aware, is native to Switzerland and is reportedly only spoken by less than 1% of the population. Personally, I didn't find this a problem, but it's something to bear in mind for those who have little patience with having to read subtitles.
Mundaun takes a very different approach to many other contemporary horrors, as it has an open world structure and doesn't task you with walking from one spooky set piece to the next. You have several vague objectives scribbled within your journal, and it's up to you to explore your surroundings and figure out what you need to do next. Admittedly, there were few times where I found myself pretty stumped, but it was refreshing to see that the game wasn't linear and pushed me to work things out on my own.
The snowy Swiss mountainside that you find yourself in can be explored freely and there are many secrets and collectibles present to reward curious players. There's power ups that you can find to improve your maximum health and ammo capacity, views you can sketch in your art book, and notes that will uncover further details about the story. What's great too is that all explorable areas here feel so tightly connected almost like a Dark Souls game. There are chair lifts that you can unlock to return back to previous areas and find missed collectibles.
The scares here are mainly delivered by the unsettling atmosphere and the many menacing foes that patrol their way across the snow-covered environment. Unlike horrors like Outlast and Amnesia that force you into shadows, you can actually fight back in Mundaun, but there is a risk factor. You can use either a rake or a rifle to defend yourself, but the rake will eventually shatter and you can run out of ammo in your rifle. Admittedly, weaponry is pretty limited here, but I like how there is the option to fight back and a risk for reward element tied in.
The foes you'll encounter include floating beekeepers that unleash hordes of killer bees on you and human-like creatures that disguise themselves as haystacks. There's no doubt that these aren't terrying, but I can't say that they are the brightest. The enemies here are incapable of opening closed doors and they struggle to keep up if you dash in the opposite direction. At first I found myself anxiously tiptoeing my way through the shadows to try and avoid them, but this tension soon disappeared once I knew how they could be exploited.
The self-described hand-pencil style works to create a deeply unsettling atmosphere, as the world here feels dreary and is completely devoid of colour. The fact that a sole developer has pretty much sketched everything within Mundaun single-handedly is pretty mind blowing, and it really helps give the game its own identity. Whilst striking, there is a downside to this style, as navigation across its world often felt like a struggle. I found myself getting lost frequently when exploring, as there weren't as many clear visual differences between areas.
With its open world structure and striking hand-pencil visual style, Mundaun certainly stands out from the crowded horror genre. I loved how tightly connected each area felt and how its combat had a definite risk for reward nature to it. I did, however, find that its AI could be easily exploited and that its minimalist visual style could cause me to lose my bearings. Still, despite its flaws, I'd still urge you to check this out if you're seeking a horror game with a twist. Just bear in mind that there's quite a bit of reading if you do decide to take the plunge.
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