Stories Untold is a chilling collection of four interconnected vignettes that make up a twisted little journey exploring the true nature of nostalgia and the very fabric of memories we all hold so dear. It examines how we remember and reconfigure things from our pasts and how digging down into what we, on the surface, may have always assumed to be real, comforting and familiar can reveal all sorts of forgotten traumas and unexpected surprises.
These four short, sharp shocks are bolstered by their delivery through the ingenious lo-fi UI aesthetic provided by developer No Code. It's an aesthetic fans of Alien: Isolation will immediately recognise – lead writer and director John McKellan's work injected that horror masterpiece with a real sense of time and place – and here it draws us in completely as we inch forward towards a startling denouement that ties the whole thing together.
The House Abandon, the first part of Stories Untold, was originally released as a standalone prototype but garnered such praise from fans of interactive horror that the team at No Code decided to go ahead and create this fully formed adventure around it. Things start out simply enough. In the comfort of your very own childhood bedroom, you begin your journey here by playing an old text adventure game, sat at your desk banging out instructions on the keyboard of your ZX Spectrum.
As you play this strange game – which mirrors exactly the environment in which you're currently sat – you slowly begin to realise that what's happening within it as you play is somehow affecting things in the real world. Something is not quite right, and what was, just moments ago, a warm and familiar environment slowly becomes infused with a creeping dread. There is something at work here; a darkness, a secret at the centre of everything you thought you knew.
Moving into chapter two, The Lab Conduct, your familiar childhood surroundings are gone now; you find yourself stationed in front of a wall of complicated X-Ray equipment. There's a detailed manual that shows you how each element of this technology works and you must follow instructions carefully in order to successfully complete a series of experiments on what appears to be a human heart.
Again, it's the extraordinary detail, both aesthetically and in how you're expected to interact with all this stuff, that draws you in. Switching on a camera, setting an old TV to various viewing modes, powering up a rather long drill and tuning your Amp and Signal Generator until everything is successfully tweaked in order for these delicate procedures to go ahead. It feels like a painstaking and complex process – referring to instructions, mastering and understanding what each bit of kit does – and it fully and very cleverly envelopes you in the narrative, driving home each and every shock with superb force as a result.
Later on, you'll get to grips with an old Microfiche reader, twisting and turning pages, zooming in and out as you focus on bits and pieces of text. There's a great big retro radio receiver you'll use to scan the airwaves for coded messages and then translate them, inputting codes, following the guidelines of mysterious glossaries like some half-mad amnesiac detective, each successful step forward drawing that ever-present unknown, that sense of danger you first felt in your childhood bedroom getting even closer.
Stories Untold is steeped in 1980s pop culture; this is a heady mix of familiar old things, especially for players of a certain vintage. The screeches from your ZX Spectrum as it loads up a game, that old wooden-panelled tv set, the wonderfully '80s theme tune. There are little bits of The Thing in here, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Twilight Zone and even the more recent Stanger Things TV show – itself built entirely on the same sense of '80s nostalgia from which this game creates its core. However, it's the ruining, not celebrating, of that very nostalgia which plays such a big part in proceedings here – injecting dearly held memories with an almost otherworldly malevolence – and that's where this game finds most of its power to unsettle.
For an experience that takes all of three hours to complete, Stories Untold certainly packs a wallop; perhaps not the all-out horror you may be expecting, but an emotional and unsettling one that will stay with you well after you put the final pieces of its puzzle together. The final chapter manages to pull everything together in a satisfying and pretty brutal way – we were actually recoiling from our screen, not wanting to take the next step at points – and we genuinely hope we get to see more of this sort of thing from No Code in the future.
In terms of this Switch port, both in docked and portable everything runs perfectly smoothly and we didn't encounter any bugs on our playthrough of the game. We did feel like the text was a little small in places in handheld mode, although this is somewhat mitigated by a "lean in" function that gets you closer to the various screens and monitors you're presented with in-game. We also found tuning the radio receiver in chapter three quite difficult to be exact about until we realised we could fine-tune it with some buttons on the radio itself.
Stories Untold is a chilling adventure that manages to draw us right into its world through the ingenious use of its UI and perfectly realised lo-fi aesthetic. Through the walls of old technology and complicated machinery, it creates a uniquely strong bond between player and narrative, giving you a real sense of place within its world as it slowly corrupts and twists from the comfortingly familiar to something else entirely. It's one of the best interactive horror stories we've ever played and a perfect fit for enjoying alone in the dark on Switch.