When a game has as much going for it as Mundaun does, it’s all the more heartbreaking when one vital aspect lets the whole side down. Compelled to return home upon the suspicious surroundings of his grandfather’s death, Curdin’s plight for knowledge is elevated by blood-curdling audio cues, a tense and foreboding atmosphere, and an art style primed to send shivers down your spine. It’s such a shame then that Mundaun isn’t particularly fun to play.
Recall the structure of most indie first-person horror games of the past five years and you’ll be on the right tracks. Clumsy stealth sections are aplenty, combat feels clunky, and puzzles gate your progress at many turns. Some are somewhat straight forward. Others are not. It’s the typical loop of searching the environment for the right objects and finding interaction prompts — nothing out of the ordinary, except when the game tells you to place a candle in a windowsill and then leaves you to your own devices. That one took far too long to figure out.
That tedium is almost worth it, though, as the narrative unfolds across the six or so hour adventure. Mundaun immediately sets up an interesting premise and then doesn’t hold back until the credits roll, revealing its intricacies bit by bit through haunting scenes and environmental storytelling. It’s fascinating stuff, that when working in tandem with its atmospheric visuals, creates a memorable experience in spite of forgettable gameplay.
With its hand-drawn, off-kilter visuals, Mundaun turns even the most benign objects into something sinister. The act of actually playing it may not be a pleasure, but looking at it most certainly is. When the soundtrack crescendos and the hair-raising atmosphere takes hold, there’s nothing quite like the menaces of Mundaun.