By Isaac Espinosa
With nothing but the tools you find and a journal in hand, will you be able to lift the curse that plagues the mountain? “Mundaun” is a game that was developed by Hidden Fields and published by MWM Interactive. This mix of horror, survival, and puzzle genres takes you on a journey to unravel the mysteries behind the passing of the main character’s Grandfather. Does Mundaun deliver on its promise of an intense and fulfilling adventure?
Our story begins with Curdin, the main character, who is traveling back to his mountain-top hometown to attend his Grandfather’s funeral. After Curdin receives a letter from the mountain’s priest revealing that his grandfather has already been buried, Curdin begins to have questions about the circumstances surrounding the situation. Once he reaches his Grandfather’s barn, Curdin learns that his Grandfather’s corpse is still within the ruins of the structure, which has, suspiciously, burned down. Realizing that things aren’t as they seem, Curdin makes it his mission to travel up the mountain and solve the mystery of his Grandfather’s passing. The basic premise of Mundaun lays out a very explicit goal for the player, which allows the overall story to develop, using environmental landmarks such as gateways and even different climates to demonstrate Curdin’s escalation up the mountain. And you would think that the setting of Mundaun would lead towards having a properly built atmosphere throughout.
However, this tense and foreboding atmosphere only makes itself known occasionally, rather than throughout the entire game. It appears in moments when the game allows you to take in the view from above – via set pieces such as bridges or benches that overlook the landscape below. Besides being beautiful to look at, this helps drive you to reach your goal by showing you glimpses of your objective in the distance, especially when you’re given time to look up at the summit of the mountain. Everything else in between these flashes of brilliance, however, is rather mundane. The game attempts to create a feeling of tension due to the isolation it invokes, and the glimpses of an enemy or something unknown far in the distance. But it fails for one simple reason: the artstyle.
Make no mistake, the artstyle of Mundaun is certainly unique, drawn in pencil and looking like something straight out of a sketchbook. But it doesn’t work for me, partly because everything blends together so easily, making it difficult to determine where you should be going next. Because of this, you’ll most likely end up getting lost very easily, because everything looks fairly identical. This is frustrating. This issue ties into my second problem with the artstyle: it makes the puzzles feel repetitive. The worst ones follow the same pattern: find a certain object, bring it somewhere, gain a new object. It’s simple to the point of being boring, and it didn’t satisfy me. And since everything is black and white, objects are only distinguishable by their shape and design. Sometimes the pencil drawings make the objects look smeared, even incomprehensible. I wished that the game had clearer imagery, perhaps crisper outlines, to make navigating the game just a tad easier. I had to look up a walkthrough to get through this game! And I almost never have had to do that with any of the games I’ve played!
Another issue I had with Mundaun stems from its main character, Curdin. I didn’t empathize with him, or feel invested in him as a character, or care much about his journey and his struggles. It didn’t help at all that Curdin has this nonchalance about him, which felt very out of place. When the game throws something at him that is intended to be met with confusion, Curdin shrugs it off like it’s an everyday occurrence. I’d write this off as simply a slight irritation if it weren’t for how often this happens throughout the game. This isn’t due to the voice actor at all, but rather to a multitude of confusing decisions made by the script writing department.
So it’s a shame that I didn’t end up enjoying Mundaun very much, because it had many of the elements that make up a great game. The music is excellent at conveying a tense yet somber tone, and the game’s mysteries were interesting, leading me to question what was going on. That made me feel the stress that Mundaun tries to maintain. Others may have had a more positive experience, but I don’t see myself recommending Mundaun to anyone.
Bronx native Isaac Espinosa is a senior intern at the New York Videogame Critics Circle. Recently, Isaac was named the Circle’s first assistant mentor. He also published his first story in The Verge.