If there’s one thing that Mundaun isn’t, it’s mundane.
The work of Hidden Fields, a one-man studio founded by Swiss programmer Michel Ziegler, Mundaun is a wholly unique horror experience that puts you at unease thanks to its eerie, suffocating atmosphere. Much of that is the result of its art style. You see, also an illustrator, Ziegler has hand-pencilled every single texture you see in the game. It works wonderfully for the most part – nearly every black and white frame looks like a melancholic piece of art. Though it’s the story of Mundaun that will keep you playing until its gripping finale.
Receiving a letter stating that his grandfather has died in a barn fire, Mundaun‘s protagonist, the young Curdin, feels that there’s more to his death. And so he heads to the titular town to see if foul play is indeed at hand. Upon reaching Mundaun, it isn’t long until he finds the burnt-out barn in which his grandfather met his cruel fate, and, upon discovering his body still trapped in the ruins, pledges to free him. It’s not going to be easy, however, as dark forces are working against him.
As Curdin, it’s your goal to make your way up Mundaun mountain to unravel the mystery of your grandad’s death. Along the way, you’ll meet a small number of individuals who may help or hinder you on your journey, and encounter a number of ghastly beings who will attack you on sight. Thankfully, unlike in many other horror games of recent years, Curdin isn’t defenceless. With a pitchfork he can poke at his aggressors, and later on he can acquire his grandad’s rifle and dispatch them at range. Combat isn’t Mundaun‘s strong point, however, and so thanks to its sub-par mechanics, you’re better off avoiding hostile forces altogether where possible.
There are ways you can make yourself more formidable against the dark forces working against you though. Throughout Mundaun you can increase Curdin’s max health by eating food, while his fear resistance can be increased by making coffee. Rifle instruction manual pages can be found, too, increasing Curdin’s shooting accuracy. These upgrades, alongside other useful objects to be found, reward exploration.
There are three distinct areas you’ll explore on your journey, and progression from one to the next will rely on a lot of exploration and problem solving. One puzzle requires you to restore a broken bridge by painting it into reality, for example, while another requires you to solve a code, interacting with musical slabs of meat to unearth an important key from the corpse of a hanging man. Mundaun‘s puzzles are wonderfully old-school – the type you used to find in classic horror games, and so they’re a real highlight.
What’s not so great about Mundaun is that there are one or two instances where it can leave you flummoxed as to what to do, or where to go, next. I got myself into a situation where a road block prevented me from progressing further up the mountain, and Curdin wouldn’t shut up about about it. Checking my journal, it appeared to be my next goal, just before finding a bunker. In fact, finding the bunker was key to removing the roadblock, but the location of the bunker itself was so out of the way that I only found it after an hour or so of frustration-filled floundering around in the dark.
Still, such situations are few and far between. The majority of Mundaun goes by in a seamless manner, albeit with you constantly on the edge of your seat. There are moments where you can let your hair down, racing a sledge down a slope or driving your Muvel from one area to the next, for example, but nearly every other minute you’re left with a feeling of unease, permeating not only from the art style, but also the game’s sombre soundtrack and dark narrative. The Swiss German voice acting is a masterstroke, too, adding yet more atmosphere to the proceedings.
It’s just a shame that on PS4 (and PS5), Mundaun‘s visual presentation brings the atmosphere down a little. While the hand-drawn textures do their job of sucking you into the world wonderfully, the accompanying shadows leave a lot to be desired. Sometimes they’re horrendously blurry, other times so pixelated that you feel like you could prick yourself on their sharp edges. I’ve encountered my fair share of bugs and crashes, too, though they could be PS5-centric.
Despite the issues thrown my way while playing Mundaun, I kept going because it had me hooked. From the opening moments, it had my attention in a vice-like grip. Some aspects of its gameplay threatened to loosen that grip from time to time, but I soon get over them because I wanted to unravel the mystery at the heart of the game. With multiple endings, there’s reason to return, too. Whether you will or not is questionable, but there’s no denying that your first playthrough of this utterly unique experience will stick with you. Mundaun is far from perfect, but it’s destined to be a horror classic.
Mundaun Review: GameSpew’s Score