I was a bit of a latecomer to the mysterious and magical world of H. P. Lovecraft. I was always aware that he existed and I’ve obviously been given clues to the universe through a lot of games, comics, and literature, but it’s only recently that I’ve read some of the more interesting work, diving into the theories, lore, and sub-narratives while experiencing Call of Cthulhu back in 2018. So when Lovecraft’s Untold Stories arrived on Xbox One I was very keen to see what this game could offer to the world. But does it pay a fitting homage to the legacy of the master, or does it drive itself around the bend to madness?
Lovecraft’s Untold Stories is played via a top-down action viewpoint where you choose one of a list of many characters to go on a strange and mysterious adventure. But you start the game as a brittle worn down detective who is trying to solve the possible murder and disappearance of a colleague. The clues lead to a run-down mansion where the occult is definitely in charge and there are strange shadows lurking around every corner…
You play through Untold Stories walking around levels, armed with a shotgun and the style really does play to some arcade roots in this regards to controls. The twin sticks are your friends, controlling the character and shooting aspects, as we’ve seen a million times over previously. The other main part of the gameplay is in the puzzle and “choose your adventure” opportunities. You will walk around the levels and come across objects and clues that you can examine and pick up, using certain objects to open specific doors or trigger other items. All this works very well indeed.
The most intriguing piece of gameplay comes when you examine an object and after a detailed piece of nicely written text, you can get the chance to partake in a number of choices. Some of these will result in rewards, while others see a host of quite nasty things happening, like the loss of your sanity. Keeping sane is a big thing in the universe of Lovecraft and here you can lose a bit of sanity by reading the wrong book or looking at the wrong thing. This whole section of gameplay is hugely rewarding and I love ‘the choose your own adventure’ vibe it gives off.
The combat sections of Lovecraft’s Untold Stores are very simple and, unfortunately, at times a bit dull. You duck and dive around the screen when enemies and boss battles appear, locked in the room by magic. These battles can either come across as very easy or extremely annoying. The pleasure and nuances of a good combat mechanic are not here I’m afraid. You bleed out a lot too, so will have to be sure to find a wealth on bandages and health packs. Inventory management is another big part of the gameplay, learning to discard and use your items, working with what is important for your journey is a must. I even used an item I wasn’t sure about which sent me warping back to the beginning. Obviously this would have been great if I was in danger… but I wasn’t.
Untold Stories hates giving instructions out or even the tiniest of clues to where you have to go, but I really do think that is the beauty of it. In fact, I became a bit addicted to the gameplay and the exploration elements of the game and there are a multitude of secrets to find along the way, with different paths from the main story to explore. When you include the writing which is very strong indeed and it is obvious it has been created by, and for, those who clearly love the Lovecraft universe.
This is however a game that employs the retro pixel art form that gamers either love or hate. If you adore this creative use of old fashioned visuals then you’re going to have a party of the eyes every time you load up Lovecraft’s Untold Storeis. However, should you fall on the other side… well… play with your eyes half closed, or something? To be fair I’m not the biggest fan of retro artworks, but something has pleased me with the visuals in this one; particularly the use of colour and the whole level design. The sound design complements it well too, with some great effects and a haunting little soundtrack.
I had a much better time with Lovecraft’s Untold Stories on Xbox One than I was expecting. It has some great writing and a narrative that works very well. The gameplay elements including the exploration, puzzles and choose your own adventure bits are top notch and very addictive, however it does let itself down a bit in terms of combat; the damage you obtain can get very annoying. There is a fair old bit of game to play here though, with lots of replay value if you wish to hunt down all the secrets and storylines.
If you’re a fan of Lovecraft and want to take in some old fashioned arcade action then this could well be the story for you.