It crept up on me. No, not a ravenous Demogorgon looking for its dinner, but the first season of Stranger Things on Netflix. It arrived with no considerable hype or build-up, instead dropping seemingly from nowhere all at once. One of the reasons I love Netflix, and the generation of entertainment we are currently enjoying, is discovering the next binge-worthy series. This was it. The series was well received all round and spawned a companion game for mobile devices which was also widely praised. Three years later and three series’ in, the franchise enjoys continued success, and as a result a more ambitious companion game has been released to Stranger Things 3.
Before we start it’s important to be clear, the game contains every spoiler imaginable as it is basically a re-telling of Stranger Things 3. Watch the series first before you play it, as it’s designed to be enjoyed by fans who will relish the opportunity to play through the recent events in the town of Hawkins, after having just watched them unfold.
As you would expect, Stranger Things 3: The Game oozes just as much ’80s charm as its counterpart, with its retro 16-bit graphics and familiar chirpy soundtrack. The characters also speak exact lines from the show for the most part, and sometimes you can choose your preferred response. The reply you get will always be the same, but it’s fun to try and go off script in the knowledge events won’t be affected in any way.
The main quests follow the same plot from the show and you’ll be juggling several quests at once due to each character’s different story arcs. You’ll also happen upon errands as you roam Hawkins, which are effectively side quests. These are unique to the game but worth completing, as they will normally have some decent rewards for the taking. Alongside all this, keep your eye out for Gnomes, of which there are 50 and each has a cheeky film reference.
Stranger Things 3: The Game is an Action/Adventure title with some basic RPG elements thrown in. You’ll always work in a party of two, but more playable characters with unique abilities will unlock for use as you progress. These include Dustin’s ability to use hackpads and Joyce’s knack for breaking through chained gates with her trusty bolt cutters. Familiarising with these abilities is key when returning to previously inaccessible areas to collect secret goody stashes. You can switch between your two characters in your party at any point by hitting down on the D-Pad, and you can cycle through any character you’ve unlocked with RT and LT.
If you hit the view button, you have plenty of useful tabs of info at your disposal too. Your map is really handy, as it’s basically a still of the game world rather than a dumbed down version that is harder to decipher. It will grow as you discover more of the area, working in a fog of war fashion. The larger Hawkins map is used to fast travel between smaller hub areas, but this happens automatically as you leave one hub area for the next.
You can also view each character and their abilities, as well as equip trinkets. These work as buffs for your party and only affect certain characters, depending on their abilities. These trinkets can be found, or crafted, and you can have five active at any one time. Items you can craft are also displayed in the menu; you’ll find materials as you play through the game and once you collect the right combination you can make all sorts of items to help you along. You’ll need to find one of the many workbenches scattered around Hawkins in order to craft though.
You can also manage all of your quests from this menu, and when you have one active you’ll see a handy waypoint which will guide you along towards your objective. As you start to nail your quests and unlock new characters, you’ll be treated to a steady, and generous, slew of Gamerscore too.
Finally, you can view all the items in your possession and the best way to collect them, and indeed money, is to smash everything you see. Drops will not mysteriously vanish after a few seconds which is good, as you are much less likely to miss out on loot. As you battle tougher baddies, you’ll need money to buy health and energy replenishing items from vending machines. You can use Medkits by pressing LB, but beware of the short cool off period before you can use another, and drink a can of “new Coke” to replenish energy using RB. Keeping energy levels up is important, as this will allow you to use your special attacks.
Combat in Stranger Things 3: The Game is simple but satisfying. Each character has two attacks, a basic and a special attack, the latter of which consumes energy when used. These are tailored to each character; for example, Dustin’s normal attack is his spray can, calling back to a moment from the beginning of the most recent series. It is nods to fans like this that all add to the game’s charm. You can also block with the B button, but you can only do so for a short time. It’s important to remember that most of the characters are children, so your health bar will deplete pretty quickly when taking damage. Be careful not to just rush into a fight head on, because often it won’t end well.
The pacing is generally good, but it feels less punchy than the show. On occasion, things are dragged out more than necessary with a lot of toing and froing. As there is a lot of walking involved it would have been nice to have the option to jump on a bike to get around faster, as the kids so often do in the show. The pacing issues aren’t nearly serious enough to be a game breaker, just more of a frustration that feels like a way to justify the £16.74 price tag on Xbox One. That’s my other gripe with Stranger Things 3: The Game, it feels a little overpriced for what is essentially a re-telling of the TV series.
If you are a Stranger Things fan, you’ll get a lot of enjoyment from this game. Despite dragging a little at times, and the price point, there’s a lot to like here. If you aren’t a fan then you’ll find it difficult to benefit fully without watching the series first, which I highly recommend.