So, it’s nearly Halloween and you’re running out of horror games to play. You beat Resident Evil Village months ago. You played just about every horror game you can find on Xbox Game Pass. You’ve even dipped into horror-adjacent games that put you in the right, spooky mindset. When it feels like you’ve played just about every staple the genre has to offer, what’s left to play?
The horror game scene is much wider than the obvious hits. While big-budget series like Dead Space and Resident Evil dominate “best horror game” lists, some of the scariest games out there are also some of the most obscure. That’s exactly the case with Mundaun, which is a must-play 2021 release this Halloween season.
Released in March, a couple of months before Resident Evil Village, Mundaun is a Swedish horror game that’s unlike any other. The most striking thing about it is its hand-penciled art design, which gives the game an entirely unique, sepia-toned look. That creates some unsettling imagery, as sketchy, high-contrast landscapes set the scene for a creepy stay in the Swedish countryside.
Sure enough, that’s exactly what you get here. The story starts when a man in a small Swedish village burns to death in a barn fire. His grandson makes a trek to the town to get things in order and find out what happened. It’s a classic horror movie setup that traps players in an idyllic village with a dark underbelly. Monsters, religious cults, and body horror ensue, naturally.
Mundaun may look like nothing you’ve ever seen before, but it draws on some familiar inspiration. Its story is especially reminiscent of the 1973 horror film The Wicker Man (or its somewhat infamous remake starring Nicolas Cage). That film deals with a police sergeant traveling to a small town and discovering a cult that worships gods. Aesthetically, a few things carry over. That film’s iconic “straw man” is represented here in the form of enemies. Players are hunted by creeping humanoids made out of hay. If they catch the main character, he slowly turns to straw until it’s game over. His only defense is a rudimentary pitchfork that can jab them.
If you’re more familiar with the Wicker Man remake, you probably remember the “not the bees!” scene, which became an instant meme. Well, there are plenty of bees here, too. Beekeepers appear as regular enemies, stalking the village in their puffy suits. They’re no laughing matter, though. Having your screen fill up with buzzing bees before you die is a terrifying experience.
In a lot of ways, Mundaun feels like a more fully realized version of this year’s Resident Evil Village. There’s a lot to compare between the two. They’re first-person games set in cultish villages, and their gameplay revolves around finding items to solve puzzles. Both of them draw on classic horror movie tropes to create something that feels firmly rooted in the genre’s history. But Resident Evil Village can feel like a grab bag at times, pulling together four or five monster movie cliches and tossing them into one pot. Mundaun is more focused by comparison, fleshing out its Swedish town’s history. The deeper you go, the darker it gets. I couldn’t help but explore even when my instincts were telling me to run. I wouldn’t last two seconds in a slasher movie, I suppose.
Horror games can be difficult to pull off. The desire to create a fun experience can often conflict with the things that inspire fear. Resident Evil Village wants you to run screaming from itslycans, but also wants you to blast them away with a giant shotgun. It’s hard to be scared in a power fantasy. Mundaun doesn’t try to have it both ways. Its weapons are rinky-dink, its hero is weak, and its terror feels inescapable. It isn’t always the most pleasurable experience on a moment-to-moment level (it can feel as rusty and archaic as its pitchforks at time), but it’s an unsettling fear-fest that’ll keep you up at night this Halloween.
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