How Mundaun brings hand-drawn terror to its Alpine setting

The onset of a new console generation always brings with it an increasing push towards ever-more impressive graphical fidelity so it is refreshing to still see some genuinely original stylised aesthetics appearing on the indie scene. I’m not against photo realistic images of slathering jaws or dismemberment, but sometimes the focus on graphics can overshadow the importance of good design.

Mundaun certainly has bags of style thanks to the striking pencil-drawn art style. Game designer and illustrator Michel Ziegler has spent 6 years creating these and the love put in is clear to see.

Unlike most hand-drawn games, the world of Mundaun is still a fully 3D experience. Ziegler’s illustrations have been texture mapped over the environment objects and the end result is an uncanny environment that feels like a folk horror take on the classic A-ha music video for ‘Take On Me’. The claustrophobic atmosphere is juxtaposed with the rolling vistas of the Alps and makes for a hugely effective location. The sense of place is supported by a moving and atmospheric soundtrack that makes use of items from the mountains. Together, the whole game had a vivid feel reminiscent of the German expressionist horror films of the early 20th century.

The story for Mundaun has all the ingredients for a spooky folk horror time. Your character is returning to the Alps to discover more about the circumstances of their grandfather’s death. I had the opportunity to watch a playthrough of a section from the middle of the game. This extract took place in the second of three large areas spread across the Alpine environment. The sense of place was enhanced by the signposts that both guide the player and mimic the trails and paths around the real life mountains. A handy goat can also occasionally help to show you alternative routes through dangerous areas.

The game itself is a mixture of exploration, survival horror, and puzzle solving. While there is a central narrative to work through, taking time to carry out mundane tasks such as making coffee will have direct benefits, with a light RPG system in place. The focus is clearly on atmosphere and story-telling however, as you work your way deeper into the mysteries of the region. While the Alps are predominantly quite a lonely environment, the developers promise pockets of life and a varied cast of characters. These will be brought to life through the use of voice acting in the local language, Romansh. It’s an exceptionally specific focus that’s characteristic of the personal nature of Ziegler’s approach to the game’s creation.

Exploration takes place in traditional first person style, but it’s given an entirely new feel thanks to the unique graphical style. The open spaces promise alternative routes whilst puzzles seem self-contained and environmental. One eerie example in the demo involved swinging hanging hams in the correct order to release a key from a corpse’s mouth – the corpse also hanging in the same curing room.

Mundaun is due out for PC and consoles sometime in Spring 2021 and looks set to be a distinctive and unique experience. Alongside the beautiful hand-drawn aesthetic and moving score, I am especially excited to find out more about the local folklores and traditions, immersing myself in the geography and language of the Alps to get a privileged glimpse of a little represented culture. Of course, I’ll hopefully to scare myself silly in the process.

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Just your average old gamer with a doctorate in Renaissance literature. I can mostly be found playing RPGs, horror games, and oodles of indie titles. Just don't ask me to play a driving game.