Mundaun is the dreadful vacation I didn’t know I needed

Mundaun - the player looks out of a bus’s front window, over the wheel. They are blocked from progressing forward by a wooden gate, which is open.

Mundaun - a player examines their inventory, paying special attention to a severed goat’s head, with the eyes still open.

Mundaun appears to be a charming, cottagecore experience as it starts, but my Swiss journey was rudely interrupted by the servants of the devil. Now, I’m in a tunnel, talking to a severed goat head, frantically listening for the buzz of those terrible, murderous bees.

Mundaun takes place in the Alps, and I play as protagonist Curdin. Every scene looks like it’s been hand-drawn, but it’s hardly a picturesque sketch. Each pencil line is oppressive and heavy, like a moving version of the old Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark illustrations.

I’ve felt the need to stretch my legs and go somewhere new and different. Luckily for me, Mundaun satisfied my urge to arrive in a different world. There’s nowhere truly like the little hand-drawn scenes of the titular village of Mundaun, which make me feel like the lead role in a classic horror film.

The hand-drawn art is off-putting at first, but proves to be an effective visual style. When I start out, things seem peaceful, and I can even stop to pet a goat, but I never quite feel comfortable in this quiet, claustrophobic village.

I have to come here, nonetheless. My beloved grandfather is dead, due to a tragic barn fire, and the local priest wrote a curt letter. The text is cagey, and the priest claims grandpa’s long buried, so don’t worry about coming up for a funeral. That’s enough to stir Curdin’s suspicions, and I return home to find out exactly what happened.

Things quickly become surreal when Curdin encounters a painting of the barn fire that pulls him into an alternate reality, and I come face to face with the charred corpse of my own grandfather. Things quickly spin out of control. When I confront the lying priest, he stands in a defaced chapel. Things are clearly wrong, and the more I dig into the mystery, the more cursed things become. My only allies are a blank-faced little girl, a veteran lost in despair, and (of course) the goats. Turns out grandpa made a dark deal long ago, and the consequences are finally manifesting in Mundaun.

Mundaun - the player looks out of a bus’s front window, over the wheel. They are blocked from progressing forward by a wooden gate, which is open.

Image: Hidden Fields/MWM Interactive

While a picky player can find points to ding off Mundaun, like the occasionally opaque puzzle or visual glitch, there is no flaw so great it overcomes the game’s environment, art, and story. The horror genre has been flooded with games inspired by PT or taking cues from Five Nights at Freddy’s, but Mundaun feels like it draws its inspiration from movies, folklore, and more novel sources (think The Witch or The Lighthouse). The game shows, and doesn’t tell. It’s nice to spend time with a horror protagonist like Curdin who isn’t constantly chatting to himself.

Mundaun is, at its heart, an adventure game. I walk around and talk to the rare few souls who remain in the little village. I collect items and save them for puzzles. These clues start off as mundane and simple — if I find a key in grandpa’s house, I know it’s going to unlock a door later — and later escalate until I’m picking up severed body parts and desperately stealing honey from deathtraps. There is some combat, but it’s all clumsy, with Curdin using an ancient rifle or pitchfork to poke away at surreal beekeepers and screaming wicker men.

Mundaun - a player examines their inventory, paying special attention to a severed goat’s head, with the eyes still open.

Image: Hidden Fields/MWM Interactive

There are many great little moments and scenes that make the game compelling. At one point, early on, I approach the priest’s chapel to find that the windows have been boarded up. If I peek at the right angle through the gaps, I can see the priest standing inside, staring forward. Later on, Curdin has to pee, and just as the stream finishes hitting the basin, there’s a loud growl and rumble. It’s a great way to make the player feel vulnerable.

The core gameplay and puzzles are just … fine. They work, they’re functional, and they set the scene to keep the player moving forward. But they’re just a vehicle for the game’s sense of style and well-told story. The spell breaks when I spend too long traveling from village to peak to cave. The game is also dark — not tonally, but visually. Even though I cranked my screen’s brightness to maximum, I still spent a few minutes spinning around in a dark room trying to find my way.

Mundaun still delivers eight to 10 well-paced hours of slow-burning horror. There are no endless exposition dumps or scary monsters jumping into frame. The story is just interesting, competently paced, and set on a believable and beautiful stage. Turns out, that’s all a game needs to be a good play on a dark weekend night.

Mundaun is out now on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Windows PC. The game was reviewed on Windows using a download code provided by MWM Interactive. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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