There's something deeply unsettling about Mundaun's mix of Alpine horror and hand-drawn art. A weird creeping wrongness to its otherwise plain setting that feels like the very ground and buildings you're exploring doesn't want you there. It draws its inspiration from Swiss culture, folklore and legends as well, creating a dissonant sense of threat - the danger is always clear, just not quite anything you've ever seen before. Lumbering corpse men covered in straw are clearly not good news but also: what?
It gives everything an eerie sense of wrongness that's unmistakable and yet somehow hard to define. While comparisons only really help if you've seen the thing offered for comparison, all I could think of while playing were films like Midsommar, The Lighthouse, or anything by Guillermo del Toro - stories where there's almost more discomfort from the unfamiliar than outright fear.
The set up is simple enough: you're returning home after your grandfather's death to attend the funeral and find out more about what happened. But it's clear that weird shit is afoot almost as soon as you arrive. Somehow, the grandfather's body has reappeared, sealed into the wreckage of the burned barn, evading attempts to bury it and lay the man to rest. There's a mysterious stranger who turns your hand into a gnarled, leathery claw as a 'gift' and everyone seems to be hiding something, too nervous to talk. There's also an unusual number of goats for any game that isn't explicitly about goats.
All of these places, goats, and characters are hand-drawn in thick pencil, further creating a strange sense of alienation and otherness. It feels like you've fallen into a book that should have been hidden to protect people. Textures, rocks, faces, objects - all scribbled out manically by a pencil that looks like it hasn't been sharpened enough. Everything feels crudely sketched and smudged, creating an oppressive atmosphere from its rough edges.
It leaves you exploring a strangely rendered, tiny rural Swiss mountain community in what appears to be in the early 1920s or 30s. It's a small area, with only a few main locations, which only adds to the claustrophobic feeling - you spend a lot of time unraveling areas, and unfurling mysteries in a space you grow to know well, rather than pushing forwards through constantly changing locations that never look back.
All of this - the unusual location, looks; the fact everyone speaks a local dialect translated through subtitles - makes exploring a fascinating journey. A game in a more normal setting would be filled with clues and prompts you'd recognize - even at a subconscious level - that would fill in blanks and explain things. Here there's less of that. You're learning about the world and location as much as you are playing the story. Unless you're familiar with what it was like to live in a tiny Swiss mountain area 100 years ago, almost everything feels strange and mysterious.
Some of the gameplay is more familiar - finding items to solve puzzles, or avoiding straw monsters in the night, for example. But even when you're facing a basic 'door need key' style of object matching challenge, or stealth section, the context, and setting keeps everything feeling... off. For example, one of the ways you can deal with the straw men is to start hay fires and lead them into it. Which then leaves you with flaming straw men, lumbering through the darkness screaming. And, as it's never really explained who or what is inside the straw, there's a whole other layer of 'what have I done' to unpack there.
There are little touches everywhere to unnerve you, even if they take some time to sink in - like how if you look at a picture too long the camera starts to very gently pull in closer while the sounds of what you're seeing begin to echo quietly. It's almost as if your character is getting lost in contemplation, and the first time I heard it happen I thought had imagined it. The landscape constantly feels alien, and as the cast and story build, stranger and odder things happen. Not all the goats are entirely what you'd call... alive, for example. Or complete, in the sense of having a body. It's a head, okay. One of the goats is just a head and it talks. She's called Allegria and she had very pretty fur. On what's left. All of these goings-on, however, manage to avoid feeling completely like you're descending into madness and land more like 'normal' is having issues and could you try again later, maybe?
While things generally are wonderfully dark and odd, it's not always the smoothest journey. Objectives can be occasionally obscure - especially when it's something casually mentioned in a conversation that's easily missed in a subtitle. Things are noted in a journal but even that can be woefully unclear at times, mentioning a location or objective in a brief bullet point that doesn't always help. It might read 'go here' but actually translates as 'go there, get X, go somewhere else, do things, then go there'.
Obviously, this is a game about puzzle-solving but sometimes it feels like working out what the puzzle actually is can be the first challenge. Even some basic mechanics can take a bit of poking to work out, while that journal is as confusing as it is beautiful, filling up with unexplained images, notes, and diagrams that can make it easy to miss some vital clue or pointer. It's a bit slow to get around the world as well, which can sometimes start to put you off checking something when you know it's going to be a 10 minute round trip if you're wrong.
But, while there are some frustrating bits, I spent most of Mundaun loving the story and atmosphere and wanting to see it through to the end (I had theories). The Swiss setting, folklore, and scribbled pencil art gives the whole thing a real weird occult cinema feel you rarely get in video games. It's completely the good kind of odd, with a skin-crawling kind of darkness at times, that makes it well worth a look if you like your horror strange and goaty.
Mundaun is out now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and PC.