It was around the time the severed goat head in my backpack started bleating and then spoke that I truly began to understand the beauty of Mundaun, the new indie horror game from developer Michel Ziegler.
Mundaun opens with a letter from your isolated hometown in the Swiss Alps. Your grandfather, a local parishioner writes, has passed away after being caught in a barn fire. “By the time you read this, he will have been long buried,” the letter adds. “There is no need for you to make the long journey up here.” Despite this suggestion, when the game begins you’re already on a bus making its way carefully through the winding roads that lead to the village where your grandfather raised you. “I need to see with my own eyes what happened,” the first-person narration explains.
It’s clear from the get-go that Mundaun is not your typical horror game. The textures, composed of what I imagine are hundreds of Ziegler’s hand-drawn sketches, seem to stretch and breathe around you, their charcoal origins giving everything a gloomy sheen despite the game’s ostensibly sunny environment. These rustic aesthetics pair perfectly with Mundaun’s decidedly folk-horror influences, a sub-genre shared with films like Midsommar and The Wicker Man, in which bucolic settings serve only as distractions from the sinister practices hiding just below the surface.
As expected, what should be a standard (if fairly bittersweet) return to the mountainous community you once called home soon turns into an extended nightmare. A painting sucks you into the barn fire that claimed your grandfather’s life. You find his corpse among the ashes in a perpetual state of anguish. The local parish transforms from a local source of religious comfort to a bizarre, devilish altar, from which you take the aforementioned goat head. Strawmen (like, literal dudes made of straw, not hypothetical punching bags) and beekeepers assault you at every turn. Soon, it becomes your duty to correct a decades-old pact that condemned the entire region to a perilous future.
Mundaun is special, so much so that I hope you can recognize when I’m being purposefully vague as to keep from ruining the best moments the game has to offer, many of which won’t make as big of an impact unless you personally experience them. It asks a few simple questions: Are we responsible for the sins of our fathers? If so, what can we do to atone? And how far are we willing to go? Mundaun tells a wonderfully paced and dread-filled story of desperation and familial obligation that doesn’t overstay its welcome, making it the perfect weekend game for these last few weeks of rainy weather before spring is fully upon us.
If that sounds like your jam, Mundaun is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC via Steam and the Epic Games Store.