Retro charm can’t hide dull design in a game that, almost impossibly, has no clear audience.
The creatively named Stranger Things 3: The Game is an action-adventure beat-’em-up where you play through the events of the third season of Stranger Things. This game really is one giant spoiler for the show. When I write “play through the events of” I mean quite literally that there are lines and scenes that unfold exactly as they do in season three. As a result, I wouldn’t recommend playing this if you haven’t finished the third season, or if you plan on watching it anytime soon so as not to spoil it for yourself. However, if you don’t really care for watching the show but still want to know what happens, then perhaps you’re the person the game is aimed at, because, to be quite honest, you’d have a lot more fun if you just watched Stranger Things.
The game has you exploring the not-so-peaceful country town of Hawkins, completing quests, solving puzzles and uncovering the secrets it has to hide. There are 12 characters to play as that you collect by progressing through different storylines, each toting a unique weapon and abilities that are a nod to things they’ve used in the show – Lucas has his slingshot, Dustin has his pepper spray, and then there’s my personal favourite, Steve and his ice cream scooper. You’re able to craft items that increase the power of certain characters’ abilities. This is actually one of the more interesting mechanics, seeing what you can build from the various pieces of scrap you find littered around Hawkins.
Sometimes you’ll need to return to certain areas with different characters to unlock doors and chests that only someone like Dustin, for example, could open with his master hacking skills. Aside from these few extra areas you investigate, there’s really not much to see in Hawkins that we aren’t shown in the show. In fact, the game actually manages to make wandering around the town fairly boring by placing everything so far apart. At the same time, it doesn’t allow you to thoroughly explore some of the other areas that we might not have seen much of already.
A lot of Stranger Things 3 is based around fetch quests and combat. As mentioned before, due to the map the fetch quests are tedious, and the combat is lacking in what the show prides itself on: horror. The game is designed in an isometric retro-style, presumably to mimic the sort of thing that would’ve been available to play in the 80s setting, and while it does feel authentic, the style robs the game of the horror the show itself does so well, because pixelated monsters like this just aren’t that scary.
None of this is to say I hated the game. The puzzles were fun at times and it was somewhat entertaining going back through the story of Stranger Things’ third season to remind myself of some the highlights. But the action really isn’t all that exciting, and the retelling of the plot falls a little flat. Retro-style, mystery and a focus on teamwork; Stranger Things 3: The Game tries to celebrate the things that the show itself does so well, but in the end it’s just a shallow recreation of a great series that deserves a better game than this.