Video game tie-ins for movies and TV shows are usually pretty piss poor, and vice-versa, to be fair. There’s really only a few exceptions to the rule; with Netflix’s The Witcher not looking completely hopeless in its casting and promotional images. That being said, we’re here for something else from Netflix – Stranger Things 3: The Game. Whilst the TV show counterpart is out of this world, does this companion adventure prove to be worthy of the name? Without wasting your time, and despite a few issues within, yes, it absolutely does.
Now, I’ve already binged the hell out of season three of Stranger Things. It’s epic. Though, worry not, for those of you that have yet to catch up, I’ll not be dropping any major spoilers. What I will say, however, is that if you’ve never watched it full stop, you may want to remedy that at your earliest convenience, and, if you plan on watching it at all, turn away now and don’t come back until you have. I say that because some light details pertaining to season three spoils events spanning both season one and season two. Without further ado.
The game follows the plot of season three on a fairly precise episode by episode basis. It’s the summer of 1985 in Hawkins, and the newly opened Starcourt Mall has rapidly become the heart of the town, ruining local businesses all over. Though, amidst ongoing protests and public unrest, something sinister and otherworldly begins to stir. Despite the fact that the portal to the Upside Down has been closed (season two), Will, Eleven, and the rest of the major leads collectively fear and feel a nefarious presence that’s seemingly sitting in wait.
Events unravel, plots twist, and relationships are tested throughout, and whilst I cant really go into too much detail past that, I’ll say this; if you’ve a love for the series, you’ll find much to enjoy here. The only real drawback from a narrative point of view is that the game does little to welcome in newcomers, coming off a bit convoluted. I wont hold that against the game, but, I will caution against a blind purchase. This is much better played with series insight, and while you can indeed have fun without any insight, a lot will go over your head.
Whatever the case, for me, Stranger Things 3: The Game ticked many of the boxes that it needed to. It’s interesting, it’s fairly deep, and it’s a pleasure to play. The game does a wonderful job at capturing not just the vibe of the show, but the essence of its era. Initially, you’re welcomed to a clean and concise menu. Here, you’ll find a few options to select from; New Game, Eliminator, and some Options you can tweak to adjust volume levels. It’s all relatively straightforward and easy to digest. Once you’re done, you can dive on in.
The Eliminator mode will be locked until you’ve completed the core experience. This, much like a new game plus option, allows you to run the game again with all unlocked characters, though, the kicker is that if a character dies, they’re out for the count. Hardly revolutionary, but it certainly adds to the replay value and provides a neat reason to re-run the adventure multiple times over. Further replay value can be found elsewhere. When you first boot the game up, you’re given three difficulty options to select from; Story, Standard, and Master.
If you’re looking for a relaxed affair, Story is where you’ll want to be. If you’re looking for something more challenging but well balanced, Standard will be your go-to choice. If, however, you want the ultimate test of skill, Master will see you through. Once you’ve made your choice, the game wastes no time throwing you into the thick of it. Like I said before, the game follows season three to the letter, bringing with it all the themes and plot pieces you’ll have witnessed from the show. It’s all really well done, and really well paced too.
The game utilizes an isometric perspective, and sports a retro 16-bit art style. The story is told to you through a series of in-game sequences, along with text dialogue that frequently adds weight to the proceedings. Dialogue choices are present too, being that you’ll find moments within that allow you to decide how to react to certain exchanges. The gameplay itself is a mixture of exploration, puzzle solving, collectible seeking, combat, and more. Throughout the game, you’ll unlock and play as twelve known characters from Hawkins.
These characters mostly include series’ regulars; Eleven, Mike, Dustin, Lucas, Will, and so on. Not too unlike a metroidvania, certain characters posses abilities and traits that enable you to access areas that you wouldn’t normally be able to access without a specific character. Most of these abilities correlate with aspects taken from the show, or at the very least, fit with the personas of each character. It gets quite deeper than just that, mind. Each character also sports their own combat style, in which again, it tends to fit with the show.
Before I go any further, I feel it’s important to point something out. Stranger Things 3: The Game isn’t just a copy and paste adventure that treads too comfortably within the midst of its source material. There’s a heap of secrets and quests to take on too, many of which are original and fresh. Essentially, although you’re encouraged to watch the show first, the game does a remarkable job at keeping things fresh and compelling through the use of being able to take a few liberties. I played straight after the show, and found much to glean.
Teamwork also plays a fairly vital part in the game. Here, you can play either via single player, or via local co-op; two characters teaming up to solve puzzles and unleash a bevy of combos through combat and special abilities. Whilst far from the deepest of combat systems, everything in Stranger Things 3: The Game just fits well. Crafting is present too, being that you’ll open chests and smash up the environment to find useful items throughout Hawkins, loot that you can equip to improve your party’s overall resilience and capability.
There’s plenty of things to craft too, and it’s all found over in the game’s rather surprisingly extensive menu hub. One thing I thoroughly appreciated about Stranger Things 3: The Game is that, although deep, it’s never at all that confusing. Everything has been put together in such a way that it doesn’t feel overwhelming, but instead, remains accessible at all times. The game always keeps you in the loop, and makes sure that you’ve a firm understanding as to what you need to do, what you need in order to craft something, and so on and so forth.
The crafting tab is full of recipes that you can concoct. For instance, if you want to craft some protective gloves to bolster your HP, you’ll need duct tape, a rag, an oven mitt, and a metal tube. Once you’ve got the required goods, you’ll simply craft and equip. The game goes quite in-depth here, allowing you to craft items to improve chem damage, base damage, movement speed, and many, many more useful tidbits. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the deepest of systems, but it’s a lot deeper than I was expecting it to be, for sure.
You’ll also pick up money from bashing pretty much anything that isn’t bolted down, to which you can spend said money on buying goods that will aid you in one form or another. Whilst in the menu hub, you can browse scavenged items, look through your party to see stats, check out your active quests, or engage with the world map to see where you are, where you’ve been, and where you need to go. Starting out, the game does a great job at keeping things simple whilst you gel with the handling, the functionality, and mechanics.
Quests begin small; clear out rats by bashing them to smithereens, locate a key to open a door, and so on. Later in the game, however, things gets more complex, more involved, and more innovative. You’ll find that some quests may come across quite samey-samey in the grand scheme of things, but due to how fun the game is to play, this was never really an issue for me. I enjoyed charting Hawkins, and I enjoyed seeking out its many secrets and additions – many of which are character specific, with a fluid quick-swap is in place to use.
The game’s controls are easy to adapt to and well laid out. There’s a command system in place that allows you to relay orders to your follower; follow, stay, and quick-swap. Regardless as to who you play as, the controls remain the same throughout. You’ll attack and interact with the A button, block with the B button, use a special with the X button, and utilize your buddy’s special with the Y button. Movement is achieved through the use of the left stick, with a generous freedom of camera movement tethered to the right stick. Simple.
The combat is straightforward for the most part, simple having you pressing a sequence of buttons and unleashing specific attacks. There’s no shortage of enemies and bosses to take your strength to, all of which remain diverse, interesting, and gradually more challenging. It helps, of course, that they utilize unique attack and movement patterns, making this much less of a button masher, and something more thoughtful and tense. The fact that each party member sports their own style of attack helps to keep repetition at bay too, which is nice.
Outside of exploring the town of Hawkins, bettering your party, and taking on a range of main and side quests, you’ll also be neck-deep in puzzle aspects of play. Granted, many of these puzzles are far from compelling, but they’re tough enough to keep you on edge nonetheless, and if anything, serve as a decent change of pace. The game’s length clocks in at over ten hours, and although that may seem a tad excessive given the crux of play, the game’s habit of mixing up what you’re doing ensures that there’s never truly a dull moment.
Whilst I would have liked more depth to the puzzles, and perhaps some more depth to the flow of combat, these are small gripes in the face of everything the game gets right. Stranger Things 3: The Game juggles its systems well, and certainly knows how to keep you entertained throughout its run. Drawing back to my point about TV show/movie to game tie-ins, Stranger Things 3: The Game doesn’t fall victim to the curse that sees so many of these falling by the wayside. It’s faithful to its material, it’s fun, and it’s wholly entertaining.
Throughout all of that, the game’s visual and audio design is masterful. There’s plenty of variation throughout Hawkins, with heaps of subtle detail to soak up on your way through. The audio presentation gets a thumbs up too, with a great use of cues and a decent soundtrack resting on its bulk. Perhaps the greatest feat, mind, is how well it captures the essence of its counterpart so well, which is remarkable when we take into account that it’s mostly just text dialogue. Simply put, if you love Stranger Things, you’re going to love this.
Deep, fun, and wholly entertaining, Stranger Things 3: The Game is a must-have treat that sits remarkably well with its exceptional source material. Despite some hit and miss puzzle work, everything from the combat and the progression framework, right the way through to the world design and its many hidden secrets, collectively put forward a well paced, well balanced adventure that rarely grows tiresome. If you love the show, you’ll love this.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.