Warning: Here Be Spoilers
Stranger Things 3: The Game (PC [Reviewed], PS4 , Xbox One, Switch, Mac)
Developer: Bonus XP
Released: July 4, 2019
RRP: £15.85 (Steam)
Okay, okay okay. It’s been a month. The dust has settled. We can all agree that Season 3 of Stranger Things was pretty bangin’, right? That Neverending Story scene is going to be flashing in my fondest memories forever, doused in neon lights and Dustin’s sweet smile.
What you may may or may not have realised is that – interestingly – on the very same auspicious release date of the 4th July, BonusXP released their TV show tie in game ST3: The Game. Kind of an odd decision considering that the game is a direct tie-in, and therefore surely not playable until the show has been watched in its entirety. Then again, fans tend to binge ST so quickly, it would probably only have been a day or two before they were ready to relive the many hilarious, harrowing and emotional moments that the show delivered. The real question of course is… Does the game manage to recreate any of that?
I’m pleased to say that – at least in part – it does!
ST3: The Game is an action adventure Beat ‘Em ‘Up with a strong retro coin op arcade feel. It plays through season 3 of Stranger Things in a 6 chapter format, each chapter focusing on one leg of the journey that the series covered, and taking around 1 hour. There are countless references, direct lines of dialogue and recognisable scenes and locations from the show, but the game takes a more tongue-in-cheek approach to some of the more serious elements, and I never felt like I was playing the show out as it was originally intended, so much as playing a caricature of the show’s key themes. But honestly, this in my mind isn’t such a bad thing. This is what BonusXP’s first Stranger Things game did so well on mobile, and despite them going a different way visually with their second outing – with a more isometric viewpoint and slightly more cinematic experience, they’ve retained a lot of what made their first game so enjoyable, light-hearted and fun.
ST3: The Game will have you exploring Hawkins as any one of 12 characters from the show – each equipped with their own unique weapon and special attack. You’ll skip across town to various significant locations such as Hawkins Lab, Hawkins Pool, Hoppers’ Cabin, Starcourt Mall, and you’ll complete Primary and Optional objective missions for the townspeople in order to advance the story, gain pocket money to spend on power ups and consumables, and generally enjoy the game’s familiar and recent nostalgia.
The primary forms of gameplay will be made up of fetch quests and combat missions, but there’s also a good dose of mild puzzle solving mixed in here as well, which actually progresses to the fairly difficult towards the end, with some complex switch puzzles, fun riddles, and other bits and bobs that split up the combat and exploration nicely. The side missions too felt more than just an after thought, each one with its own chapter title and similar, but not tiresome objectives. One optional mission that began as a gentle side quest to help an old lady with her chores for some pocket money soon took a far more sinister turn, and I loved that way the game did make attempts at the creepifying – even if the game itself looked very much cartoonish and colourful.
Exploring Hawkins itself could feel a little laborious at times. For the most part I was directed to exactly where I needed to be, using a handy dandy arrow system, which makes the wandering never too long a process, and a quick travel feature means that once you reach the outskirts of your immediate area, you can transport directly to another key location. But there were times where I needed to search an area for hidden items, and that could involve a fair bit of walking around and backtracking before I found them. Also the colliders/hit boxes for a large number of objects weren’t brilliant. Often I found myself being stopped at seemingly empty spaces because the collider set up for an object or a wall wasn’t correct. However, it wasn’t a game changing issue, and I soon learned how to “expect” objects to react to me walking into them. In order to spice the world of Hawkins up for you a little more, certain characters have out of combat abilities that can be used to access secret areas hidden around the game world. Dustin with his computer smarts is the only one that can hack his way into doors and crate terminals, revealing hidden areas and goodies. Joyce is able to break locks with her trusty bolt cutters. Lucas can destroy rocks with an explosive sling shot, and so on. This gave the exploration of Hawkins a much needed boost of value, and with 40 hidden collectable gnomes to find, exploration was ultimately an enjoyable affair, and I did find myself exploring areas quite comprehensively to see what I could discover.
With so few actual enemies in the show, ST3: The Game has taken some liberties at throwing a number of enemies at you that are as relevant to the show as they can possibly be whilst still being unimportant enough that you can fight lots of them, and to be honest it works perfectly well. You’ll fight infected rats, mobsters, scientists, Russian soldiers – as well as the gooey manifestations of the Upside Down’s Mindflayer that are found in all areas of Hawkins. More significant antagonists will pop up as boss fights from more memorable scenes of the show. I felt more could have been done with the bosses, each only featuring very simple attack patterns and overly large health bars – meaning a little too long spent slogging away at the HP when I felt had no real challenge left. Bosses that evolved into different attack stages would have helped, but ultimately these bosses only make up a small portion of the game.
The combat itself is simple, but deceptively strategic and a lot of fun – using the A button to perform your main attack, and X for a special attack that utilises a refillable energy bar. However, the game allows you to move around as a party of two, meaning a player can start combining the special attacks of two characters, whilst keeping your main one for primary attacks to be controlled by yourself. This allows for really fun experimentation in matching up characters that compliment each other well. My personal favourites when playing were to utilise Johnathan Byers’ special Camera flash attack to daze a mob of enemies, and then use Eleven’s devastating “Nuke” attack to cause AoE shock damage, and take them all out in one go. Or in situations where I was expecting to take a lot of damage, I might use someone like Will Byers with his long range firework primary attack, and then use Max Mayfield and her Medic special ability to keep dropping health for me to pick up. There are plenty of different combinations that work well together, and the game gives you ample opportunity to mix these up to find out what works for you. I was never too far from an autosave point, so never felt like experimentation was too much of a risk. Of course, if you have a buddy ready for couch co-op, you can each take control of your own character for added lethality. To add to that, ST3 also has a really nice trinket system. Trinkets are either found, given as rewards or built using components found littered through the game world, and hidden away in secret areas and crates. The utilisation of trinkets is key, and can give you a range of passive bonuses such as speed, defense, or elemental and critical damage. Nancy for example has a powerful special attack called execute – a slow offensive move that causes huge damage to an enemy if it hits critically. She also has a trinket available that can increase that critical damage by 20%, making her an absolute boss killer if used correctly. Mixing up your trinkets with your preferred characters really can give you massive advantages.
Stranger Things 3: The Game gives us a really enjoyable re-imagining of the events – something that takes the core plot, themes and characters, and makes the effort to ensure that there are enough nods and references to make any ST3 fan smile.
Stranger Things 3: The Game unsurprisingly doesn’t have the same impact as the show. But come on, no-one was expecting that. It’s a heck of a task creating a companion game to something so current, so zeitgeist and so popular, and BonusXP have done a really solid job of creating something enjoyable and relevant for Stranger Things fans above all else. It’s not a carbon copy of the show. It’s not graphically hyper-realistic. It’s not trying to recreate those epic action moments that we witnessed a month ago, courtesy of The Duffer Brothers. What ST3: The Game does do is give us a really enjoyable re-imagining of the events – something that takes the core plot, themes and characters, and makes the effort to ensure that there are enough references and nods to make any ST3 fan smile. They’ve expanded on the dialogue to give us some extra quips in relation to little moments that we remember most fondly, and they really have succeeded in capturing some of the finessed personality of the characters. And sure, the show may be set a little early for a game like this to exist, but I think Stranger Things 3: The Game looks, sounds and plays like something that Mike, Dustin, Lucas and Will would have really enjoyed had they had it been a feature at Palace Arcade.
Check out the full trailer below!