When I was younger, pretty much every successful film and TV show had its own video game based on the franchise. We saw this a lot last generation, with all of the Disney tie-ins and the beginning of Telltale Games’ many licencing deals – making a game based upon a popular franchise will usually result in initial guaranteed success. This generation the spin-offs and tie-ins have calmed down a little, but we still get the odd one or two releasing alongside that which they are in collaboration with, the latest of which being Stranger Things 3: The Game.
Developed by BonusXP, the team behind the original Stranger Things Mobile game and the upcoming The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics, Stranger Things 3: The Game is almost a direct retelling of the latest season of the hit Netflix show. I would personally recommend you watch the TV show first, before playing this game, as there are certain things which presume prior knowledge, not only to seasons one and two, but season three as well.
I’ve got a few things to say about this game, both positive and negative, so let’s see how much I can say without revealing any spoilers or plot points…
Stranger Things 3: The Game follows the TV show of the same name. By that, I don’t mean it follows on from the end of the show, I mean it literally follows the TV show almost word for word in most of the key scenes. Although, I imagine that BonusXP were only given information on what the key plot points were within each episode, with the majority of the minor interactions excluded from the documents they received.
This is what I believe because there are some moments within the game in which events happen with no context behind them or explanation as to why things were progressing in the way they were. One such event (without giving anything away) is when one character comes to help another – in the TV show there’s an emotional moment between the two which led up to this scene, the game just has them walk in, do their bit, then the scene ends – no context or depth at all.
Again, this isn’t a dig at the developers, I imagine they weren’t given all the source material. This is also apparent as all of the non-important interactions have been replaced by new NPC ‘quest givers’ and events in order to expand your playtime.
The game itself will last you around ten hours on your first playthrough if you’re playing by yourself and without any guide or hints. Each chapter is almost in sync with the episodes in the show, so you could technically watch an episode then play the chapter, followed by another episode and chapter in the game. This way you’ll not get ahead of yourself and you’ll get to explore Hawkins from a different perspective as you work your way through places you see on the show. Personally, I binge-watched all of Season three before playing this game and it made me appreciate the game much more than I would have if I’d come into it blind (not the recommended way to play the game).
Stranger Things 3: The Game is a retro-inspired isometric action game which has been aesthetically created with pixel-art in an effort to mimic older games whilst operating as a modern one. In that respect, the developers have pulled this off as I love the art design of the environments, creatures, characters and all the references scattered around the place (just like in the show). The game itself is quite deep when it comes to the actual gameplay side as you’ll not just be running around hitting creatures, you’ll also need to survive by crafting armour and accessories as well as strategically managing your team and solving co-op-based puzzles.
That’s right, Stranger Things 3: The Game is essentially a co-op game at heart, having you control two characters if you have nobody within your local vicinity to play along with you. If you do decide to play on your lonesome, the CPU will take over player two as they follow you around like a good doggie and help you fend off any enemies they run into. The game has lots of switch and platform puzzles where you have to swap between characters, telling the other to wait whilst you get into position, as well as stealth segments which are best done on your own as the CPU waits patiently. The strategic part of this is choosing which characters you wish to play as. Bar a few predefined segments, you have free choice of which two characters to use from a roster of 12 (which are unlocked as you progress).
This is where the game becomes a little like the LEGO games as each character has their own unique skill such as solving electrical locks, blasting through rocks, cutting through chains, and crawling through small vents. This is a game where you’re required to backtrack a lot in order to explore areas you couldn’t get to before you had a certain character, should you wish to discover all the secrets and upgrades. As well as their abilities, each character has a standard and unique special attack (which is also the ability in a few instances) and you can swap characters or players (as in, you can become the second character and the CPU takes over yours) at any time with a push of a button – also like LEGO. The combat is also very satisfying and fun to experiment with, from Dustin’s pepper spray to Steve’s Ice Cream Scoop loaded with an infinite amount of ice cream!
Survival of the fittest
A big part of Stranger Things 3: The Game is pimping yourself out in order to survive. The game has a basic, but effective, crafting mechanic – you collect X amount of items then use a workbench to combine them together to craft a number of items and accessories. The majority of these creations are simple – just use items you find and buy around the world – but some require you to make other items then use those new items in collaboration with others to make a better one.
You can equip up to five of these accessories so that their benefits are utilised by all of your party members, benefits such as increasing your health, making the children stronger, increasing a certain weapons attack power, or giving you more cash upon killing the enemies.
I enjoyed this additional strategic element to the game as it allowed you to create the perks you needed in order to best suit the situation and push you towards success. However, it did get a little frustrating when I couldn’t find specific items which weren’t for sale within any of the shops you can buy stuff from. Although, ensuring you create the perfect combination of gear for your team on your second playthrough determines if you’ll live or die.
Speaking of death, whilst playing the normal game (your first playthrough), if your CPU partner or your friend dies, they’ll respawn after a short while with a small amount of health, but the game will continue as normal. If you die, the game is over and you must continue from the last generous save checkpoint or quit to the main menu.
However, if you’re playing NG+ (required for a trophy), this mode operates like an Ironman mode – if you or your CPU/Human partner dies, that character is dead forever. There’s no revive (unless you ‘cheat’ and don’t let the game register your colleague has died…). Also, when you’re in the NG+ mode, you have access to every character from the start and each character can perform all the special unique moves (so if Dustin dies, you can still pick electric locks with other characters). This all sounds very daunting, but it’s not too bad and it adds a nice challenge to the gameplay.
Are the things Strange in the game?
So, what is the game actually like to play? I personally enjoyed it, it reminded me a little of Warhammer: Chaosbane. Each chapter begins with you being presented with a list of things to do – these usually loosely follow the events within the TV show and completing these will result in the game progressing. This is where you’ll gain access to new locations, such as the hospital, laboratories, farms and the mall. However, as you walk around you’ll bump into various NPCs who will ask you to help them in various side missions. Some of these are easy, such as buying them an item or killing a bunch of infected rats, but some are more tricky like finding the ingredients for a pizza and rescuing a woman who locked herself in the bathroom.
Although a lot of these side missions play out the same, I had fun completing every one of them. Not only for the bunch of trophies which came with doing so, but also because the majority of them were interesting and gave new narrative and insight into various people who only exist within the game. It’s very easy to relate to, and understand, the characters we all know from the show, but the new NPCs within the game needed some sort of backstory for you to engage with, and I feel this has been done pretty well via the side missions. I particularly liked the lonely old woman…
Outside of performing various fetch quests, going on hunting missions, helping out the main protagonists, and exploring the locations from the TV show, there’s not much else to do – unless you like gnomes! The developer’s first Stranger Things game had twelve gnomes hidden throughout the game, Stranger Things 3: The Game has 50 (fifty) gnomes hidden for you to find – and I mean hidden! The majority of them you won’t see as they’ll be off-screen with only their hat poking out of the isometric layout, or you’ll have to use the LEGO-style Metroidvania aspect to go back and search everywhere you’ve been before as you seek out all of these pesky pot people! I’ll be honest here – I have the platinum trophy, it was an easy platinum at around 14 hours, but I had to look up a guide for the gnomes – every other trophy I got on my own.
Issues and complaint
My main issue with the game is that it feels like a companion to the series, a side ‘thing’ for fans to play through and relive the events whilst exploring the environments and new residents of Hawkins. However, the appeal for people who haven’t seen the show, or those who would rather play a game than watch the show, is a bit lower in my opinion. This opinion of mine all comes down to two things, continuity and being faithful to the source material. Again, I’m not blaming BonusXP as I’m sure they weren’t given all of the key factual information beforehand, but now the show is out there, maybe a few tweaks here and there could be performed to bridge the gap and make it more accessible for newcomers?
I’m going to avoid all spoilers, so please bear with me…
In regards to continuity, there are a few key scenes which don’t play out the same as the show. Whereas I agree this is all down to artistic license and having to expand a three-minute scene and turn it into a quest or a boss battle, the narrative and overall experience shouldn’t differ too much from the source material. One such example is at one point, there’s a “three months later” scene in the show. In the game, the same scene is “two months later”. I know it’s not a big difference, but there are some other events which also didn’t match up.
Similarly, there were too many scenes which didn’t really explain what was going on very well. I knew why I was within a certain location, thanks to watching the show, and I knew why certain people helped us out and the background behind individual characters, but as a stand-alone experience, I felt the game was lacking some key bits of information.
Let’s forget my presumption that they may not have had all the facts, I believe they did a good job as the TV show was essentially three separate stories happening at the same time in different locations – BonusXP had to turn this into a slightly different narrative as you’re performing all the actions in sequence, not in an overlapping multiple-adventure style. So, I can see why certain things had to be changed, but certain things ‘need’ to be added in order to bring context to the actions on screen.
Graphically I really liked the art style adopted for Stranger Things 3: The Game. It’s much better than the art used within their first Stranger Things game as this one looks more grown-up and realistic, rather than chibi-looking. Despite the pixel-art, you could clearly make out who everyone was, either from their character models or avatars, and all of the texts and instructional GUI was easy to read and understand. I particularly liked how dark and gritty certain parts of the game became – if you’ve watched the show then you’ll know how this season was the darkest and most brutal it’s been so far; the game doesn’t disappoint with its hideous creatures and rather disturbing encounters.
The music I felt could have been better. I don’t know if the developers were paying homage to LJN games from the SNES and NES era, but the music reminded me of the AVGN episode of the Terminator games – it was a short loop of the infamous Stranger Things theme repeated over and over throughout the game. I think it may have changed key every now and again, but the majority of the game is the same few bars being played. Considering there is no voice acting within the game, only music, sound effects and reading, things like a repeated soundtrack begins to stand out more than it would do if it had vocals in it.
In regards to performance – no issues at all on the PS4 Pro, everything ran nice and smooth as you’d expect. One omission which was unfortunate was the lack of a PS Vita port. Based on the style of the game and the size of the areas, I would have through the Vita would have been more than capable to run the game. However, you can still grab it on the PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC, so there are still lots of choices, we all just wish it had one more!
Despite my issues with the game not matching the source material in a 1:1 way, I actually enjoyed my time with Stranger Things 3: The Game. I played it directly after watching all eight hours of the show, not stopping until I saw the credits roll around ten hours later. I then had a short break and went straight back on it in order to complete the Hardcore NG+ mode, which I completed within four hours as I only had to work my way through the story missions this time around. Sure, a few things frustrated me – such as bosses with regeneration powers and unfair boss battles which had me ripping my hair out, but the majority of the time was entertaining.
If I was to judge the game on its own merits, and not as a companion to the TV show, I would say it lacked certain narrative aspects, leaving holes in the plot and not explaining things thoroughly enough for you to follow it without the show to fall back on, but if you’re just looking for a game to follow directions and solve quests whilst fending off horrific beasts and strategically picking teammates and party gear, then it’s pretty good. It’s basically taking ‘inspiration’ from the TV show and adapting it so it works in a linear video game, rather than a multi-layered show, so compromises were guaranteed and expected. However, all the key plot points are there and you do get the general gist of what’s going on – we just need more context adding to the game (especially around the final key events).
I’m going to give the game two scores down below, one is for fans of the show who has seen Season 3 and the other is for new players or those who haven’t seen the show. My advice would be to actually watch the show then play the game, as you’ll have more context and understand it a little better. However, it’s not a requirement as the gameplay itself holds up and is fun to play both solo and with another person. If the developers are reading this – I would have personally liked them to have created a Stranger Things 1-3 game, incorporating all the key events from all three games so it was more accessible to everyone.
I’m hoping we’ll get a port of the first Stranger Things mobile game, seeing as it’s already a thing. Although, having a new game in the same style as this one for the previous two seasons (and more in-depth narrative exposition) would be even better!
If you love Stranger Things and want to relive the third season but slightly differently, Stranger Things 3: The Game is for you. Created with fans of the series in mind, the game follows the third season almost identically, making a few artistic and required changes in order to change the multi-layered show into an open, yet linear game. There are certain key events which don’t seem to have the impact intended, due to a lack of exposition and setup, in my opinion, as scenes come and go without the same emotion or context we had in the TV Show, but it does try its best to mimic the source material. I’d highly recommend watching the third season before playing the game, or at least in tandem with it, watching and playing one chapter after another all the way.
If you’re an avid fan of the series and have seen all of the episodes out there, then you’ll appreciate and understand Stranger Things 3: The Game more than those who haven’t. Whereas it’s possible to play and enjoy this game without any prior knowledge, I feel certain aspects of the plot may be lost on you as it doesn’t do a great job of providing solid exposition and backstory to previous and key events.
**Supposedly, the price on the EU/UK PSN store is wrong. It’s showing up around £10 more than the American version and all other platforms in all regions. This is being investigated by the developer**
Stranger Things 3: The Game£24.99
- - Fun combat and puzzle mechanics with a nice simple crafting element so you can enhance your party
- - Two player co-op or single player with a CPU partner
- - A decent length story and a nice easy platinum
- - I loved the aesthetic and the little details in every location
- - Follows the story of the show but adds it's own NPCs, quests, interesting residents and surprises
- - Continuity and remaining faithful to the source material isn't always the greatest, with key plot points and pre-event exposition missing
- - The music is a loop of the short theme tune
- - I would have liked a recap, cutscene or prologue showing us the events from season 1 and 2 for new people to the franchise
- - The boss battles are a bit of a pain with regenerative health and unfair odds against you sometimes