Mundaun and the Safe Room
By Ask Vestergaard
Image Courtesy of Mundaun Press Kit via IGDB
Release Date: March 16th, 2021
Developer: Hidden Fields
Okay. So. I have a limit of 600 words for this article. What the Hell am I supposed to say about Mundaun in just 600 words? I could talk about designer Michel Ziegler’s gorgeous artwork – about how every single asset in the entire bloody game is lovingly hand-drawn, turning every tree and chapel wall and mountain peak into a magically moving illustration. I could talk about Mundaun’s heritage – about how the game is beautifully narrated in Romansch, infusing an overwhelming authenticity into its setting. I could talk about how its ethnic roots express themselves in folklore – in wandering monsters made of hay bales; in floating beekeepers, and lantern-bearing ghosts and devilish deals. Or I could talk about the goat. Good God, what an amazing goat.
But I’ve already wasted 124 words on this stupid joke, so I think I have to narrow my focus a little bit. Let’s talk about safe rooms.
Safe rooms are, perhaps, one of the most iconic gameplay features of the survival horror genre. Made famous by the original Resident Evil (1996), safe rooms are places in the game-world where the player is permitted a brief relief from the spectre of death. These rooms often have a much more relaxing soundscape than the rest of the game, and give you a space to store items that might be overburdening your inventory. Above all, safe rooms allow you to, quite literally, save your game, which makes them a highly sought-after resource when creepy creatures are constantly trying to eat you. The tension remains – terror awaits outside the door. But for now, there’s a chance that you’re going to make it.
The four or five safe places spread across Mundaun’s sprawling map do all these things – but they also do so, so much more. They feel lived in and atmospheric in a way that few other games manage: instead of just being rooms, they are your grandfather’s house or the atelier of a mysterious artist, all rendered in extraordinary detail, full of memories and puzzles and locked doors that you can return to as you progress. Instead of relaxing music, you are greeted with real Romansch broadcasts transmitted diegetically from an in-game radio. You save by clicking on a ticking grandfather clock that shudders and whirs when you activate it. The walls are covered in paintings, and looking at them for too long causes your field of view to narrow as sounds gently emanate from the canvases as if the pictures are alive. Relaxing after the stress of escaping a monster becomes a gameplay mechanic in and of itself: Mundaun’s safe houses often have food that you can eat, and beautiful ovens that you can fill with wood and light in order to brew coffee to enhance your resistance to fear. And every night, you lie in bed, placing a board of nails on your chest to ward off evil spirits and snuggling next to the gently snoring head of a decapitated goat (I guess I ended up talking about the goat after all).
But after you fill your stomach to contentment and smack your lips over a steaming cup of coffee, the tick-tocking of the clock is interrupted by the wailing of a dead man covered in hay. He walks past your window. He starts beating on your door. You blow out the candles and hunker down for the night.
You are safe. For now.