We're pretty big fans of Stranger Things, the hit Netflix series about spooky shenanigans in small town America. The sumptuous visuals, wonderful characters, and compelling story keep us hooked, and we're always left wanting more. However, as much as we enjoy spending time in Hawkins with Dustin, Eleven, and the whole gang, the game sadly doesn't hold a candle to the show it's based upon.
Stranger Things 3: The Game, as you might've guessed, is an interactive retelling of the show's third season, presented as a retro, isometric adventure title. While the presentation is fitting of the 80s themes and setting, there's very little to get excited about. Initially taking control of Mike and Lucas, you're guided through a gated tutorial segment before you're able to fully explore the town for yourself.
As you play through the story, you'll slowly unlock more playable characters. Each has their own attacks and special abilities; Lucas can throw bombs with his slingshot to destroy rocks, for example, while Dustin can hack computer systems. You can swap between characters at any time, so you'll never be short of a way to progress, and a second player can hop in at any time for some local co-op. As you explore Hawkins, you'll gather crafting materials with which you can make special items to buff your party. On paper, it sounds like a decent companion piece to the show, but in practice it falls flat very quickly.
The pixel art aesthetic makes sense given the context of the series, but it's so far from the colour and the charm of its inspiration. It doesn't look or sound like an officially licensed offshoot; the art style and music are largely unimpressive. But it isn't just how it looks and sounds that disappoints. Character interactions and cutscenes, which should probably be a highlight, are underwhelming, as is traipsing around familiar locations. It's pretty neat to see a miniaturised Hawkins, but even areas that should be bustling, like Starcourt Mall, are lifeless.
Quests don't fare much better. There are main and side missions to partake in, but there's not a huge degree of variety. You'll find that most of them consist of fetch quests, and are speckled with the occasional environmental puzzle, or battle with rats or Russian henchmen. Combat doesn't feel impactful or especially challenging; mash X with whomever you're playing as, throw in some special moves with square, and keep your distance. It's very basic stuff.
The end result is a game that's functionally sound, but plain dull from top to bottom. Even playing with a friend in split-screen, there's very little here for fans to enjoy, let alone anyone else. In fact, this game tells the same story of Stranger Things' third season almost beat for beat, which leaves it in a catch-22. You don't want to play it before you see the show, because it'll spoil everything that happens; at the same time, you probably won't want to play it afterwards, because it doesn't provide you with anything new. Unless you're the biggest fan of Stranger Things on the planet, this game isn't going to do anything for you.
A game based on Stranger Things seems like a winning combination, but this effort based on the recent season three leaves a lot to be desired. Most of what makes the show so good is missing here, and the gameplay and presentation are terribly flat. Retelling the latest season, sometimes word for word, also alienates the game from both people who've seen the show and people who haven't. Our advice to you is to watch the source material and leave it there; the game isn't going to turn your world upside down.