I think we all remember that catastrophic “Video Game Tie-In” era. You know, when developers and publishers figured out that they’d be able to make a load of cash by taking an already existing franchise or property and warping it into a video game. As was most often the case, most of these games were very much the opposite of good, often playing like generic platformers that instead of evoking the themes and style of the franchise simply used the characters and story (often bent out of shape) to fit the gameplay.
Fortunately, that era died off roughly around the time the PS3 and Xbox 360 were entering their twilight years. The tie-in game is far more uncommon than it used to be; think about it, when was the last time you saw a game based on a Dreamworks film? As pleased as I am that this trend died off, I’m also glad that tie-in games still exist because when they’re done well they can often serve as a great companion to the property they’re based on, allowing players to go even more in-depth with the characters they love. Fortunately, Stranger Things 3: The Game is one of the better ‘uns.
Stranger Things 3 (I’m not gonna say “The Game” every time because it is a bit clumsy) plays out like an isometric action-adventure game with some light RPG elements. You’ll be able to play as all your favourite characters from the series (Yes, that includes Steve. Can Steve just be a playable character in every game?) and trek around the locations you’ve become familiar with as you trace the story of the third season fairly tightly. Be warned, definitely watch the series before playing the game because Stranger Things 3 tracks that series precisely with all the story beats and events occurring faithfully. The game is divided into chapters that mirror the episodes they’re based on, main quests following the story directly, while the side quests include more inconsequential events that aren’t exactly interesting but do their part in fleshing out the town of Hawkins and giving you just a little more to do.
Honestly, what surprised me most was how well the story is translated. Look, obviously a lot of nuance is lost when taking a live-action property and giving it the pixel-treatment but the story stands on its own. Even though I knew what was going to happen, I was still drawn in into the events as they were represented in the game. Adaption is a difficult business, that I can vouch for, so the fact that the game does such an effective job ought to be applauded. Yet as good as this adaption is, I think it’s also one that’s remarkably safe. Stranger Things 3 does a lot of things by that you’d expect in a game like this that I think can often feel a touch uninspired. There’s a lot of missed potential in this game’s DNA and while what is here is still a decent time, I can’t help but think about what could have been.
Combat is repetitive, although that repetition can be gauged on how willing you are to experiment with the different characters. Each character has a unique combat style that when combined with your second party member can lead to some interesting fights. As an example, Eleven is great at crowd control and has a higher chance to crit while Dustin uses poison damage to chip away at enemies and finish them off. Mike and his sister Nancy have fantastic single-target damage which can be effectively combo-ed with Jonathon’s stun ability. While not incredibly deep and varied in the combat scenarios, there are enough styles to experiment with and keep things moving forward at a reasonable pace, made a little more complex by the items that be crafted to boost stats, each being wonderfully flavourful to the 80’s horror scenario.
But beyond a smattering of puzzles thrown in for the sake of variety, that’s about it for Stranger Things 3. Some kind of progression system based on how frequently a character was used would have made combat feel more meaningful; the only thing really driving a player forward is to see the rest of the story and no matter how well it’s adapted, I would have enjoyed just a little more depth the actual gameplay. The other unfortunate piece of criticism I have to level at Stranger Things 3 are that the loadings screens come too fast and too frequently.
It’s difficult to really get into a rhythm of exploration when every location and sub-area within requires a loading screen to pass. Many of the areas just don’t seem large enough to require such an abundance of loading screens; if the explorable spaces had a few more secrets hidden in and amongst the houses and shops, I could understand this, but while they successfully flesh out Hawkins as a town, they do feel a touch unexplored in terms of how they could have expanded the world of Stranger Things even further.
Look, I have a golden rule when it comes to video game adaptions. If you can take away the property it’s based on, would it still be a good game? If not, then it’s done a poor job, but if it can stand as a product in its own right devoid of the franchise upon which it’s based, then I think its done a great job as both a videogame and an adaptation. Stranger Things 3 isn’t an easy fit into my metric because while it could stand to separate itself from the crowd a bit more, it’s not a bad game. In fact, it’s pretty good, with the flavour of Stranger Things making the experience even better. While a bit too safe and missing some of the potential in both the source material and the gameplay, Stranger Things 3: The Game is a great companion to the series that fans will no doubt enjoy. And at the end of the day, isn’t that the point of an adaptation?
Last Updated: July 12, 2019