Review: Stasis Is Stubbornly Old School, Timelessly Creepy
Stasis is a game that hearkens back to the old days of isometric gaming, point and click adventures and frustratingly obtuse puzzles.
- Worth The Time?Absolutely, provided you don't scare easily.
- Things LovedThe visual style is surprisingly effective at matching the game's sound and tone; on that note the sound design is brilliantly creepy; the bit-part narrative which players must piece together is excellently delivered in tandem with environmental clues; the puzzles and problems are mostly excellent exercises and lateral thinking.
- Things HatedThe downside of the puzzles is that they can be frustratingly obscure with little discernible logic behind the solution; the point and click mechanics leave a little to be desired; animations are wooden; voice acting is inconsistent; they killed Jupiter the cat.
- RecommendationStasis has its issues and too often gets caught up in old issues of isometric as well as point and click games which simply have not been addressed. It more than makes up for it by being an atmospheric and uncompromising thriller. If you grew up playing point and click adventure or mystery games then Stasis is a great, nostalgic gem if you can stomach the absolute creepiness. This is a must-play for horror-buffs who love a good, chilling atmosphere.
- Name: Stasis
- Genre: Creepy fettuccine
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: N/A
- Platforms: PC
- Developer: The Brotherhood
- Publisher: The Brotherhood, Daedelic Entertainment
- Price: $24.99
- Reviewed On: PC
You’re abruptly woken out of stasis (roll credits), you’re aboard an eerily quiet ship that’s not your own, seriously injured, your wife and daughter are nowhere in sight and… OH GOD, WHAT ARE THOSE HORRIBLY DECAYED BODIES DOING HERE?
John Maracheck was just an average guy on his way to Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, for a vacation. Him, his wife and daughter went into hypersleep for the journey and this is what he wakes to.
Things don’t get much better for poor John after that.
Stasis is an isometric point and click horror adventure which lives up to each of those descriptors in ways both great and troublesome. More on that later.
Stasis is heavily influenced by the sci-fi thrillers and horrors of the 70s and 80s with the strongest comparison being Alien. In fact, plenty of comparisons can be drawn between Stasis and last year’s Alien: Isolation.
The game’s version of the Nostromo is scientific research vessel The Groomlake. It’s incarnation of the dubious corporate overlord is the Cayne Corporation.
Through PDA diary entries, liberal amounts of blood splatter and the eerie silence John gathers that some travesty has befallen the Groomlake and while piecing together just what the hell is going on John also embarks on a mission to find his family.
Early on you discover that in addition to pedaling a criminally disgusting looking energy drink called Jukka Cola, Cayne Corporation has been using the Groomlake for experiments that would be bogged down by things such as “ethics” or “safety hazards” on any of the off-world colonies. Predictably, things went horrifically wrong and now everyone is dead or at least most of everyone.
It’s the familiar story of a deranged corporation doing some mad science in space and it all going wrong to kickstart the plot.
The plot is gleaned from a series of unreliable narrators via their PDA diary entries. It weaves together an interesting and engrossing picture of life on the Groomlake as well as a glimpse into what Cayne was up to. It also inspires a sense of sympathy for some of massacred corpses you encounter. For example, the diary entries of two friends offer both sides of their relationship with one ultimately lamenting the death of her close friend. You then happen upon the body of said close friend and it means something to you as a player. It’s not just another piece of set-dressing. That was Erica. The most affecting death though is that of a crewmember’s beloved cat, Jupiter.
This is an excellent way to deliver the story while simultaneously promoting exploration and preserving the atmospheric silence.
The choice by creator Chris Bischoff to put Stasis in an isometric space rather than a fully 3D one is peculiar, even in today’s world of 8-bit sidescrolling throwbacks. It manages to work brilliantly in creating a claustrophobic environment without the typical disorientation that comes with moving through the tight spaces of your usual horror title. Unfortunately it is hampered by John’s wooden movement and animations. He jerks from one preset animation to the next as you click here, there and everywhere. Furthermore he follows a set path to each point of interest rather than the shortest path. It’s a little funny to see John run all the way around a large desk to get to a door when it was a few steps away from him to begin with.
While the isometric visual perspective and 90s visual style give the game an old school aesthetic, the rigid and jerky animations make the game look old in motion. They should certainly be more fluid for a game in 2015. Granted, John’s movements are at least less jarring than AC Unity’s Arno.
This problem of looking old while trying to capture a bygone aesthetic is mirrored in the gameplay. The game plays much the same as it would if it were made back when Monkey Island was the most fun a kid could have on their PC. It’s purely point and click and point and click and point and click. Sometimes with a little too much of both.
You see, while games such as Stasis, which adopts an uncompromising approach to puzzle-solving, prove just how spoiled our brains are with the simplicity and hand-holding of modern games Stasis takes it one step further by suffering from the same problems as those old games.
Stasis is so uncompromising that the only options are to adjust brightness and volume. Even on full brightness the game is pretty dark. This becomes a problem when some necessary object is all but invisible and the player must carefully scour the room with their mouse to find something. It’s a frustrating aspect which makes solving puzzles and indeed simply playing the game a tedious affair at times.
John can hold a number of items which can be used in varied and interesting ways. For example, a hypodermic needle previously used to administer a magical healing tonic can be used to draw blood from John, a shard of glass can be used to commit seppuku. Stasis promotes experimenting with what’s on hand. Sometimes in brilliant ways, other times in ludicrously obtuse ways.
Perhaps some explanation is necessary here.
By reading an engineer’s notes you figure out that a rupture in a set of storage tanks will cause a security system reset and allow you to unlock an elevator. This is a lovely little puzzle to solve, albeit one of the easy ones.
Later on the puzzles get a wee bit more complicated but in doing so they sometimes become obtuse and the imprecise pointing coupled with an unclear indication of what can be interacted with makes for a lot of time wasted on something that you may have figured out 20 minutes ago but then had to furiously attempt to execute through blind trial and error.
It is worth noting that this obtuseness sometimes produces hilarious and pleasantly unexpected surprises. For example, given a mass of tissue peppered with bits of bone and sinew how would you go about refining said tissue? Probably not beating it to a beefy consistency with an empty pistol.
For the most part, solving the challenges that Stasis presents players with requires lateral thinking, careful attention and a little bit of exploration. It is unfortunately only occasionally mired by the imprecise controls, abject darkness, obscurity of certain solutions and vague notions of what can and cannot be interacted with.
The crowning achievement of Stasis is proving that in something as unassuming as an isometric point and click game atmosphere makes all the difference between a decent game and a gloriously creepy horror experience. The phantom screams, blood splattered walls, fleeting shadows, unexplained clangs and prolonged periods of abject silence make for a genuinely disturbing experience.
You see, you can freak people out without resorting to cheap jump scares.
Even though the perspective keeps everything just a little too far away to be in great detail, the general tone of terror and unease is conveyed with skill through clever use of colour and contrast with most of the work being done by the sound design and your imagination.
If you pay attention to the PDA entries and piece the bit-part clues together then the latter part of Stasis’ plot is rather predictable, though no less freaky in action. What’s most striking about Stasis’ progression is that each challenge and puzzle is logically relevant to the plot and there is no puzzling for puzzling’s sake. It all makes sense and has narrative relevance other than to merely take up game time.