As an avid fan of both horror films and video games, I’ve long awaited for a time when indie developers would rise up and begin stealing the show from the big box, triple A game companies, and usher in a new era of creativity. Back in the day, before the rise of the corporate gaming giants, some highly creative guys, many literally working out of their garages, were experimenting with the first story-driven video games. Whatever these forerunners lacked in graphics they usually more than made up for in substance, style, and narrative strength.
Fortunately for gamers (especially the PC gaming community), in this golden age of video gaming, we are witnessing not only a meteoric rise of the indie (in large part thanks to Steam), but also a return to substantive, unique games, with fascinating plots and narrative twists. Retro is in, and a whole slew of highly imaginative folks who may not have had the chance to create their Frankenstein’s monster now have the ability to do so through crowd funding campaigns. Survival horror and adventure games in particular have seen a surprising (and welcome) resurgence in the past couple of years, making gamers like me who are fans of these genres keeping an eye out for the next killer indie game.
There have been some drawbacks however, as many gamers have complained that too many adventure games suffer from inordinately complex puzzles, or flat, boring storylines, while horror fans have cited that the majority of popular indie survival horror games are nothing more than amusement rides fraught with jump scares and corny, tired, horror troupes.
Enter: STASIS, a science fiction/horror game from developer The Brotherhood, not surprisingly comprised of brothers Nic and Chris Bischoff. After two years in development and a successful Kickstarter campaign, the brothers have put together a game that relies less on loud and flashy scares and more on building tension through atmosphere and storytelling.
From the opening cinematic, which shows a large, forlorn looking research vessel flying in orbit around an equally cold and dismal planet Neptune, I was hooked. Echoes of the films Event Horizon and Alien came to mind, and so it was no surprise when I found out that the Bischoff brothers count those exemplars as major influences. While many of the game elements seem similar to game classics such as the original Silent Hill, System Shock 2, and Dead Space, the brothers have infused enough originality to build upon what has come before, in order to set their own unique style.
Players take the role of John Marachek, school teacher by trade, who was taking a trip with his family to Titan. We quickly find out that a few things went wrong after John wakes up in a stasis pod, replete with pools of grotesque, embryonic-looking fluids. Actually, the gooey stuff is now all over the floor because John wakes up in a pool of it, not knowing what happened. He has also suffered some pretty bad injuries including a few broken ribs, so, you must guide John through his first wobbly steps as he tries to seek out the ship’s infirmary for some medical lovin’.
What I liked about these opening moments was that they weren’t hand-holdy as many games can be nowadays. You, the player, have to figure out not only what is going on around you on the creepy ship, but how the game mechanics work. There is no cutesy little tutorial, just you and your curiosity and willingness to explore and find out what happened to your family, and what’s going on within the spooky ship. STASIS doesn’t leave you completely in the dark (so to speak), however, as there are many visual clues to investigate that can give you insight about your to your next objective. This type of setup compels (and rewards) the curious, meticulous player; those with the attention spans of goldfish on crack need not apply.
STASIS looks outstanding as an isometric/top-down, point-and-click game, with grungy, gloomy, pre-rendered backgrounds similar to such games as as Alone in the Dark and Resident Evil. The game’s main setting, the supposedly abandoned Groomlake research vessel, looks decrepit, dark, and brooding, just like any good horror/science fiction environment should. The music is also instrumental in setting this bleak mood, and its minimalist, tension building chords strike just the right tonality to heighten the terror quotient to jaw clenching levels. I particularly loved the digitized voices of the ship’s numerous on-board computer interfaces which John activates at different junctures throughout this chilling adventure.
STASIS may look retro, but make no bones about it, it offers plenty of thrills and chills just as long as you appreciate true horror, as opposed to cheesy jump scares bereft of even a glimmer of descent story-telling.
STASIS looks darn good. The retro, 70s style feel of it really confers the feeling that you’re playing through a hybrid of Alien and Event Horizon, but with its own unique, spine-tingling, horror appeal. Here is a PC gaming setup that will enable you to lap up all of that tense atmosphere that just oozes from every digital pore of STASIS:
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