Well, it's Halloween season – and this means candy, costumes, and most importantly, spooky video games. Whether you're playing the newest nail-biter, or revisiting a classic retro scare fest, there's no better way for an avid gamer to get into the spirit of the season than by playing a horror game. As a big-time horror move and video game aficionado, I am always on the lookout for a good spine-tingling title to really bring on the scares.
And so, we come to Stasis, a game released for the PC back in 2015. Billed as a “science fiction horror point-and-click adventure” game (whew, that's a lot of adjectives), Stasis may tread familiar ground, but the differences in gameplay and focus on trial-and-error exploration do enough to make it different – and is more than just another survival horror clone.
In Stasis, you play as John Maracheck, who awakens from his – you guessed it – stasis, to find out that he is no longer on the spaceship that he and his family were supposed to be on. Not only that, but everyone aboard the Groomlake has been mercilessly and grotesquely slaughtered by some unknown enemy. John is now tasked to find his wife and daughter, solve the mystery of what happened on the Groomlake, and escape the ship before it plunges into planet Neptune.
While it is heavily influenced by several horror video games, Stasis plays unlike other titles. For example, you can easily find similarities between Stasis and 2008's Dead Space. From the jump scares to the horribly twisted creatures, there's no doubt that the two have a lot on common. What sets Stasis apart, though, is how the game is played. The game is viewed from an isometric perspective, much like Diablo III or Transistor.Each area you visit is static; there is a fixed camera angle that does not change until you enter into the next area. Think of it as akin to the camera angles in the original Resident Evil and you're golden.
You control the action in Stasis with your mouse. It's pretty simplistic; just point and click on point of interest on your screen to view and interact with them. Most of the time, you'll get a detailed description of what's in that spot – be it a decaying corpse or a cryptic message written in blood. Other times, though, you'll find an item that you can keep in your inventory for later use. Additionally, you'll also find digital diaries, likely dropped by some poor soul seconds before they were ripped to shreds. These diaries help to tell the story of everything that went down on the Groomlake prior to John's awakening. The goal of Stasis is to search every nook and cranny, combine items, and use your puzzle-solving smarts to make it through this nightmare.
The Tip and The Top
There's a lot that Stasis does well: the atmosphere, the music, and the subtle nods to other horror films and games. The attention to detail in each scene forces you to study every inch, taking in all your surroundings. Before you know it, you definitely feel immersed. This one is also a real head-scratcher, as you're trying to find out how to solve the tricky puzzles. The good thing, though, is that the puzzles are not unfair. I only recommend searching diligently and trying to combine your items with every other item – including John himself.
The voice acting is also very well-done. The conversations between John and the other characters in the game (I'll leave that info out for spoiler's sake) are expertly portrayed throughout the game. The story is also top-notch. Some of my favorite ways a video game tells a story is not through cut-scenes, but by the environment. There's so much you can learn just by looking at the background and reading the litany of PDAs scattered about. The PDAs in particular are expertly-written, and really draw you into the horror that the scientists and engineers faced in their final days on the Groomlake.
Stasis is also surprisingly scary. From the very beginning, you feel this sense of unease, which grows stronger every step you take. Then, like any horror game worth it's keep, the jump scares hit you. I was not expecting this from an top-down point-and-click game, and I gladly welcomed it. On top of that, this game is not for those of you with weak constitutions. If you make a mistake, John will die in very graphic and painful ways. You do earn achievements for these deaths, so sometimes it's fun to watch yourself get melted or eaten, disgusting as it may be. There's also one scene in particular in which John needs to remove a tracking device. I won't ruin anything, but let's just say that “cringe worthy” doesn't even begin to describe it.
The Flip and the Flop
While Stasis is a fun game, it is not without its flaws. As stated earlier, the writing and voice acting are well done, but some of the dialogue can be pretty cheesy. When John gets distraught and starts crying (which happens a lot), it feels kind of “forced,” and doesn't really draw you in. This only happens a few times throughout the game, and it isn't really a deal breaker, but it does take you away from things a bit.
The biggest issue, however, has to do with some of the puzzles (and more importantly, their solutions). Each scene is crafted well, and as a result, it can be very easy to overlook an important note or item. It also doesn't help that you are stuck on a very dark spaceship, which can obscure some things. Often times I've had to go back to the same room several times and painstakingly search again and again until I happened upon the item that I needed. It doesn't make the game unplayable, mind you, but it does make some sections of Stasis frustrating.
I was not expecting a whole lot going into Stasis. Knowing what kind of game it was, I did not anticipate being drawn into the story as much as I was. You can tell a lot of work was put into Stasis, and with each PDA you read, puzzle you solve, and monster that forces you to jump backwards in your chair (yes, that did happen), you'll really appreciate this game as a quality survival horror title. And at a price point of $9.99 on Steam, it's absolutely worth it. So turn down the lights, pop on those headphones, and enjoy this horror game. After all, it's Halloween; everyone's entitled to one good scare.