Point-and-click adventure are one of the great staples of gaming, but also the easiest to make fun of. Pretty much everyone has cracked a joke about the illogical thinking that sometimes goes into them, and STASIS is no exception to that mockery, but it is likely the most valuable asset the game has. STASIS began, like many large-scale indie games nowadays, as a Kickstarter. It's an isometric point-and-click style adventure-horror title, set in the recesses of deep space within a research station. You control John Maracheck, a civilian who is awoken from stasis aboard the ship and begins exploring the ship in an effort to find his wife and daughter. Along the way he learns the terrible secret about the research being conducted there, with the help of a supposed ally, while trying to outrun the game's main villain.
STASIS is the type of game where it is easy to point out its faults and positive features. There really isn't much that's debatable and, for the most part, is easy to determine objectively. Let's start with the positive. It is obvious a lot of work went into the design of STASIS. Every area is very well-done and creates an impressive atmosphere. While some of it is fairly familiar, the type of thing you'd find in any sci-fi themed game, much of it truly shines.
The design of the puzzles is also excellent. Most of them are not so cryptic that a regular person won't be able to solve them, but still difficult enough that you feel fulfilled when you figure it out. The main issue with the design is it can be hard to find things sometimes. Adventure games are all about clicking every inch of the screen to find every single item you need to complete a certain challenge. With most of the scenes in STASIS being very dark, it can often be hard to find exactly what you're looking for. It doesn't help that they seem inconsistently marked, with some objects being emphasized by the common adventure game "glimmer" and others just blending into the background.
Now STASIS does run on adventure game logic, but not to the silliness of most point-and-click games. Some combinations of items seem silly, but many are fairly obvious, and most of the time it hits you that if you were actually holding the objects, or standing in the room, you'd figure it out a lot easier. Nothing really comes off as impractical, it's just the disconnect between the player and the physicality of the object.
What's more logical (for the most part) is the manner of death. Plus, most of the puzzles can be solved by reading the PDA logs scattered throughout the game. More on those in a bit. Logical in that, you can usually easily avoid it. You get an achievement for almost every death, so it's worth it to punish yourself at least once. Nearly all the deaths are things you're given ample warning about though.
STASIS also has some impressive voice acting, and for the most part, the sound is atmospheric. There is a lot of creepy ambiance around the ship, and occasionally even some highly appropriate music. Unfortunately, you have to take a step back to notice this because STASIS suffers from two major flaws that muck up the voice acting and sound: the dialogue and the story.
Now, as an adventure game, the story especially is vital and for the most part people seem to enjoy it, but there are quite a few things very off about it. Dialogue first though. It's just awful. Rarely are things in games like this truly awful, but it has been quite a long time since I have verbally told my computer to shut up because I was tired of listening to the characters.
It is a shame, since the voice actors really do a great job, but the words they're given are so often unnecessary, cheesy, and rip you out of the atmosphere. The main character commits the cardinal horror sin of self-commentary, where, often without provocation, he will simply narrate his feelings. Yes, I understand, it is terrifying to be on a ship surrounded by dead bodies. You don't have to tell me.
There's also a tendency for the dialogue to just get abundantly over-dramatic. Not to say drama isn't warranted, but this is the type of over-dramatic I can only describe as "Oscar bait." Towards the end, Maracheck stands in the middle of what appears to be a (sort of out of place) chapel, screaming to the heavens about how alone he is, and I just had to roll my eyes. The worst part is whenever you die, you almost always have to listen to a very long spiel of the same dialogue again. There is no way to skip it, though at some point you will try very hard to do so.
Now onto the story; it isn't awful like the dialogue, but it does leave a lot of holes and, frankly, it isn't very original. Throughout the game you learn that the research corporation in charge has a shady history and find out it's been conducting experiments to create some sort of ultimate weapon or "super soldier." The place is also infected with a fungus that has overrun the entire facility, and seems to be infecting some people in gruesome ways. You come across glimpses of the creatures, and later can see small, undeveloped versions of them. The main villain, Doctor Malan, is the one running all of it and has that villainous scientist creep factor, referring to them as his "children." Your ally, Te'ah, helps guide you through and find your wife and daughter, in the hopes of escaping.
At this point here's a spoiler warning.
Eventually Doctor Malan catches up to you, and this is pretty much the one surprising thing I think the story did right, because it was genuinely disturbing. He puts Maracheck in a room, watching his very young daughter playing happily on the other side, then unleashes one of his "hybrids" on her. There is no miracle, there is no sudden deus ex machina. I don't think I've ever seen a game ruthlessly kill a child on screen, and it was actually incredibly surprising—and a very gutsy move on the writers part.[caption id="attachment_56122" align="aligncenter" width="584"] Jeez.[/caption]
But it doesn't make the ending any less silly when, shockingly, Te'ah turns out to betray you. This is a horror movie after all, there is no such thing as friends! Maracheck kills Malan and Te'ah, managing to get his wife, still in stasis, off the ship. Here is where we get a cliffhanger that seems to insinuate his wife is either long dead or infected.[caption id="attachment_56121" align="aligncenter" width="584"] Betrayal in a horror game? Genius.[/caption]
Now, predictable twist aside, that doesn't seem so bad, until you realize it's basically Outlast in Space. Not that Outlast was the first to do a story like this, but it is the most notable, and did it far better. The story about a corrupt business conducting unethical research in order to further their own selfish goals is definitely nothing new, not in horror nor any other genre. I draw the comparison to Outlast because of the particularly graphic imagery, the down-to-earth and unprepared protagonist, the tendency to tell stories through notes and logs, and the elusiveness of the big "monster" that ties it altogether. But STASIS doesn't completely reach that point.
Early in the game we learn about one experiment, "Samantha," and it's told as if she is going to end up being the big monster at the end. Then she shows up once on the other side of a blood covered screen and never appears again. Truthfully, you never once are in danger by ANY of the hybrids, unless you count the giant Insect Queen who can only kill you if you're an idiot and walk up to her without preparing. This is such a big no-no in horror games. If you're going to have a monster, they should pose a threat, or at least, consistently make you think they do. At some point though, it became clear that none of these things were going to touch me, or even appear on screen in a truly threatening form.
Not to mention, while Outlast told its story and left it at that, the message clear enough, STASIS felt the need to really hammer the message home, like an after-school drug PSA. This goes back to the bad dialogue. It's so groan-worthy and almost feels like the game is lecturing you.
In fact, you have to use your imagination for a lot of the scarier stuff. Most of the deaths are straight forward, or from doing something carelessly. Meanwhile, the PDAs describe things like fungus growing inside people's brains, being skinned by terrible monstrosities, having spines ripped out. All things that come straight out of Mortal Kombat. It seems like cheating to describe things like that, but the most gruesome thing you die from is getting stung to death by bugs (that's the best one - most of them are just blowing yourself up somehow).
Speaking of the PDAs, these things get tiring. They were interesting at first, but after so many they become a chore. The majority provide no helpful informatiom and seem to exist to try to get the player to feel sympathy for characters long dead. They attempt to hammer this in by making the character react, but this only serves to make you more agitated.
Lastly, STASIS absolutely fails as a horror game. It's a shame because the atmosphere was wonderful, there are occasionally good scares, and there's some great details. You can occasionally see what appear to be ghosts walking just off screen or toward the character, the silhouette of a monster in the walls, little sounds in the background that sound like broken communication devices and screams. Little details like that, that just exist in the game, that the characters don't commentate on. Things like that are absolutely fantastic, and alone, would make the atmosphere perfect. But threats seem to pop up and are never heard from again, Maracheck drones on and on, and there's nothing special about the story to keep you interested.
They tried very hard to make the protagonist relatable, and they almost went backwards. I didn't care about Maracheck nearly as much as I cared about Miles Upshur or Waylon Park. I didn't really care about his struggle, which seems specifically designed to try and make him as ultra sympathetic as possible. It feels phoned in, and the game stops being scary. Because I never once found I could relate to him—he reacted too much, he spoke too much—I couldn't feel myself in his position because I wasn't given the opportunity to react for myself to most of it. This is not just a horror no-no, this is a video game no-no. You are perfectly allowed to have a developed protagonist, but you still need to give the player a chance to process the story for themselves. We don't need to be told how to feel—let the story do that on its own.
Now there is one more thing I want to mention, but I feel it stands as its own point. It only occurs once in the game, and it is actually so fantastic, I almost want an entire game centered around something like this. Around the midway point, your protagonist must conduct surgery on himself in order to remove what amounts to a tracking device from under his skin. To accomplish this, the player has to interpret a flashy screen to make sure things are cut in the correct order to avoid dying. The entire sequence is genuinely stressful and incredibly well-done, and it's a scenario where you catch yourself acting on instinct. Which is perfect for a horror game. Even in the scene directly afterwards, where the protagonist recovers as a hybrid creeps around the room, eating at a corpse, is well done.
I point this out because it shows, somewhere, there was a lot of good ideas for this game. But they're so scattered—you never see anything like this sequence again. None of the other puzzles or tasks induce the same amount of stress, and it was the highlight of the game for me (also, looks super cool. Might make it my wallpaper).[caption id="attachment_56120" align="aligncenter" width="584"] Surgeon Simulator 2016[/caption]
Now STASIS is functional and likely a good game for fans of the point-and-click style adventure. Fans of horror are bound to be disappointed, and if you dare think too long about the story, you'll find that's where all the truly illogical thinking went. As a side note, there isn't much exploring to do in the game. This isn't the fault of the game of course, just the style. It took me about 6 hours, which may be a bit longer, and costs about $25 USD, which is a debatable cost-to-time spent, especially since it doesn't have a ton of replay value. Overall, it doesn't seem like quite the title it's been hyped to be.
This game was provided by the developer and reviewed on Steam.