Thursday, September 3, 2015

PC Review #125: STASIS

Title: Stasis
Developer: The Brotherhood
Platforms: PC, Mac
Price: $24.99
The last twelve months have been a wonderful time for sci-fi horror fans. Alien: Isolation last October; Solarix, Duskers, and Quadrant this year; SOMA later this month. And of course, now Stasis. The sci-fi horror adventure game has been in development for five years, highly anticipated due to its isometric art and gory gritty style.

Having finished Stasis a few days ago, I think it's safe to say the game absolutely succeeds, delivering the kind of industrial atmosphere and gruesome visuals that would make Ridley Scott and David Cronenberg proud.
To put it simply: this is one disturbing and violent horror game. Stasis earns its M rating, in terms of both narrative and content. You are John Maracheck, who awakes from stasis on the mysterious vessel The Groomlake. Your family is missing, and the pools of blood and body parts are a clear indication that something very bad has happened on the ship. Drifting in deep space around Neptune, far from earth, no help is coming.

As you search the massive Groomlake for your family, you'll discover the truth behind the research and experiments conducted there, through the PDA logs of scientists and crew members. Those short vignettes flesh out the world, provide insight into the horrific secrets of the Groomlake, and give the setting a real sense of place. It's not just a drifting haunted house; people lived and worked here.

Due to the focus on the narrative, the less known about the plot, the better, but I'll say it's mature, engrossing, and realistic. You're just a normal man, looking for his family, on a research vessel-turned-living nightmare.
Being an adventure game, Stasis is all about puzzles. For the most part, the puzzles and goals were pretty logical, adhering to the rules and tone of the setting. Let's just you have more uses for viscera here than you do in other adventure games. You might need to figure out how to falsify a secret alert to open a locked door, how to bypass a bio-metric scanner, or clear toxic gas from a room. One of the engaging aspects about Stasis' puzzles is that many of the clues and hints are found in the game's logs, facts and statements that you could use to solve puzzles or learn how to fix a problem.

However, the game also had several more obtuse puzzles, with confusing combination and uses of items that left me stumped for a while.
You might be wondering how an isometric adventure game can be scary. There's no combat in the game (although you might need to use the environment to neutralize some dangers). But make no mistake, Stasis is a scary game, focusing on constant unease, fantastic sound design, and some incredibly disturbing visuals and situations. The grimy and blood-soaked industrial corridors of the Groomlake feel claustrophobic and eerie; the echoing screams and other ambient noises only add to the atmosphere.

You aren't safe either; there are many gruesome ways to die on the Groomlake, from being melted to more...exotic deaths. The stakes are high, and the things John has to do to survive and find his loved ones are easily on par with gaming's most uneasy and disturbing moments. If you thought Heavy Rain's Lizard Trial or Dead Space 2's eye surgery were nauseating, Stasis finds a way to top those moments. This is horror on an intimate level, rather than shadows and monster closets and jump spaces (although there are some of those too).
But Stasis isn't perfect. The ending of the game felt rushed and abrupt, and the narrative conclusion unsatisfying and cliched. And, as mentioned before, the occasional obtuse and confusing puzzles can bring the pacing to a frustrating halt.

Despite those gripes, Stasis was one of the most engaging game I've played this year. It's a tightly focused game, about a solid 8 or 9 hours of puzzles and exploration. The unnerving soundscape, the disturbing and mature atmosphere, the wonderfully detailed isometric art style all coalesce into a sci-fi horror game absolutely worth experiencing

You can purchase Stasis on Steam and GOG.

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