Reviews

Stasis

A Kickstarter success story, Stasis is an old-school horror adventure game created by a tiny South African development studio called The Brotherhood. In fact, it’s the labour of love of one man – Chris Bischoff, who designed and developed the game while a few others helped with the music, writing and voice acting. It’s a truly commendable effort that is not only a refreshing take on a slightly overdone genre, but also a pretty damn good adventure game in its own right.

Stasis borrows heavily from sci-fi/horror fiction, especially movies like Alien, Event Horizon, Prometheus and Pandorum, as well as the Dead Space series. The game is played from a fixed isometric perspective that’s very reminiscent of old RPG and adventure games. You control John Maracheck, a school teacher who wakes up from stasis aboard a giant space vessel called Groomlake. Much of the ship lies in ruins and there’s death and decay everywhere. The last thing he remembers is putting his wife and daughter in cryosleep on a passenger ship before entering stasis himself. Determined they’re still alive and onboard the Groomlake, he sets out to find them, hoping to leave the sinister ship as soon as possible.

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It’s a simple premise but the game immediately draws you in with its brilliant art direction and sound design. The Groomlake is a dark and foreboding place and definitely seems inspired by the Nostromo from Alien and the titular ship from Event Horizon. The game has a gritty worn-out aesthetic that is perfectly conveyed by the stunning 2D artwork. Each location feels lovingly handcrafted and there are some areas that simply made me stop and stare.

Horror games these days tend to rely on cheap scare tactics and jump scares (thanks to the ever popular Let’s Play videos on YouTube), but Stasis takes a more mature approach towards horror. There are a few jump scares but they’re used very sparingly and effectively. And if you thought that an isometric game couldn’t be scary, Stasis will certainly change that. The game creates a truly unnerving atmosphere via the visuals, sounds and the sparse but effective soundtrack. There’s a sense of dread that permeates throughout John’s horrifying journey through the vessel.

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Computer terminals and PDAs left behind by unfortunate crew members give you background information on what went down aboard the ship and I personally found these to be quite effective and well-written. The same goes for the short descriptions that appear when you mouse-over certain objects. Stasis certainly isn’t a game for the squeamish as there’s a heavy dose of body horror with some truly disturbing scenes. Some of the descriptions and visuals can get quite graphic and there are a couple of scenes that will likely stick with you long after you’ve finished the game. Also, unlike many other adventure games, John can actually die if you are not careful, usually in grisly fashion. In fact, figuring out ways in which John can be killed is the only way to get some of the achievements.

You’ll explore various locations in the ship, pick up items and solve puzzles in order to progress. The puzzles can range from easy to smart to frustratingly obtuse, depending on your experience with point-and-click adventure games. There is a fair amount of pixel hunting involved and the dark and grainy visuals can obscure objects. Sometimes it’s even difficult to see where John is when you enter a new room, a minor annoyance at best, but I kept running into it quite often. There were at least a couple of puzzles where only trial and error, rather than lateral thinking, got me through. Still, for most part, the gameplay is quite satisfying and challenging. It took me about six hours to finish the game and I think this is the right length for a game of this type. It felt like a brisk, scary ride that did not overstay its welcome.

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While the game has a brilliant opening and consistently amps up the horror, I was slightly disappointed with the last third of the story. The explanation for the horrible events on the Groomlake was predictable and the game features a certain pivotal character that doesn’t fit the style or the narrative. The voice acting is also somewhat inconsistent; John is fine for most part, but the rest of the cast ranges from mediocre to hammy. There’s also some dissonance between the voice-acted dialogue and the written text in PDAs and mouse-over descriptions, which feels a little jarring. The dialogue has a slightly campy undertone to it, especially in the latter half of the game, which contrasts with the realism of the other elements.

That said, Stasis is still unlike any other game I’ve played in a long time. It truly feels old-school and can totally pass for something made in the 90s. The story isn’t exactly original, but it managed to keep me hooked throughout. I’m also glad that it has absolutely no hand-holding whatsoever and some of the puzzles can get aggravating, usually in a good way. The game offers hints in clever ways and there are a couple of instances where you actually need a pen and paper to take notes. Some may be bothered by the low-res graphics and choppy cinematics, but the artwork is consistently stunning, making it a non-issue.

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There are indie games that are great in a “good for an indie game” sense and then are those which are pretty good regardless. Stasis is the latter. It’s a well made game that manages to entertain, disturb, challenge and disgust with equal measure. The story stumbles towards the end and some of the puzzles can get a bit tedious, but it is one hell of a scary experience that’s unlike any other recent horror game.

Reviewer’s rig:

  • Processor: Intel Core i5 4670k 3.5 Ghz
  • Motherboard: Asrock Extreme 4 Z87 Pro
  • Graphics: Sapphire HD 7970 OC with Boost 3 GB
  • RAM: 8 GB G.Skill Ripjaws X DDR3
  • Keyboard: Logitech standard
  • Mouse: Logitech G300
  • Other input device: Wired Xbox 360 Controller

IVG's Verdict

8/10
  • Highly atmospheric
  • Gorgeous 2D artwork
  • Great sound design and music
  • Challenging puzzles
  • Story gets disappointing towards the end
  • Some trial and error needed
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