STASIS punches well above its weight, delivering a chilling and intense adventure experience. Atmospheric and with an overall unnerving style, the title is a must for fans of sci-fi horror.
In recent years, horror games have seen a tremendous resurgence. Once threatened with becoming a bygone subgenre incorporated into the world of third-person shooters, the survival horror game has once again found a place in the market. This was partly down to a huge boom in independent horror titles, which have been propelled to the top of Steam rankings by the success of YouTube Let's Play stars such as PewDiePie.
However, some of these games are not without criticism, with gamers complaining that they are nothing more than jump scares, or the equivalent of a digital haunted house ride. That's where STASIS intends to buck the trend. The result of a successful Kickstarter campaign from 2013, the horror-themed sci-fi adventure from developer The Brotherhood aims to focus less of cheap scares, instead giving the player nightmares through tension, atmosphere, and plot.
It has to be said that The Brotherhood, which is a two man development team of Chris & Nic Bischoff, has done a tremendous job in building an uncomfortable setting. STASIS starts the player on a seemingly abandoned space ship, almost derelict and falling apart at the seams. It's a setting that will be familiar for any gamer who has a penchant for space-based horror, with tones of the original Dead Space, cult classic System Shock 2, and in particular the Alien franchise.
The similarities also go into the immediate story. The player is cast into the role of John, a man who wakes up from a stasis pod on the Groomlake research vessel with nothing but bloodstains on the floor for company. Players will soon discover that the Groomlake, which is owned by the mysterious Cayne corporation, has been carrying out morally dubious research in the confines of space. Within this terrifying setting, John must try to find his wife and daughter.
Although the game’s initial story kernel is not a particularly original one, with the player character desperate to find his missing family after waking up in this unknown location, it is still effective. There is an immediate desire to solve the mystery, and a sense of urgency akin to the original Silent Hill. The stakes are set high, and uncovering the truth about the Cayne corporation's plans is a rewarding and chilling process.
Discovering exactly what happened on board the Groomlake brings the title closer to System Shock 2 once more. The player finds PDA data log files scattered across the ship, often on the bodies of those caught up in the events. Giving detailed descriptions of an individual's experiences aboard the Groomlake, the player is then drip-fed elements of the plot. It gives the huge ship a feeling of lost humanity, as John begins to know the names, feelings, and history of people he will never meet.
Those same data logs are also integral for working out many of the game's puzzles. Reading the PDAs left by the unfortunate crew of the Groomlake will give vital hints on how to continue. Those playing STASIS should pay attention to what they are reading: not only because of the well-crafted prose, but because the deceased crew will sometimes reveal the location of necessary objects.
Adventure games such as STASIS generally fall apart because of two major reasons: an uninteresting plot and unnecessarily obtuse puzzles. Thankfully, The Brotherhood has not only made the story and atmosphere pitch-perfect, but it ties wonderfully into the puzzle-solving process. Unlike some of the games released during the heyday of point-and-click adventure titles, the player is unlikely to be left throwing random items together to try to proceed to the next part of the game. The puzzles, in general, make sense, with items that fit the overall themes and aesthetic.
Indeed, the actual graphical style of STASIS is incredibly impressive, with an isometric viewpoint that is instantly reminiscent of Shadowrun or the early Fallout games. Chris Bischoff is such a fan of the post-apocalyptic RPG franchise that he recently created some concept art detailing how Fallout 4 would look if it was created in the style of its predecessors. Yet again, The Brotherhood wears its influences on its sleeve, whilst simultaneously building on them to create a unique tone.
As well as this isometric viewpoint, which shares striking similarities to fellow horror/adventure hybrid Sanitarium, the title also uses static backdrops to great effect. It's a move that flies in the face of modern horror trends, but there's a long history of horror classics using pre-rendered backgrounds, including the likes of Resident Evil, Alone in the Dark, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, and even the chilling Shinra Headquarters section of Final Fantasy VII. It allows the Groomlake to become a brooding, dark location, and almost a character in its own light.
The only thing is may have been lost by the graphical choice is a sense of scale during certain scenes. STASIS features a variety of locations, from expansive testing chambers to claustrophobic corridors, and sometimes it feels as though these environments could have shone stronger through a first- or third-person perspective. However, the foreboding atmosphere of the Groomlake is still more than apparent in most cases.
The slight detachment via the isometric perspective adds an additional element of fear to the title's monster designs as well. The Groomlake is a full-on bodyhorror nightmare, with freakish creatures and bizarre creations hidden in the shadows. Mainly seen in snippets, or from a disant perspective, the player's imagination works in tandem with the truly grotesque models that The Brotherhood has created, alongside the cyberpunk stylings of the ship itself.
There are some moments of humanity, however, with John having flashbacks and meeting with rare survivors amongst the fearsome monsters of the Groomlake. These encounters result in a pop-up character portrait appearing, putting a face on these rare moments of communication. It helps give a level of personality to some of the otherwise unremarkable character models, and a little more humanity to the characters.
Unfortunately, the visual quality alone does not quite make up for some of the other character shortcomings. Although the player character himself is well-developed, in part thanks to some fantastic voice acting, unfortunately some of the other survivors are lacking in depth. The game's antagonists are disappointingly two-dimensional at times, limiting their overall affect on the player.
The characters are not the only flaw in STASIS - although thankfully negatives are few and far between. Whilst the puzzles are normally fluid and logical, there are a few moments where they can be a little on the frustrating side - particularly when quick time event-esque instant death moments are the developer's challenge of choice. Thankfully, these moments are few and far between.
Overall, there are only minor quibbles to be had regarding STASIS, which delivers a remarkable level of quality. Although the game's influences are clear, this is not a simple homage to earlier games, instead acting as an incredibly well-crafted horror adventure. The Brotherhood has delivered on its promise of a nuanced and terrifying horror title, and one that is bound to give plenty of chills.
STASIS is out now for PC and Mac. Game Rant was provided a PC code for this review.