August 31, 2015 5:00 PM | Joel Couture
You would think that the creations of a mad scientist, dangerously faulty machinery, or the void of space would be the biggest dangers in Stasis. They're not. Plain old human stupidity is your worst enemy throughout the game, dogging you at every turn as you open doors to toxic gas-filled rooms, set fire to a lighter in a gas leak, or walk right into the path of machine guns. At least, if you're as dumb as me, you do. It's a dangerous point-and-click world on the Cayne Corporation ship, but to solve puzzles in this kind of game, sometimes you have to try something no matter how silly. At least dying is entertaining, though.
John awakens from a vat of mystery fluid with no idea how he got in it, but with an inkling that he ought to find his missing wife and kid. That's more than enough reason to get to work exploring the dark, machine-filled halls of Stasis. You are a very tiny man in a ship filled with huge machines, though, something the game never lets you forget through its game's isometric view. Scope is an important part of every screen in the game, with each area constantly closing in on the tiny player with its looming, rusted technologies. Dimly lit, these metal giants give the game an oppressive sense of oncoming doom. All of the machines in the ship seem to have failed or are broken, leaving you to wonder how much time you have left or if one, in a spurt of functionality, will crush, electrocute, or burn you.
If you're not worrying about that just from the point of view, the game will give you reasons soon enough. Stasis thrives on finding ways for the player to die, and while it's not offing you as frequently as games like Shadowgate, it'll still kill you often. This comes partly from the kind of unconventional puzzle solving found in most point-and-click games, where instead of chipping ice off of a door, you instead break an extremely powerful furnace using several tools all at once in order to thaw it out. Thing is, you may have solved the puzzle, but there is an added layer of danger to it that requires a bit more thought. You might know to blow a gas leak with a lighter, but if you don't do it with certain steps, it'll kill you in a spectacular way. This created another step of complexity to most of the game's puzzles, further complicating them. You may be using the right items, but are you doing it the right way? Are you positioned carefully? They made for neat considerations, and also some pretty gruesome deaths when you messed up.
Not that Stasis' puzzles are overly complicated. They did stump me from time to time, but for the most part, the game can be quite logical. I don't say that often in this genre, but the puzzles mostly make a lot of actual sense with their solutions. This is helped by specifically indicating items you can use and interact with. If you hover the mouse over a usable item, the indicator will change. If the item has no importance, a description will pop up at the bottom of the screen. This makes it easy to know what you need to pick up or use during your current area. Your inventory is also limited to a handful of spaces, so even if you want to try everything on a given puzzle, it doesn't take that long. It's made complicated through the pesky spectre of death, but for the most part, learning what you need to do isn't all that bad.
That being said, sometimes it can be hard to see the things you need to interact with in the environment. Some items are small or blend in a little too well, so you really need to hover your mouse over every little thing in a given area to make sure you haven't missed anything. This was the problem every single time I got stuck, and I soon learned that I had to pay VERY close attention to anything that could be useful in the area. The mouse pointer can be a little fussy in regards to these items, too, requiring you hold it right over the item rather than sweep it around the room while looking for the pointer to change. There's no shortcuts in the game - you need to slowly search each room if you want to get through. That's not bad, but rushed players may find themselves getting stuck a lot.
Sound is used to ramp up tension in the game, and it does a good job. Errant screams, creaks from nearby machinery, and other odd noises will make your heart leap in your chest. Fear isn't all the developers are looking for, though, as they bring in other sickening, wet noises to get your stomach churning. The sound effects create a wonderful immersion, filling the world with humming machinery, screams, and unknown cries. The music is almost silent in many areas, letting the player focus on the noises that make the ship, and the horrors onboard, feel real enough to really imagine yourself there.
Writing also strengthens that atmosphere, though spoken dialogue and the reams of PDA logs strewn about. Everyone who's dying on a space shuttle starts keeping a journal for some reason - beats scrapbooking, I guess. Many of these journals give a lot of background on what has happened to the ship, telling stories from different perspectives that create an interesting whole. It's nothing mandatory to know, but seeing the interrelation of many of the characters was neat. For being something a player might never actually read, they're full of interesting people slowly tumbling into despair. It's a whole lot to read, but most of it is pretty good and felt worth the time spent poring over the digital pages. The main story wasn't bad, too, although it felt a little too much like many sci-fi stories of mad science I have read before. It's decently-written, but I enjoyed the optional PDAs far more than the main story.
It isn't helped by the fact that, while you can die often, it's not especially scary. It feels a little unnerving when spooky things happen around you, but for most of the game, the creatures only threaten. You're mostly in danger from falling into machinery or making bad decisions, which is about as frightening as a day at work in a factory. The game does do a good job of creating atmosphere through story and sound, but I never got a sense that there was really anything I, as the player, should be afraid of. Games like The Last Door do something similar, using sound and atmosphere to create dread without an enemy directly attacking you, but Stasis' writing and atmosphere didn't feel quite up to the task of scaring its players.
Why this is may be hard to pinpoint. Did the isometric view make me feel like I was distant from the action, therefore feeling somewhat detached from it all? Did the abundance of voice acted characters make it feel like there was always someone around, taking away the fear that loneliness causes? Were the game's quiet moments of safety just a little too long, letting me get complacent and disengaged from the narrative? All of these little things, while not technically big problems, sucked most of the fear out of the experience for me. It's creepy, to be sure, but if you're looking to feel a little frightened, Stasis didn't seem up to the job for me.
As an unsettling experience with some interesting puzzles, Stasis will please. Its huge halls and complex machinery look great, giving a sense of imminent death coming from lousy work on behalf of the safety committee. The writing is filled with little hidden gems of great characterization, and does some interesting things with the plot even though it does feel like it's ground that's been tread a little too often before. Stasis is a solid point-and-click game with some fun additions to keep players on their toes. Even if it doesn't frighten its players, it will make them uncomfortable as they wander the bloody halls, wondering if their next mistake will be their last.
Stasis will be available for $24.99 on Steam and GOG (with a 20% discount for launch week). For more information on the game and The Brotherhood Games, you can head to the developer's site, the game's site, or follow them on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.