“Without a family, man, alone in the world, trembles with the cold.” The profound statement opens science fiction adventure horror game STASIS, developed by The Brotherhood. The somber cinematic opening and haunting introductory orchestrated music foreshadows what is to come. So, what is STASIS? Take the following influences: Sanitarium, Alien, Event Horizon, and adventure games dating back to Sierra classics like Space Quest, then pretend you could compress them into actual paints on a palette. Now create a canvas painting using the quote above as your muse, and you would have the haunting game STASIS.
The Brotherhood is comprised of Chris Bischoff, and his brother Nick. While most of the big credits seem to rest on Chris’s shoulders, but several Bischoff’s are credited under the ‘Special Thanks’ section of the credits. I found it interesting since it has something to do with the central theme for STASIS. This game began with a Kickstarter campaign, and nearly two years later, after lengthy alpha and beta testing, well, the end result was worth the long wait. What has this small group accomplished? Well a very impressive first release for one.
Chris Bischoff’s writing and game editing is phenomenal and the clear element stealing the limelight. A good science fiction story does not mire itself in the technical details of the futuristic and implausible necessarily. It is the stage on which drama, problems, or critical moral dilemmas are resolved. You play as John Marachek, a common man, a father, and husband, who is taking his family on a trip to Titan. Not sure what is waiting for them on Titan, maybe it’s space Disney, but when John rudely plops on the floor coughing up stasis fluids, its clear he’s anywhere but Space Disney. His family? Gone. Unknown. What is known is something horrible happened, or maybe is happening aboard the Groomlake, the scientific research vessel you are now on. All around blood and twisted corpses paint a clear and horrible image of the on going horrors that struck everyone on board. STASIS is a game that does not pull punches, and you will come face to face with some of the more gruesome truths as to the destinies of most of the inhabitants.
As you awaken your computerized suit tells you that you are injured, several ribs are broken. You begin to take control of John, and stagger him around the first few rooms to get him to a medical station. There is no game tutorial, and there doesn’t need to be, this is up to you to explore. Up to you if you want to read, understand, and take in more than the visual surroundings offer or not. That said, there are plenty of visual cues to drive you to your next objective. Most of the game’s situations have a logical progression to them, so you shouldn’t be lost very long at any given moment. Arriving at the medical area, your first puzzle begins to take shape as you struggle to activate the scanner, administer the medical solution, and prepare yourself to embark on the rest of your journey. This is the type of game you leave no cup unturned, no corner unexplored, as each puzzle and menace is meticulously plotted for you to solve. Emails, letters, and PDA’s go beyond the game’s central narration to slowly paint a picture of the disasters that have befallen the Groomlake. The sacrifices, and horror it’s occupants felt until they met their bitter end. Not everyone has been turned into space sloppy Joe’s mind you, you are soon contacted by another resident Te’Ah who vows to help you resolve the most precious question on John’s mind ‘Where’s my family?‘. As a father and husband myself, something about John immediately sucked me in, I could relate to him quickly. His reactions to each gruesome new discovery heightened his disgust, his disbelief in the nightmare unfolding, and the urgency to get to his child and wife. Marachek is a simple school teacher, not a soldier, or a mercenary, but his determination pushes him beyond the normal threshold of what an ordinary man can do.
The game is presented in a classic isometric view. It’s look and style immediately made me think: Sanitarium. The gameplay progression is about intuitively solving the constant roadblocks between John and getting to his family. Each puzzle requires a logical approach. For example, the medical area you first come across. While examing each element in the room, you’ll notice the circuit breaker box when you walk in. If you simply experiment with each button, you will notice one of the buttons actually powers the room, but it only has enough power to enable one device at a time. Logic would dictate, you need to enable the medical scanner to first see what treatment John needs. After doing so you can enable the medical surgical arm, or life support devices and tinker around with those before moving on. You’ll often progress through areas and pat yourself on the back for solving a series of problems in a row.
Inevitably you will run into one of the 3-4 brick walls this game tosses at you. These areas are nearly impossible to figure out without major backtracking and experimentation. While the lack of explanation heightens the mystery and even immerses you with John’s intimidation of the unknown, for some areas it becomes an extremely frustrating foray into backtracking and clicking everything 400 times. These puzzles could have used some refinement. Some of the games hard puzzles do have clues on how to solve them scattered in PDAs or other imagery around the station – and when you see them there’s a certain sense of accomplishment. Some of the puzzles have no rhyme or reason though, and no real clue leading up to them. Those were the ones that I would call up my Editor in Chief and whined incessantly over the three hours I had just spent in the damnit-all-to-hell-hydroponics bay (for the record that is GWTW’s official name for this stage) trying to get past these stupid killer insects. I could have done with a little guidance here guys.
Another small caveat with this game appears to be the glitch full screen view. Now, checking online it appears this only affects Windows 10 users, and dual monitor players. The problem appears to be that going off to the corners to select inventory or the game menu will somehow click the desktop ejecting you from the game momentarily. You can alt-tab back, and resume, and after a while I learned to hit those corners with care. This is a minor issue that I am sure will be patched after the game is released. These are really the only issues I had with the game. The rest was commendable. Graphics, while classic and not cutting edge, were intricate, and detailed. Together with the cries of pain, and haunting sounds of the Groomlake, the atmosphere for thrills is set. I’ll have to admit my heart raced more than once while playing this game. As you begin to realize that there is something, or many things alive and stalking you. I jumped quite a few times as I was sure I would face something monstrous around the corner. Not because the scene itself was otherworldly horrifying but because of the constant Hitchcock-ian setups that went into certain moments really paid off. It also helped that I was playing late, lights off, headphones on, clicking cautiously on things I would assume could get me killed.
This is not a game you rush through this is a game you soak your bleak dystopian soylent green into a soup of science fiction and horror. You savor each morsel’s makeup and appreciate it’s minute piece in the panoramic picture that is unfolding. Completion time was reasonable, I was able to beat this game in about 15 hours, but I stopped to read each and every PDA and terminal in the game to pick up some more of the backstory that had unfolded. I’m sure some may finish the game in 10 hours, but most will hit these major roadblocks. If you are the kind of gamer I am, I refuse to get any help until I’ve pulled out several tufts of hair in frustration. So, some of these puzzles will soak up a considerable amount of game time. However, if you become sucked into the thrilling wonders of STASIS, which is quite easy to do, I urge you to push on to the end. Some of the elements of the climactic chapters I did not really expect from The Brotherhood. The ending is bittersweet but a memorable payoff for your time investment. This is a big budget film presented in a captivating classic game style. John, his family, his plight meant something to me, that signals the work of a masterful storyteller. It provided a more emotional send off during the climactic moments of the title. This indie game doesn’t feel indie, in fact it feels much larger than its humble beginnings would indiate. It kicks many AAA games in the shin with smug bravado. STASIS is an impressive destined-to-be classic that should be on most gamer’s shopping lists this Fall.Steam GoG