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Stasis

 

Developer: The Brotherhood The title screen.The title screen.
Released: 2015.08.31
Genre: SciFi / Horror
Graphics: Realistic / Isometric
Perspective: Third person
Gameplay: Point-and-Click



 

 

 

 

 

 


 


 

Stasis is a science fiction horror game taking place aboard a deep space vessel called Groomlake. The protagonist is a man called John Maracheck, who unexpectedly wakes up from a stasis pod, unaware of his situation or whereabouts. The game opens up with a cutscene showing Groomlake flying in space somewhere in close proximity of Neptune. The next thing the player sees is the protagonist lying next to his stasis pod, barely alive and barely conscious.

Not much more is known to the player nor the protagonist, except that something has gone horribly wrong on that ship. Groomlake seems to be a ghost ship with barely any crew and with almost every ship function either inoperative or about to fail. This is not the nice and safe stasis chamber where Maracheck, a school teacher, was frozen for space travel with his wife and young daughter. In fact, it doesn't even seem to be the ship that John Maracheck was supposed to be on.

John Maracheck, the protagonist.John Maracheck, the protagonist.
Groomlake is an enormous deep space ship that has once been a mining ship but has been refitted as a science vessel of some kind. The exact nature or purpose of the vessel is unknown, but the owner is a company called Cayne Corporation. The only obvious thing is that something has gone horribly wrong on the ship, and things are about to go from bad to much worse, as can be expected from a horror-style story.

The environment that Maracheck finds himself in is both confusing and disturbing. There are no living crew members to be found, many of the passageways are not accessible because of security lockdowns, corridors are filled with debris, dried blood, weird vegetation, and most disturbingly dead bodies of crew members who all seem to have died more or less violently. After Maracheck has found some first aid to improve his condition, his next and ultimate goal is to find out what happened to his family. Soon after recovering Maracheck manages to get a radio contact to someone else, who is still on the ship and still alive, and apparently willing to help Maracheck.

There are lots of areas to explore aboard the enormous Groomlake.There are lots of areas to explore aboard the enormous Groomlake.
The story progresses as the protagonist moves forward on the ship, exploring new decks and areas, which turn out to be more horrible than the previous areas all the time. Occasionally there is some subtle humour too - who knew spaceship elevators had elevator music? There are a couple of cutscenes during the game, but mostly the story is told through radio conversations and by reading computer terminals and PDAs which are to be found along the way. It is possible to complete the game without reading most of this information, but then the story and backgrounds will most likely remain unclear to the player. The information is presented in a very fragmentic way, and all the pieces will come together only in the very end. So while the horrible secrets aboard are revealed one by one, the reasons behind Groomlake's situation will be a mystery for a good while during the game.

The setting for the game is very similar to survival horror, and in a sense that is what Stasis is all about, however gameplay does not involve action, but is traditional point-and-click style. And by traditional one can really think traditional - there are dangerous situations that can kill Maracheck as well as some timed puzzles. Dangers are forgiving though, after watching a splatter-esque death scene, complete with brutal sound effects, the player is returned to an autosave spot right before the fatal mistake.

When it comes to puzzles in the game, they can be described as relatively straightforward. The protagonist finds a tool that needs a power source, comes to a door that is locked and needs to be opened, has to get pass automated surveillance systems, and combine items in the inventory to get new items. There is a limited inventory space, but it seems to be impossible to find more items than there are free slots in the inventory. In fact, many of the areas contain items needed for that area inside the very same room, or in the next couple of rooms. Only few times it is necessary to make longer fetch treks to get some item from previously visited areas. There are a couple of challenging puzzles, but even they can be solved relatively easily if the player is able to pick up clues which are somewhere nearby.

Much of the gameplay is about finding ways to enter new areas.Much of the gameplay is about finding ways to enter new areas.
Failing ships which are adrift in space can provide excellent mood and setting for a science fiction story. Stasis opens up with a very interesting starting situation, which makes one want to explore and find out what is going on aboard Groomlake. The storyline gets a bit repetitive as it seems to concentrate more on the horror rather than science fiction. In fact, there are some noticeable "bad science" cases which needlessly break the immersion. Without giving away the plot, few examples can be seen in insects that produce milk of some kind, and a crash aboard the vessel producing concrete rubble indicating that concrete is one of the materials that the ship is made of. So anyone looking for a scientifically accurate setting is going to be disappointed, however, as the emphasis is more on the gore and horror, these issues won't ruin the game. In fact, there are some major plot twists and revelations even in the very final moments of the game, one being as late as the very last shot of the final cutscene.

The biggest problem with the storytelling are the numerous computers and PDAs that are found all over, sometimes even three or four in the same room. While it is a very logical way to tell the story on a ship which is almost void of other human life, it also means that most of the playthrough time is spent reading all sorts of digital memos. And apparently the crew of Groomlake seems to have a habit of writing very sensitive things on those devices, and then leave them on without any kind of access protection. Stylistically the biggest problem is that every crew member seems to use profanities in writing, while the sentences are otherwise (mostly) textbook correct (and few spelling mistakes that are present are probably non-intended by the content writers). This also causes the repetitive feeling, as apparently every dead crew member spent his/her last moments alive tapping in an PDA entry.

Seeing the gameworld from the isometric viewpoint is a somewhat underused feature in the adventure genre. There are otherwise many great games which have used isometric approach, such as the classic Syndicate, to name one. Isometric view has its limitations, but works suprisingly well in Stasis. As you see the gameworld mostly one room at a time, there is hardly any need for anything else. Occasionally parts of the screen are blacked out, such as when using elevators or crawling in ducts. Few puzzles require a special close-up view, which breaks away from the isometric formula, for instance, when the protagonist needs to perform a surgery on himself (with a load of accompanying screams of pain, of course).

Surgery scene is one of the few exceptions to isometric approach.Surgery scene is one of the few exceptions to isometric approach.
As the user interface consists of only two functions, mouseover autolook and mouse click for actions, playing the game is relatively simple. There are occasional hiccups, such as the path finding sometimes going somewhere where you wouldn't expect, or the game forgetting to perform actions after finding the path to an item, but these are only minor issues. When the game begins Maracheck moves very slowly, being injured, but after getting himself some first aid, he can walk and even run in open areas. Running will speed up playing a bit, especially if there is any need to backtrack to pickup items or perform actions in previously visited areas.

What will slow down the pace is that unfortunately there doesn't seem to be any way to skip conversations or scripted events, so especially when solving deadly puzzles, there will be some unnecessary repetitions. Fortunately there are not many occasions when this will become a problem, except for the very last moments of the game, which is probably supposed to either heighten the dramatic aspect or lengthen the finale.

As for the conversations, they are voiced by actors, but much of the other content, such as mouseover descriptions of PDA entries, is not. As there is hardly anyone present aboard Groomlake, Stasis isn't flooded with conversations, and there isn't a single conversation puzzle during the game. This all supports the horror aspect, of course, as mostly you only hear machine sounds or random screams. Where those screams fit in, is a bit of a mystery. The protagonist doesn't seem to pay much, if any, attention to those, so whether those are diegetic or actually non-diegetic sounds to create the horror mood, can only be guessed. Stasis also has some background music, which fits the purpose of keeping up the horror mood, but doesn't go much beyond that.

The game looks very good for an indie game with only few creators.The game looks very good for an indie game with only few creators.
It should be noted that while Stasis isn't the most jaw-dropping game ever made, the productions values are truly impressive. Especially considering that the game credits are probably among the shortest ever seen in adventure games, consisting of only about 10 names. Mostly the game is done by Christopher Bischoff, who is responsible for programming, graphics and the story. Stasis is a perfect example of how it is possible to overcome limitations of an indie developer, if developing the game is truly a goal that is a value in itself to the creators.

There are not that many horror adventure games, not that many isometric adventure games, and combinations of these are indeed rare. This is where Stasis comes out as, if not entirely unique, at least as a notable presentative of its limited kind. While there are some retro aspects with the game, isometric graphics and deaths most notably, that may seem some 20 years behind their time and may keep some players away from Stasis, others will welcome these as out-of-the-ordinary approach for the genre. Of course adventure gamers have always been more interested in story-telling and atmospheric aspects than anything else, and Stasis is trying to deliver on both accounts.

Science fiction horror point-and-click adventures may be one of the most niche genres in gaming, but within that genre Stasis is a solid title. Whether one likes Stasis or not really depends on how much one is into science fiction horror, and doesn't mind seeing some splatter and hearing some profanities along the way. Stasis may of course be a nice choice for those who like all that, but don't want to play survival horror action games, which there are plenty in existence. In the end, Stasis is based on logic and problem solving, rather than emptying rounds and rounds of ammo in every corner aboard the ill-fated Groomlake, and that is what most adventurers mostly respect.

The door is locked.The door is locked.

 


 

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