Who knew 2015 would be delivering some of the best horror games in years? You can now add Stasis to the growing stack of games proving crowdfunding can, for all its problems, produce some seriously excellent video games.
It was only a year late too! (It was promised for August 2014, but went live on August 31, 2015.)
Even though adventure games have been coming back into style lately, that's not really true of the isometric point-and-click. Stasis gives no fucks, though, and embraces its '90s heritage.
You know what Stasis reminds me of? This game:
Yep, Sanitarium! An obscure adventure game in which the player wakes up inside a mental ward with memory loss. As he begins seeking answers, the world becomes more and more messed up. I'm not sure if I ever played the full game, honestly, but I went through the demo included with some PC Gamer issue obsessively. The box art has never left my memory, either:
Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that the video game industry has, over and over, refused to address my desperate need for horror in this format. It's unfortunate, but Stasis tries to fix that.
I'm not going to do more than give a barebones setup because unravelling what happened is the whole reason you're playing. Drifting through space, a stasis pod lurches open, dumping you onto the floor. Covered in weird goo and having lost most of your strength, it becomes clear this is not the ship you fell asleep in. Your family was travelling to Saturn's moon, Titan, when something happened. Blood, bodies, and other evidences of trauma are present everywhere. There are no humans to be found, either. It's a bad way to wake up from a nap, you know?
From there, you do as the genre prescribes: point and click. By hovering the mouse around, the game will produce descriptions of various things in the world. Sometimes, clicking on an object will result in the main character commentating on it — but not always. (The inconsistency is annoying.) As with most games like this, you end up clicking on everything to experiment.
Thankfully, actions in Stasis are contextual, so there's no swapping between look at/pick up/sniff and constantly wonder whether the answer to moving forward is hidden in one of the many ways you can interact. Whatever the player is capable of doing, the game will make sure that happens when you click. If you can push something, for example, the icon becomes a hand.
Stasis does a respectable job of walking the fine line between adhering to its nostalgic roots and trying minimise the genre's worst habits, all without losing the reason you'd make a 2015 game like this in the first place. Besides exploration, solving puzzles is what you'll spend most of your time doing in Stasis. That's where most games like this get into trouble, forcing players to pixel hunt, in hopes of stumbling up on whatever item has been oh-so-cleverly hidden away. Stasis highlights some, but not all, of most important pieces with a soft glow. It's usually enough to lead you in the right direction, but in the three hours or so that I've played, I'd still find myself having to comb through every single room two or three times to find the thing I didn't click on.
Whether that's a flaw inherent to the genre or not is a debate for another day, but at least Stasis tries to contain sections to a handful of rooms, meaning you don't have to do much backtracking. It's unfortunate the game doesn't bother including any kind of hint system.
At least in the early hours, the puzzles aren't that complex, so I haven't been fully stumped.
I'm glad, too, because what's really pushing me forward in Stasis is discovering all the fucked up things that were happening on this ship, as things went to hell. Without delving into the plot too much, your main interaction with the human race comes through reading discarded PDAs and computer terminals. Yeah, sure, Stasis relies on the boring-but-true trick that people spend their final days writing down their thoughts, but the way it plays out lends some legitimacy.
Much of it is optional, but it really fleshes out the destruction around you. The bloody bodies scattered about aren't usually just there for show, and you can find out what happened to them.
If you're wondering whether Stasis can you, you're in luck. The game almost made me dump my laptop on the ground after a particularly nasty jump scare caught me by surprise. The game's atmosphere is thick with tension, but it's not trying to make you sweat the whole time, so the few times it decides to break things up and hit you with something shocking, it really works.
I'm looking forward to digging through more of Stasis, but it's already very promising. If you'd like to watch a few minutes of me playing through a very early section of the game, here ya go: