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Stasis / 3rd of September 2015

Stasis, developed by The Brotherhood – a South African based studio primarily constituting brothers Christopher and Nicolas Bishoff – is a Kickstarter funded, sci-fi horror point and click adventure set aboard a research vessel, The Groomlake, that appears to be sitting in orbit around the planet Neptune. Here, some mega-corporation are performing morally ambiguous (to say the least) experiments on people who are being abducted from the stasis pods aboard their own vessels, John Maracheck is one such unfortunate individual, and it is the player’s job to help him discover precisely what happened to both him, and his missing family.

Evidently the brothers Bischoff have a love for all things Alien, and they even managed to slip in a subtle nod to Jim Cameron’s action-packed sequel (yes, Burke Carter, I’m looking at you), but what could have fallen victim to its own influences actually turned into a reasonably engrossing videogame experience that could teach Alien Isolation a thing or two. Now, as a console gamer (primarily) point and click games aren’t really my thing, I generally find them to be too slow and cumbersome, and whilst Stasis suffers from the same issues for me, it still manages to come out of its pod almost smelling of roses. First though, I’ll start with some of the negatives.

In terms of the game’s overall atmosphere…well, it’s not exactly Condemned, but then personally, I don’t feel that the genre is capable of creating a fully immersive ambience when the bulk of the gameplay is spent hovering a cursor over every inch of the screen as players desperately search for items that they can interact with. Or, as is also the case, spending ages attempting to get every item in the inventory to work with every object on-screen, regardless of how stupid the combinations may appear to be. For, if there is one thing that I have learned from previous examples of the genre is that logic, for all intents and purposes, has no place in a point and click game (try opening a pipe with a banana, a metronome and a piano playing monkey for instance). Thankfully though, Stasis doesn’t quite go down the route of classics like Monkey Island and Grim Fandango, though contrarily, it does lack the wonderful characters and jovial personality of those wonderful titles.

Whilst the audio work here is fairly strong throughout, the voice acting seemed woefully under par to me, which also detracted from the horror atmosphere as I simply wasn’t able to take any of the characters seriously. The role of Te’ah in particular, voiced by Rebecca McCarthy (I think) sounded an awful lot like Isy Suttie’s character Dobby from Peep Show, which made it completely impossible for me to think of anything but that, besides she was also frighteningly monotone. I can’t really say that Ryan Cooper’s performance was much better in the lead role either though, his character’s random outbursts of heavy breathing just make him sound like a pervert, whilst his propensity for crying, almost made him seem weak and rather feeble. This is, of course, to highlight the strain that the situation is pressing upon him, yet when he still has the capacity to laugh in the face of near fatal injuries at the beginning of the game, it seems to make his characterisation a little bit patchy at best, but then again, this is an area that most big budget releases rarely perform any better at. It seems to me, and I might be wrong, but if The Brotherhood had been given a more extravagant budget to work from, they would likely have likely produced something close to a cinematic masterpiece, so it’s rather sad to see the game fall short in this regard, but it does bode well for their future endeavours.

Now, I have to admit that when the opening sequence began I was very impressed with the quality of the CG, and the title sequence as a whole rather strongly hints that the game that follows it could lay claim to AAA production values, which could be setting some gamers up for a fall when they finally set their eyes upon the in-game visuals. Personally, despite some rather naff animation, and the fact that John very rarely looks as though is a part of the world of Stasis, I rather like the game aesthetically. The isometric viewpoint really harkens back to the mid to late nineties, along with its use of pre-rendered backdrops, allowing me to reminisce over Square’s Final Fantasy VII, the stasis room at the start of the game in particular feeling like a genuine nod back to the laboratory in the Shinra building. Every shred of background furnishing across the various locales has a real industrial quality to them; broken steam pipes line the walls, clouds of methane hover above rivers of human waste and, perhaps in a nod to H.G. Wells, an aggressive plant (a fungi here) spreads itself around the ship, attempting to cover every inch of The Groomlake’s otherwise gleaming steel surfaces. A minor issue in terms of the visuals is that the backgrounds are quite highly detailed which means that some of the items that can be picked up or used have a tendency to simply blend in, but if – like me – you’ll simply hover the cursor over everything on screen, you probably won’t miss anything anyway.

This, quite frankly, is much needed as Stasis is certainly not a game that is going to lead its players by the hand, instead leaving them to their own devices, occasionally throwing them a hint or two, but little more. This can obviously lead to a fair amount of head scratching, backtracking and general aimless wandering, though in such a situation, it probably just means that an item has been missed, and God knows, this happened to me on more than one occasion (hence the need to thoroughly scan every screen with the cursor). As I said earlier though, Stasis tends to stick to logical solutions to its puzzles, such as using a severed hand on a fingerprint scanner or a can of coke to short out a troublesome sentry gun. Also, there are times when an action – or lack of it – can lead to the death of the main character, it’s very easy to simply learn what went wrong, retry it and pass through unscathed, leaving television screens and PC peripherals intact thanks to a generous checkpoint system that never sees players overly punished for their mistakes. Of course, this isn’t quite perfect either as the game has a tendency to ignore manual save files and opt for the checkpoint instead, regardless of which is the most recent, though this is just a minor inconvenience as the game loads almost instantaneously.

There’s not really much that I can say without giving any more away (I’ve already helped you with two puzzles), but I came into it this game some degree of anticipation despite my general reluctance to entertain the style that it employs, and yet somehow, despite not having to resort to quirky humour, it still managed to keep me engrossed, and to be perfectly honest, I didn’t really care much for the narrative either, so quite frankly, I’m baffled as to how it managed to achieve this feat! Stasis comes priced at £16.99, which may seem steep for an indie title with precious little replay value, yet if you’re a fan of point and click games, buy it, and do so now as you’ll surely love this dark and gritty space faring adventure, but as for everyone else, give it a shot, you never know, you may just be swayed by The Brotherhood’s ambitious debut, I know that I was.

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