Stasis: A Sci-Fi Horror Adventure

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Developers: The Brotherhood

Released: August 31, 2015

Platform: Steam

Price: $24.99

Rated: M

Contributed by: Matthew Wilson

Stasis is a relatively new title from indie game developers, The Brotherhood.  A breath of fresh air in the horror genre, Stasis has done well for itself  thanks to its unique use of isometric point-and-click gameplay.  At first I had doubts as to the compatibility of a horror adventure with isometric visuals, but Stasis delivered and delivered big. The game absolutely blew me away with its original storyline and captivating visuals. 

The Story

The premise of the game is that you have awoken in a laboratory as John Maracheck. You have no idea where you are and the spaceship is completely abandoned. The ship is ruined; equipment is broken, tables have been overturned, and streaks of blood cover the floors and walls. As you stumble through the ship in search of a way to escape to return to your wife and daughter, you’ll find that something unusual happened on the ship.

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The storyline truly is Stasis’ best feature. The game does an absolutely amazing job of bringing immersion to the player. As you explore the ship you’ll find many journal entries and clues as to the history of the ship and what caused the ravage. If you like to read I highly recommend this game, as you will find yourself with a lot of content.  The game is riddled with clues hidden among the writings you come across, so they’re definitely worth the read.

The Good Stuff

 Although I doubted the horror elements of the game at first, it didn’t take long before I was terrified, screaming and leaving my computer  to calm down. The amazing visuals add to the horror experience as the game’s atmosphere has you on guard at all times. Stasis is most assuredly a horror game, so if you’re a fan of the genre this is a must have.

Disregarding horror in relation to graphics, the graphics still do the game justice. The lighting, the colors and the environment make for a very pleasing game to look at. It is incredible how much attention to detail the developers put into Stasis. Also, I have to give credit to the nice voice acting that accompanies you throughout the game. The art of the game is true excellence.

Gameplay

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The game’s controls should be familiar to those who played other isometric games such as Baldur’s Gate. The only difference is that the game is completely mouse driven, including the menu. The entire game is point-and-click with a helpful HUD that allows the player to identify the object they are clicking on or mousing over. However, this didn’t  always allow for smooth gameplay. 

 The nature of  most point-and-clicks is to solve puzzles, and Stasis is no different. This requires the player to activate certain things in a certain order, use a specific tool on another object… so on and so forth. However, the game’s lack of assistance in this area can be frustrating

The Not Good Stuff

It could be that I’m simply bad at point-and-click games, but annoyance turned to frustration as I scoured the environment for a clue or item for hours without any help from the game. This is where one of the bigger problems with the game’s  HUD comes into play. The game will only tell the player when he or she has their mouse over an object. As with most point-and-clicks,  objects can be hidden and can be very small with the intention of making them difficult to find. The isometric nature of the game makes this even more difficult. A system that helps reveal objects would have been greatly appreciated.

Another problem with Stasis, was that the game’s lack of help sometimes completely halted progress. While the game has a set amount of responses when solving a puzzle, these messages simply state that whatever you are trying to do is incorrect.  

What it Needs

One suggestion I had to solve this could be unique dialogues for each situation that suggest a correct tool, or  action. Additionally, a timed dialogue could appear if you’re in an area for a prolonged amount of time without progress. I’m definitely not asking for answers,  but helpful hints can prevent frustration when a player is stumped.  Again I may not be very good at games like these, but those who can empathize with me may experience similar issues.

The Final Verdict 

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Despite the difficulty of the puzzle mechanics in the game, Stasis is a game that stands out among others. It has solid graphics, a great storyline, and for horror fans, a good amount of fear inducing elements. The game is not demanding on graphics or processing, so almost any machine can run this game no problem. The price is fair for the average gameplay length of 10-12 hours. I would recommend this game to anyone looking for a single player game that will give them hours of excitement.

Horror is Hard

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With Halloween right around the corner, I find myself wondering a bit about horror. For all the movies, television series and games that have come out in recent years I’ve noticed that the horror genre in its written form is falling behind. As a piece of the speculative fiction trio, why has horror fallen to the wayside? Everyday science fiction and fantasy novels are finding spots on best sellers list and have rapidly growing fan bases, while more visual mediums have dominated horror. So what’s the deal here?

Writing horror for any medium is a challenge but the difficulty with printed mediums is primarily rooted in our culture. Television, films and even video games have cemented their superiority in a visual context and when it comes to bloody, gore-fest jump-scares, novels can’t really provide that kind of “instant-horror” we’ve grown accustomed to. Without the benefit of a visual component print mediums have to make up for it by appealing to a creeping psychological terror and warped perspective that is a challenge to keep up with for hundreds of pages. It doesn’t help that instant gratification turns modern day society’s gears.

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Think about the tempo of a horror film for instance. We set the mood, things get a little uncomfortable, then they get scary, then they get terrifying and then they end. All within the scope of two hours. Within those two hours so much of the story is padded by sinister music, violently graphic imagery and screaming that we forget what we’re even watching, we just know that this is scary and we love it.

What about the tempo of a horror novel? There is a sort of constant rise and fall of calm, and terror. Horror novels have to really dig their hooks in because they’re competing with a culture that insists that nothing frightens it. Horror novelist must transcend our goldfish level attention span and keep their reader hooked for what could be fifty pages of calm before anything really “scary” happens. That’s one of the real difficulties with horror, there’s not really a way to capture the “in your face, gut wrenching” feeling that we associate with the genre.

Instant culture, and our obsession with the visual can’t carry the full weight of the blame however. A lot of the challenge in horror is that supernatural monsters just aren’t scary anymore. It’s more difficult to scare people with the fantastical, the imagined or the supernatural than it was years ago. We’ve come to terms with the fact that reality and humanity are scarier than any vampire, mummy, werewolf or zombie.

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It’s come to a point where we’ve exhausted vampires and zombies from so many different angles that we approach them with what amounts to satirical riffing; a tell-tale sign that we’ve conquered our fear of “classic” monsters. As a society we’ve done something similar to what Harry Potter and Co. did with the boggart: We’ve been exposed to monsters of every variety and then learned to make them laughable. We’ve made such things amusing and ridiculous. The challenge of horror writing is pushing past that.

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Horror novelist need to rely on subtle psychological overtones that don’t necessarily “frighten” the reader but makes them uncomfortable. Way back when, authors like Edgar Allan Poe or even if we go back a bit further to Christopher Marlowe were masters at this sort of thing. But they were of a very different time, and in many respects a completely different world. It’s hard to capture that  feeling of terror that grows more after the fact as opposed to movies which seek to scare “in the moment”. Writing horror becomes a challenge of who can be the most disturbing; who can keep the reader up at night wondering.

Still though, literature isn’t completely defenseless. It has the benefit of subtext, inner thoughts and a more intimate portrayal of psychological terror than any other mediums. And to be fair because the medium can be so restrictive at times it’s made being a strong writer an absolute necessity with horror. Furthermore, if we look at short stories we see a way for horror writing to find its place in instant-culture. I think writers recognize that horror needs to be jump-started again, and in many respects the literary landscape is ripe with the opportunity to push those boundaries.

What do you think? Where does horror need to go from here? What is the genre missing? Why has horror lost ground while the other two pillars of speculative fiction have seen a surge of popularity and constant evolution? Why is it more compelling to push the boundaries of sci-fi and fantasy than in the horror genre? Let me know what you think in the comment section below and tell me your favorite horror novel from the last 10 years.