You are alone, hurt and unarmed in an old spaceship that is close to 6 kilometres long. As you explore the bowels of the Groomlake, you will find horrors reminiscent of Event Horizon. What the hell happened while you were in stasis? Where is your family and why is there so much blood splattered on the way towards the medbay?
“I’m just a school teacher”
This is the story of John Maracheck, an ordinary man trying to avoid death and save his family. He retches when he finds a fresh corpse, his breathing quickens when he notices gore painting the floors and walls. While the player might be jaded to the macabre and the grisly, having John interrupt your control of him to react to the nightmares around him puts you in his place. Suddenly the detailed entrails and bloated abominations feel all too real and a feeling grows in the pit of your belly as you sift through human ichor to solve a puzzle. It made me feel bad for not feeling as terrible as John does, for wanting to do disgusting tasks without worrying about how it would affect his heavily-medicated psyche. Eventually his plight became my own, we were both searching for his family and trying our best to stay alive.
The greatest fear comes from knowing that you are not alone. Skittering shadows and screams of agony reverberate through the empty halls, fingernails scratching the hull of the ship. The atmospheric noise for the game is absolutely marvellous in its horror, something you will notice when the sounds continue as you read abandoned PDAs and sift through emails on terminals. Frantic screams remind you of where you are and how vulnerable you are while reading, the AI of various parts of the ship making announcements and warnings and is that someone singing and the sound of tearing flesh?
Slowly you piece together what has been happening on the ship over the last few months, learning about several characters you never meet, or whose corpses lie a few inches from the battered PDA you happen to be reading. It feels vaguely voyeuristic as you essentially read the diaries of the deceased, but for John it is more about finding information that might save his family, or give a small clue on how the crazy machines all around you work.
You want me to what?
Like any good adventure game, the puzzles don’t always involve putting a round peg into a round hole. Sometimes you need to change the shape of the peg, or make a brand new peg with the lint in your pocket and that coin you found in the drain. Stasis follows this style with aplomb, resulting in several serious head-scratching moments. The resulting feeling of victory once you beat a puzzle is euphoric, until you realise what is lurking behind that door. This whole ship has become the playground of madmen and scientists who would rather be gods than pioneers. In the depths of space, far away from prying eyes a lot of sordid things are happening. These horrible themes are made scarier by knowing that similar things might already exist right now, or in our near future.
Things aren’t merely twisted though, they are dangerous. Some puzzles will kill you, in spectacularly vicious ways if you do the wrong thing or in a few cases, take too long. This is a lethal, dark place that you are stuck in and the game reminds you of this a few times, egging you on in a non-too-subtle way. Death lurks around the corner, making that save button rather welcome, especially after solving a dastardly puzzle.
The writing of Stasis, gives the world its shock and horror as much as the amazing ambient sounds. Hovering your cursor over objects will often give a lot more information about what you see, ranging from well-detailed to wicked dark humour poking out of the pile of corpses. (I see your space janitor quips!) It adds a lot of gravity to the situation and locations and the web of lies, deceit, desperation and depravity you uncover as you read PDAs and then find another PDA belonging to someone who was the subject of another person’s ire, slowly paints a sad, twisted canvas of life on the Groomlake.
The depth of writing and topics covered hints at Stasis taking part in just a small portion of a scary galaxy that the Bischoff brothers want to share with us, and I want more. Prepare to stay up late solving puzzles, stretching gray matter that is all too used to getting the answer handed to it after a minute or two.