What would you do if we discovered alien life? We would finally know that we are not alone in this universe, but what if our new neighbours are too different, or are hostile? What do we do if there is a major difference in our technology levels? Maybe it would be best to observe for a bit before saying hello. That is the premise and purpose of The Station.
In The Station, alien life has been discovered and it is at war. A massive civil war, but at this distance that is almost all we know. So a special space station is built with clever cloaking technology. The station is run by a small team of researchers, three experts in their field. But they have missed their latest report back and are not responding to any hails. This is where you come in. You are a recon specialist and it is your job to find out what is happening on the space station Espial.
Searching for answers
Wandering around the station you have to recreate what happened there by observing and getting access to various parts of the station that are locked off. It seems the stress of the mission, being so close to an openly hostile race with just a clever cloaking device has caused interpersonal relationships to sour, and some baggage from before the mission also makes things a lot more complicated. As such some areas are locked off, keyed to wristbands that the crew wear. So begins a first-person puzzle game where you slowly work out what was happening on the station, as well as more about the aliens fighting down below. The voyeurism and spy surveillance theme is strong as you observe those that were observing another race, hovering just above the planet in a space station with audio and visual cloaking technologies. Huge charts list which of the elements in the periodic table the aliens know of, the capacity of their military, their spaceflight capability and much more. Soil samples, plants gathered from below and full nervous system scans show that when presented with the opportunity, humans did exactly what so many people believed aliens in UFOs were doing to us in the past: observing, experimenting and staying hidden. The system should be foolproof, so what went wrong?
One of the crew is unhappy with the course of action that is being taken. Here we are, finally knowing that we are not alone in the universe, but we spy on them, observe and notarise and measure their worth instead of making first contact. The ethics of the spying, the surveillance and scientific data analysis makes the crewmember question much of the mission. Another crew member has a drinking problem and money issues, and while relationships between crewmembers are strictly against company policy, two of the crew were in a long relationship before this mission. Can you find out if one of them was responsible for the issues on the Espial, whether intentional or not? Can you bypass security systems, repair damaged sections and find the clues the crew left themselves for lost passwords?
Here we are, finally knowing that we are not alone in the universe, but we spy on them, observe and notarise and measure their worth instead of making first contact.
I am reminded of a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode while playing the game, where a science laboratory is observing a nearby village, taking readings on these humanoids that might eventually develop spacefaring capabilities. The cloak dies and the locals worship the scientists for their magical abilities, altering the very religion of the local population. The creators are obviously fans too, working on similar themes and the inclusion of a 3D chess set feels like a nod to Star Trek. Similarities aside, the topics of surveillance without consent, of being more advanced than another person or species and working out how they work and live and their weaknesses from the shadows are worth exploring, even if just briefly.
This game relies heavily on a sense of curiosity and the spaces of the game encourage you to look around, to pick things up and marvel at the pretty lights and bits of machinery. While very few things enter your inventory, many items in the game can be picked up and rotated to get a better view and a stronger understanding of their purpose. The engineer’s quarters are chock full of various tools, drone parts and drawings from his daughter, while another crew member’s quarters are in immaculate condition, showing the contrast between the two personalities.
The Station falls into a category of games that can be finished in a single sitting, a one afternoon romp through a rich narrative or to solve a mystery. The game took me two hours to beat and there are a few secrets I still want to go unearth before I feel I have learnt everything there is to learn on board the Espial. I just wish there was a bit more to find inside the inboxes of the various workstations, more messages to add to the world-building, to punch home the themes at the game’s heart. But in the end that is how all mysteries leave us: wanting a little more.