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Spaceships are scary, at least according to 90% of science fiction outside of Star Trek. They are dark, murky places filled with flickering lights, dripping conduits, mechanical clanking noises and hungry beasties waiting to jump out of the shadows and eat you alive. Stasis wants to remind you, in case you've forgotten, that in space nobody can hear you scream. Or, in several cases, gurgle and choke as your insides are dissolved/melted/shredded in some manner.
Yes, Stasis is a horror game heavily influenced by the atmosphere of films such as Alien and Event Horizon. Rather than adopting a cinematic approach, this is an isometric point-and-click adventure that is overflowing with detail. It's all the more impressive when you realise that the majority of the final product is the work of one person. The game originally began as a passion project for Chris Bischoff, and a later Kickstarter campaign secured funding that allowed him to bring in some extra help and make the game he wanted.
In Stasis you play as John Marachek, a family man who wakes up on board an unfamiliar vessel, with no idea as to how he got there. It transpires that this is a research ship named the Groomlake and it's going through some serious problems. Questions as to how you got there, or why, become secondary to staying alive once you realise there's nobody else around and there is something very dangerous lurking in the dark. Immediately upon starting the game you're hit with how much atmosphere has been put into the design. The backgrounds are pre-rendered CG art that has been covered in grime and splattered with blood. You can feel the cold in the air. Screams and distorted chatter echo across the intercom system, along with the sounds of machinery in the process of breaking down. It's oppressive and unsettling.
You explore the ship through a simple one-click system. Hovering the mouse over hotspots causes prose-style descriptions of what you're looking at to appear at the bottom of the screen. The mouse icon will change depending on what action you're able to perform, whether it be walking around the screen or interacting with objects. The control system is simple but strangely not that intuitive. Sometimes you can take a closer look at something and sometimes you can't, and there's no indication at any time so you'll end up clicking on everything. There are items you can pick up or items you can fiddle with, and again no distinction is made between the two. Stasis presents the game world to you "as is" with no real guidance. It's up to you to explore thoroughly to work out how to proceed. You also have an inventory accessible at the bottom left of the screen, although you'll never be carrying more than five or so items at a time.
The game presents a decent, gripping story. As John explores he discovers many dead bodies but also evidence that there are other survivors around. While the immediate plot is dealt with through conversations, to piece together what happened on the Groomlake you'll need to read the diaries you discover scattered about. These are one of the best parts of the game, as they are well written and feature self-contained short stories of their own. A good example is one in which an engineer talks about his day-to-day routine working around large vats used in genetic experiments. He describes how the creatures they are growing evolve and become more dangerous. Once a disaster hits the Groomlake, he finds himself trapped in a room for days with his only escape being to swim across one of the vats; he makes the decision to do this and the diary ends there, his fate uncertain. It leaves you wanting more, and the next puzzle you are faced with is how to get across one of the vats yourself (along with finding the poor engineer's half-eaten body).
The writing fares less well when it comes to characters you interact with. The dialogue is fairly cringe-worthy, and it doesn't help that the voice acting is of a low standard. Your own character, John, comes off the best here and fortunately he's the one you'll be listening to the most. It's important that you're able to sympathise with him, because he is going to have to endure some horrific stuff before you reach the end of the game. A particular sequence is reminiscent of the medical pod scene in Prometheus, but this pushes things a lot further and is genuinely stomach-churning to get through.
Stasis has a lot of puzzles that need solving to progress, and the vast majority of them are inventory-based. Most feel logical and fit with the environment, but of course there are one or two which, for some people, will make no sense. Much of what you need to do involves getting ship systems to work so you can progress. This can take some figuring out, because the game offers little guidance as to what you need to do. Instead you need to piece some obvious things together, or in a few cases explore the environment for diagrams - you may even need to take notes! The game generally gets the balance right, but a puzzle in which you need to create refined body tissue by mashing it up with the butt of a pistol feels utterly unfair. The isometric viewpoint also causes some problems; because you are so far away from the action it is often difficult to figure out what John is doing. Many times he will appear to interact with something but you can't tell how, and there will be no obvious result from the interaction. It also means that everything on the screen is tiny and objects can be easy to miss.
Stasis still remains a gorgeous, creepy game. Play it with the lights off, headphones on, and you'll come across some very entertaining scares. It should last about 7-9 hours which is the perfect length for an adventure game. If you are yearning for a throwback to 1990s style point-and-clicks, then this takes a lot of the best elements from that era while only hanging on to a few of the weaker ones.