The gaming industry is in an interesting place right now. Games are being developed by small independent studios and by huge AAA studios, both providing great interactive experiences. The rise of Kickstarter and Early Access on Steam has given smaller teams a gateway to get their games developed and noticed. One of these games is Stasis, an outstanding 2D isometric sci-fi horror-adventure game from a small developer called The Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood is aptly named as it is primarily two brothers, Nicolas and Christopher Bischoff. Composers Mark Morgan and Daniel Sadowski have added a great deal of depth to the game with atmospheric music. Stasis was independently developed for years before launching a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013 and then a Steam Early Access campaign leading to the game’s official release. Being a fairly small studio with no publisher, Stasis flew under my radar, but once I discovered and played it I was completely immersed and enjoyed it immensely.
Stasis is a 2D isometric adventure game set in a futuristic spacecraft. It echoes the carefully crafted horror from the original Dead Space title and shares themes from Alien and Event Horizon. The game centers around a man named John Maracheck who wakes up from Cryo sleep on a ship named the Groomlake. The last thing he remembers is travelling through space with his wife and daughter. Now they are missing and he is on a ship full of dead crew and prisoners trapped in failed pods. The game had me controlling John as he explores the ship discovering the horrors that befell it as he searches for his family.
As I played through Stasis I kept thinking how amazing it was that only two people developed the core game. The experience is deep and genuinely scary at times, and has a very strong Dead Space vibe mixed with elements of Bioforge. The ship is full of surprises, with allies and enemies who talk to you over comms with devious puzzles to solve, often centering on gruesome scenes. The game has a dark feel with the ship and environments presented in great detail and glossed with a gothic edge.
The sci-fi environments are very Alien-movie in concept, dark and dingy spaces with flickering lights that hide and reveal details in a creepy way. The haunting soundtrack adds a great deal of atmosphere and depth. Years ago I wrote an article about the sound of Dead Space and how I found the music and ambient soundtrack can be more important than the graphics in a game like that. Stasis has that same philosophy, and the music, while sparse at times, is perfectly suited to the game as it progresses. The ambient sounds are brilliant, grotesque and immersive, making this a game designed to be played in the dark with good headphones on.
The gameplay of Stasis is a modern take on the adventure genre, with a small but relevant inventory system, easily identifiable items and people you can interact with, and a need to be quick on your feet. Danger is always lurking on the Groomlake, and as I explored the gameworld the puzzles and scenarios I encountered often ended in a gruesome death, which encouraged a cautious progression through the ship. The story is well fleshed out via conversations and journal entries or logs that I found as I explored. Much as in Dead Space or Alien: Isolation, as I read through these text logs I saw how the ship had declined to the harrowing dilapidated wreck my character woke up in.
The puzzles are generally not mind-bendingly challenging, but were enough to make me pause from time to time as I worked out the solutions, and very in-theme with the tone of the game. In one of the more interesting ones I had to first remove a hand from a corpse to open a morgue door, then jam a cremation device open, and finally activate the oven in order to unfreeze the doors to the morgue slabs. The interesting thing was that if I didn’t leave quickly enough the oven roasted me alive, so puzzles have consequences if you’re not alert and aware enough. Funnily enough many of the gruesome deaths I faced in the game led to over-the-top death scenes and then a unique achievement, making it interesting to fail at times.
With its creepy story, disturbed visuals, atmospheric soundtrack and gripping gameplay Stasis surprised and engaged me from start to finish. I had to fact-check the developer mid-way through the game as I could not believe this was made by a handful of people. Until this point the original Dead Space was the best horror video game experience I had had in the medium. Stasis, while a different style of game, is right up there with that title as far as total experiences go.
Stasis is available on Steam right now and is a must-play title for fans of sci-fi horror games. Just make sure you have a strong constitution and play the game with headphones on.