Stasis is something of a miracle. It’s a tiny budget game made by the tiny team at The Brotherhood Games (the majority of the development was handled by brothers Chris and Nic Bischoff), five years in the making, and it’s one of the best adventure games I’ve played in a long, long time.
The game opens above Neptune on the medical research vessel the Groomlake as main character John Marachek awakes from stasis. He’s woozy, injured, and things have gone very, very wrong in the time that he’s been asleep. John doesn’t know where his wife and child is, so he sets off to find them. Lights flicker, broken computers spark, blood and bubbling ooze abound, and we’re off on a gothic science fiction horror show.
While there are a couple of jump scares in Stasis, the game is more concerned with disturbing you. Kurt Vonnegut said in his rules of fiction, “Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.” The Bischoff’s are sadists, and I mean that as the best sort of compliment. John Marachek is put through hell, forced to perform morally compromising actions and suffer horrors of all kinds. I’m rarely surprised by games, but Stasis managed to surprise me with the depths it sunk to.
As you guide John through the Groomlake, you’ll face somewhat typical adventure game puzzles – pick up items, combine them, use them where they’re needed – and it’s here that the game stumbles the most. While the majority of the puzzles are pretty great (I particularly enjoyed the puzzles that required me to really pay attention to the environments), there were a couple of times when I was stumped. When that happens, the game kind of grinds to a halt as you run around, clicking on things, trying combinations, running the mouse over the environment hoping for hot spot hits. It’s a problem common to the adventure genre so Stasis is not the only offender, but it is still a problem. I am tempted to suggest that a key that would highlight interactive areas might alleviate this issue, but I’m not sure I would want the extra handholding once it was in place, unless it was togglable. Where this really becomes a problem is when there seemingly aren’t enough hints. The hydroponics area held me up for a while, as did the stasis chamber puzzle (although that one was fair, it just needed some laser focused examinations). I couldn’t figure out where to go in one area, but as it turns out, I just didn’t walk in the right spot, which seems unfair. While I generally loved reading the PDA journals that divulge clues and tell the stories of the characters that inhabited the Groomlake – I particularly enjoyed reading about the technician who had some bad luck and an unhappy marriage – there can be times where you have to sit and read quite a bit at one time. The villain is a little flat, too, coming off as a bit of a one-note version of Doctor Frankenstein. It’s all forgivable, because the rest of Stasis is just so strong. Stasis’ environments are absolutely stunning, so much so that I found myself constantly screenshotting for this review. To paraphrase Hellraiser’s Pinhead, the Bischoff’s have such sights to show you. It’s a joy to explore the horrifically gorgeous world of the Groomlake. The sound design is also great, as is the tremendous music by game legend Mark Morgan, Christopher Bischoff, Daniel Sadowski, Jovana Djordjevic, and Meesah Kuteyi.
One holdover from adventure games of yore that I was delighted to see return was that John can die, the pains of which are mostly avoided due to autosaves. The new, episodic King’s Quest game from The Odd Gentlemen also employed this, and both it and Stasis show how old mechanics can be freshened up and made palatable again. I enjoyed every single one of the gruesome deaths that I lead John Marachek to. It felt like The Brotherhood truly enjoyed thinking up and animating each one.
If you have any love for adventure games, buy Stasis now. It’s a beautiful, horrifying ode to Alien, Event Horizon, and game classics like BioShock, Dead Space, and The Dig. It’s scary, it’s smart, it has a dark sense of humor, and it has soul. I was frequently disturbed, and I was left exhausted and beaten down by the end. What more can you ask of horror? Highly recommended.
Stasis is available now on PC and Mac, via Steam and GOG.