Video games have been following an interesting trend as of late, and it’s turning them into somewhat of an artform; it’s no longer necessary to be good at some games just to enjoy them. In this respect, The Station is no different. The Station, developed and self-published by a five-man indie dev team of the same name, is an attractive exploration mystery with an enticing story. It raises some questions about interactions with alien life forms. It employs puzzles with varying degrees of difficulty. It’s a thoughtful, artistic adventure. But, perhaps most notably, it underwhelms.
The game was developed with Unity, and it shows. The graphics are smooth, and the lighting is dynamic and atmospheric. In fact, it’s vaguely reminiscent of Subnautica’s design scheme, though a touch more sophisticated and neon. It’s simply stunning; everything, even the liquor bottles, “fits” in with each other, meshing together to create an immersive environment for the player to explore. There was no noticeable glitching and everything was rendered beautifully, with the breathtaking view of the planet beneath the station being the most striking. Even the lighting work was polished and meticulous, while also adding an interesting feeling of dread and danger. The game lacks a score or a soundtrack, so the ship feels uncomfortably empty and quiet, emphasizing the foreboding atmosphere. Walking through dimly-lit halls in a deteriorating ship littered with eerily-fluorescent odds and ends makes the game feel a little more Dead Space-like, which is all the more impressive when the absence of any real danger to the player is considered.
Game mechanics are rather sparse in The Station, but this is of the least concern in what essentially amounts to an artistic endeavor wrapped in a walking-simulator shell. The player simply walks around the ship, looking for clues and completing various simple tasks aimed at pressing deeper into the station. The environment is “interactive” in the sense that the player can interact with their surroundings; this interaction, however, is more or less confined to picking up and examining all of the little trinkets lying around. Aside from this, and a search-and-collect scheme that feels somewhat linear, the game doesn’t do much. This shouldn’t detract from the game, however; the absence of mechanics pushes the player to study and scrutinize their environment, which is essentially the point of the game.
The story is a bit short, but surprisingly effective. To say as much as possible without any spoilers, the game raises some interesting philosophical questions about human-alien contact in a profound and surprising way. Throughout the course of the game, the
player comes across little sparkling nodes (so they’re easy to find in the dark) that provide more hints and background into the story, as well as offer a little levity in an otherwise somber adventure – mostly through a surprisingly professional-sounding
voiceover team. The story gets more and more intense as the player progresses, compounded with odd goings-on and some rather eerie sightings, just outside the player’s vision….
But here’s the rub: does all of this make it a good game? Yes and no. As an art piece, or a statement piece, The Station performs well. It’s aesthetically pleasing, well-polished, and thought-provoking. It demonstrates well the story-telling capabilities of this dev team and showcases their world-building abilities. This game, however, is not very deep. Game time is about two to two-and-a-half hours, and that’s for 100% completion. While most of the environment is “interactive,” almost all of it is comprised of props that don’t necessarily move the story forward, or really contain anything of interest. Most of the puzzles are more akin to fetch quests or deciphering oversimplified codes or riddles, which kind of makes them feel somewhat like a chore. Moreover, the story, which could have been the game’s greatest redeeming quality had it been executed properly, was short and seemed incomplete. In short, the game is basically that guy from the bar a couple summers ago: pretty, but painfully superficial and never calls back. The game had so much potential to wow the player, but it fell short in some pivotal areas. Some of this could have been forgiven, but unfortunately, the price-point only exacerbated its shortcomings: $14.99 on Steam seems a bit steep for such a short game that offers no replay value. It’s definitely a game worth giving a look, but perhaps not with that price tag…
The Station (the dev team, that is) has so much potential to make a truly incredible game. All the makings for a rave-worthy game are there: they know how to set a scene, they know how to tell a story (however short), they know how to illicit a response from their audience, and they know how to cleanly package a game. Everything is there, except the execution. Any proceeds from the game would be well-spent on a project toward which they can invest more time, attention, and elbow grease. Personally, I really hope to see a sequel. I love a good horror game, and The Station has just enough to tease at the possibility. Or even a game that follows the same vein, like an anthology series or just a longer, more complex, more intricate walking sim. Either way, while their first installment is at first enticing yet ultimately underwhelming, the future could be bright for them. Here’s hoping.