What would happen if NASA broke the news that a new alien planet was found; not only habitable but also occupied by a living, breathing alien race? How would people respond to knowing the answer to that great question “are we alone?” What if, given the chance, we could somehow research this new planetary civilization, and study their methods and social structure to determine whether or not we could be compatible? This is the scenario the players find themselves in The Station, a first-person adventure set entirely aboard an intergalactic research vessel. By solving puzzles, exploring the station and completing some light puzzles, you’ll surmise the events that led to the doomed expedition of the Espial.
The discovery of Psy Prime has turned the world upside down. The government has turned to Axiom, a faceless corporation with money to burn, to design and build an interstellar research vessel so that they may study inhabitants of Psy Prime. Thus the Espial was born. Built to house a three-person research team, the vessel was also outfitted with a cloaking device to render it invisible to the denizens of Psy Prime, allowing Axiom to conduct its work in peace and secrecy. Unfortunately, a malfunction causes the vessel to drop cloaking in orbit over the foreign planet, alerting it to the aliens below. As you arrive on the ship to conduct retrieval operations, you find the Espial in a state of disrepair. With no trace left of the crew outside audio diaries, you must work your way through the science ship to find the crew before it’s too late.
The Station bears a lot of similarities to Fulbright’s Gone Home, only instead of exploring an upper-middle class suburban home, you’ve got free reign over a miniature space station. Initially, significant portions of the ship are inaccessible because of doors that only open to those wearing specially coded IDs. The act of finding them is your first priority. As you explore the different rooms, laboratories, and living spaces, a portrait starts to form of the Espial’s crew. Comprised of two men and one woman, their lives become intertwined and strained during the mission as you make notes of a failed relationship, mismanaged sexual tension, personal interests, and genuinely inappropriate tomfoolery aboard a multi-billion dollar habitat situated in the vacuum of space. For example, Silas is a researcher and prankster whose antics were responsible for a lot of stress among the group. Each diary and snippets of conversations reveal a group consistently at odds with each other. Their audio dairies seem less concerned about studying the planet and more about passive-aggressive attacks on one another. These people are clearly not fit for their duty!
Tracking the crew is complicated by having to go through hoops to access certain areas as you try to restore ship functionality. This translates into puzzle solving. There isn’t a whole lot to do, really, as tasks involving restoring power to the ship’s engine, taking command on the bridge, and bypassing locked doors to track down survivors, aren't that demanding. All it takes is a little of patience as you manipulate objects and computer terminals to complete objectives. Poking your nose into the ship’s various nooks and crannies present moments of concise visual storytelling that offers deeper context into the mission and its research along with the psychological profiles of the ship’s crew. Breaking the silence of the adventure are the incursions of the aliens from Psy Prime. The ship rocks and buckles from time to time due to unseen activity and danger. You’ll never see these aliens until the very last moment of the story through a predictable twist so reminiscent of The Twilight Zone that I almost expected Rod Serling to show up.
The Station has the form, function, and structure of a television show. It takes about an hour or two to the finish the story, a good length to tell a scripted science fiction story. I was especially a fan of the technical writing. It grounds the Espial well into a comparative reality. I only wish the soundtrack did a better job of setting the mood. It’s quiet when it wants to be, foregoing musical cues for the ambiance of the station. Computer systems beep and tweet, pressurized doors emit a breathy sigh as they open and close, and a low but noticeable hum gives the ship an ever-present heartbeat. I still think some music would have given the experience more character, which is why I made liberal use of the PlayStation 4’s Spotify integration. There was one point where I lost myself in the activity of replacing and recycling power cells because Aram Khachaturian's Gayane Ballet Suite (Adagio) was playing throughout the sequence. Afterwards, I threw on Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar soundtrack which, to my pleasant surprise, synced with the story and atmosphere almost perfectly.
Because of the short length, The Station is one of those first-person adventure games you’re likely never to play more than once. Be that as it may, I was engaged with the story even though I was able to predict the ending. The writing does a fine job of setting the tone and urgency, while the visuals create a strong sense of place and believable “lived in” look for the Espial. I almost wish that this was compatible with the PlayStation VR, which would allow for an added layer of immersion to its already UI-absent presentation. Visually, The Station is a pretty game to look at and continues to show how Unity is capable of doing great things with lighting and special effects (it’s worth pointing out that I experienced several unexplained framerate drops and a game crash on the PlayStation 4 version).
Made possible by Kickstarter funding, The Station accomplishes what it set out to do; tell a story built on the foundations of progressive science fiction. The length might be an issue for some people but the journey to the finish line is what ultimately counts. An easy recommendation for those that appreciate the visual storytelling of games like Gone Home, The Stanley Parable and Dear Esther.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.