Review for STASIS: BONE TOTEM
In modern entertainment there are, unfortunately, few stories that tap into the well of sacred lore that defines many past and present cultures. Religion in games or movies can be one of the best aspects of worldbuilding, central to a character's beliefs or motives, yet developers rarely explore it at a deeper level. STASIS: BONE TOTEM uses religion to set a theological stage filled with well-written characters, dialogue, and some gruesome, even gory, imagery.
Developed and published by THE BROTHERHOOD, STASIS: BONE TOTEM is set in a somewhat advanced future. You play as Mac and Charlie, husband and wife, who come upon an abandoned rig called "DEEPSEA 15," exploring it for anything of worth and possible survivors. Accompanying their journey is Moses, an old robotic toy that can hack into security systems. Going deep into the derelict station reveals dark, sinister events and horrors that feel too far above the human mind to understand.
The setting is one of the most alluring aspects. It seems to be in the future since there are holograms, androids, and toy bears with intellectual autonomy. However, the computers have dial-up noises and always use a greenish interface like something from an ancient machine. The PDAs you can find around the facility hint more about the world you are playing through and give you additional details about what happened in the station. Even without the PDAs, the story becomes more and more engaging as you continue, despite all the dangers that lie ahead. What helps the narrative is how it tackles religious themes. Without going too in-depth, it refutes the more Nietzschean ideals of ascending beyond God to create meaning in our lives. It offers a beguiling narrative intertwining conflicting views of faith.
The story presents memorable characters and plot points, the voices actors superbly distinguishing the main cast and side characters. For example, Mac is usually stoic and slightly agitated. Charlie is a geek, but she also has a sweet and motherly side. Moses is a robot but maintains a child's pure innocence and naivety. How these personalities interact with each other and with side characters makes the story all the more appealing, along with the twists and turns the tale keeps presenting. The narrative continually develops, hinting that there is more for you to discover.
What makes the game all the more engaging is the presentation and horror. The adventure takes you from the station into the deepest ocean depths, ancient temples, and underground caverns. All these locations use dim lighting; your flashlight is usually the best light source. The areas themselves have either an antique or dirty aesthetic, the futuristic technology barely working, temples littered with giant statues or hieroglyphs detailing the history of its people. As a horror game, it also contains violent imagery and otherworldly eldritch deformities. The animation, even that of corpses, makes the experience more unsettling. The background music is effective in adding suspense. It starts with the sound of a few guitar strings, and then, as you get deeper into the facility, it adds somber and low orchestral tones. There are faster and heart-racing tracks, but these are few and far between. The music is not particularly memorable but serves its purpose well enough.
The gameplay is typical for an adventure game but still presents minor tweaks. BONE TOTEM uses an isometric view, keeping the playable characters in the center of the action, juxtaposing the cutscenes' claustrophobic, close-up camera. You use items in specific environments or solve puzzles to get through areas. There are also a couple of optional tasks, such as collecting video tapes or death screens, which can be fun to find. You can highlight what is interactable, indicated by blue circles, while green circles reveal non-interactable environments. Each player character has a unique way to use items. Mac can deconstruct an individual item while Charlie combines two of them to create something entirely new. Moses can hack into computer terminals but not much else. Characters share and exchange items with one another even when separated, and they describe individual objects in either helpful or humorous ways.
There is one mechanic that is never clarified and rarely used. For context, exchanging items means clicking on the portrait of a character who holds that item, then dragging it over another character's portrait. That is the familiar mechanic explained in the tutorial. The hidden ability is that you can use an object on the character currently holding it by clicking and dragging it over their own portrait. This is only done once in the game (twice when unlocking an optional secret) and there is no prompt or hint to do this at all.
The puzzles present a fair challenge but often require involving other characters. If you're stuck on a mystery while controlling one character, that usually means switching to another and sticking with them until finding a particular item or result that gives either all or part of the solution. I consulted a guide for a couple of puzzles, and even then, the solutions usually involved something I had overlooked or answers I would have gotten if I had just progressed as a different character. There is a hint system you can use, but it does not give you the answer outright. The core gameplay feels intellectually stimulating and contains very few frustrating obstructions.
The only mechanical problem I encountered was a glitch that forced me to start again from a previous save to fix it. Besides that, the game is nearly flawless on a technical level.
STASIS: BONE TOTEM is a surprising gem of a game, its tale centering around the belief in higher powers and exploring what happens when false idols fraudulently ascend into a form of godhood. It makes for a unique story, the suspense and otherworldliness of the setting enhancing the spiritual undertones, leading the player to question if religion is a good thing in a world where monstrous terrors are on the loose. Still, even if you are not looking to delve that deeply into the plot and its themes, the characters will enthrall you over the nearly 18 hours of gameplay, making you eager to find out how it all ends.