Developer/Publisher: The Station || Overall: 6.0/10
The dude that brought you the rare flash game “Cat Attack” and the other dude who made a local pizza restaurant’s online delivery form come together to bring you The Station, from developer The Station. I can’t tell if the company name is just lazy or if they are the gaming-equivalent of a musical supergroup that makes one album/song and that’s it. This needs as much explanation as the goop that is left over in the microwave after making Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese. I NEED TO KNOW!
The premise of The Station is that you are a “recon specialist” on your way to find out what has prevented a large traveling space station from accomplishing its mission. The original mission is to study and observe the first intelligent civilization that is found in the universe — the ripple being this civilization is in the midst of a “civil war” so the home government is unsure of how to present themselves to this new race, or if they present a threat. Their plan is to send three idiots stalwart members of society without putting them through a vigorous psychological screening process on this important mission, and of course lo and behold something goes wrong.
As the “recon ‘specialist'” you are not-very-urgently trying to figure out what is going on with the lost crew. No real attempts to communicate occur, as the recon specialist takes their “recon” occupation to heart. You will walk around, look at things, read things, fiddle with switches, take things out of boxes, and put things in other things. You’ll also listen in on “augmented reality” conversations that have been left over by the three staffers on board as you slowly realize that none of them should have been sent on this mission. Oh, did I mention that three people might be dead or dying and there is no sign of them the whole time? At the end of it all once you figure out all of the ins and outs of the mystery, it’s the most competently underwhelming game story I’ve experienced in a while. I saw the twist coming a mile away, but I was holding out hope that it wouldn’t be something so obvious, though it was “disguised” cleverly enough along the way. At the end, it went even further in the direction of “cliche” and it ended up feeling very pretentious with a blunt political message. The passive aggressive melodrama playing out in audio-only was not particularly enjoyable nor relevant to the greater “mystery” at hand, making me not particularly care about their fates and even hoping for their deaths. It also didn’t make sense why people’s dirty laundry would be floating around in augmented reality orbs for others to listen in on.
Technically, the game is competent as a “walking simulator.” Any of the “lack of gameplay” this title exhibits gets a pass since that’s just the genre it’s in; it achieves what it strives for. The puzzles are not too complex, but can be challenging if you aren’t good at remembering the differences between similar symbols (which by the way is the worst way to realistically organize/configure anything). Not every puzzle or room needs to be explored to complete the game, and you can easily miss something on the first go around. There is one small room that I opened up on my second play through, and I was unable to figure out exactly how to get into one of the character’s lockers due to an incomplete puzzle hint. There’s also another section I was unable to figure out how to get in at all, and still don’t know how to get in. It’s also possible I missed more and just didn’t “notice” it was something I was supposed to try to get into.
The graphics are a lot better than they have any right to be. There were a lot of random doohickeys and items to look at before you threw them away to the side. “Set design” was interesting and varied and the space station felt like one, though small. The sound design is very well executed, and brought up tension levels when needed or provided the feeling of the ambience required. The game lasted only about two hours, which can be a drawback if you are looking to spend at least a little more time utilizing the things you learned during the first thirty minutes to an hour. I spent about half an hour after the game ended trying to get into places I didn’t see the first time around, but lost interest after that. There weren’t any technical glitches or issues with frame rate that detracted from the experience. The only way the game could have been longer was if they forced you into every room somehow, though at the same time the parts of the space station you explore feel a lot smaller than they look from the outside.
Despite being really down on how the story turned out, it was a generally pleasurable experience once my expectations were tempered in the gameplay department. Observing and soaking in a well-crafted atmosphere has its value if you enjoy doing so. Though I don’t usually play this genre, it really leans on its writing/presentation for the goods. The story really needed to be executed well, and while you could say it technically was, it felt more like a prologue to an actual story, and not a complete one. The muddled political message didn’t exactly elevate the story either.