When it comes to the unofficial genre of “walking simulators,” the narrative is undoubtedly the most important element. Generally you aren’t going to expect much gameplay other than walking around (hence the name), such as that found in Dear Esther, or possibly solving puzzles, like those found in Gone Home. Needless to say, those who prefer a bit more action and button presses will most likely not enjoy these titles. However, even the gameplay junkies can enjoy a walking simulator when the narrative is so well written and intriguing.
The question is, does The Station‘s narrative fall under that category? As a walking simulator, The Station risks getting overlooked by all types of gamers, not just the cravers of action, especially those who have had their time wasted before by this genre. The Station has all the right hooks for a good narrative: a sci-fi mystery with puzzle solving. But we’ve all seen the best hooks fall flat in the end. The whole time I played The Station (all three hours of it), I kept waiting for the rug to be jerked out from under me. What would disappoint me? What would be the predictable element? What would make me roll my eyes or ask, “That’s it?”
Imagine both my surprise and my delight when none of those worries came to fruition.
In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream
An exploration team has been sent to spy on another planet via the Espial space station. We have learned that there is sentient alien life on this planet, but before we make contact with them, we need to make sure they are hospitable. From the orbiting station, a crew of three finds the life on the planet below to be in constant civil war. They continue to study and observe the aliens for days and then one day, the station went silent. You as the player have been sent by the space research corporation to find what has happened to the crew, and most importantly, what is going on with their investment.
When you board the station, it is silent. No one is around, and most of the power is off. The only noise heard is the occasional creaking of the station and a few frightful noises and shakes caused by the giant hull breach. The environment feels like a character as much as the rest of the crew because of the silence and the unknown. What was that noise? Is someone following you? Wait, what is that shadow? Did something get in through that hull breach? What in the world happened here?
The only way to find out what happened is to root through everyone’s things—their rooms, their lockers, their audio logs, their journals, everything. Sometimes this includes breaking into their private hideaways. As you uncover audio logs and read emails, you quickly learn that there was much more going on than simply observing the alien civilizations below. You don’t have to find everything to solve the mystery behind the station, but if you want to solve all of the other little mysteries that crop up, you will certainly want to. It was this factor alone that got me to reload the game after I finished it. I had to know about these other sordid tales and how they resolved. (Thank goodness for multiple saves, right?)
The Station Review - Short and Sweet Like Pluto (PS4)
That said, is the narrative perfect? It’s fascinating and unpredictable, but if you start to get into the nitty-gritty with the timing of some of the events, they don’t line up 100%. It doesn’t ruin the story, but when it’s over and you start to think about it, you will most likely scratch your head. The developers had a fantastic idea, but they didn’t fine tune all of the plot details. At least the holes aren’t big enough to drive a Mack truck through them; they’re little tears that call into question the timing of them, but not how the plot overall functions.
More to this Space Than Walking
Thankfully, there is more than simply walking around and finding random audio logs, ala Dear Esther. You’ll have to solve a few puzzles in order to get the power running to parts of the stations, find their locker codes, and figure out how to break into other locked away rooms. Fortunately, none of these puzzles are as crazy to solve as anything found in a Double Fine point-and-click adventure. Shoelace plus peanut butter does not create a helicopter. All puzzles are fairly logical to what you would expect if you were investigating a vacant space station.
The Station is short and sweet, which could be seen as a detriment. However, I liked the fact that there wasn’t a lot of fluff to the story, and there weren’t any fetch quests or other modes of padding the game to keep it going. There was plenty in the story to tell, and the developers didn’t drag it out at all. The brevity actually solidifies how stellar the narrative truly is, and I can’t recommend it enough to all gamers who love a good story, especially a good mystery.
The Station review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.