According to Steam’s in-game clock, it took me 17 hours to complete Stasis Bone Totem, a horror/sci-fi point-and-click game from [essentially] two-man development team The Brotherhood [South African brothers Chris and Nic Bishoff] – and that doesn’t surprise me as the game’s intriguing story grew on me the more I progressed.
A sequel to 2015 game Stasis, which I never played. Stasis Bone Totem sees husband and wife oceanic salvagers Mac and Charlie O’Bannon (and robotic bear Moses) stumble across a derelict oil rig run by the Cayne Corporation. What follows is a Lovecraftian tale that takes the main characters all the way down to an undersea complex and melds themes of an ancient alien civilisation, unnatural human experimentation and Gieger-esque visuals.
Before long, the trio learn why the Cayne Corporation worked so hard to keep the rig’s dark secret hidden for so long and it’s clear the game is inspired by films like Alien, Silence of the Lambs [maybe] and Se7en – and while there are no “jump scares” that will force a change of underwear, there’s a lot of imagery that is pretty unsettling and cloaks everything in a sense of unease and uncertainty.
A Deep Sea Bad Day
Central to the gameplay is using objects in the world that will move the story forward and allow Charlie, Mac and Moses to progress. It might be Charlie stumbling across a deep sea dive suit that has damaged components or a passageway that requires leverage to squeeze through it. Doors must be opened, mysteries solved and the game uses a rather creative “ping” system that highlights objects that can be interacted with or examined closer. It’s a nice way to keep you aware of your surroundings, even if many of them are unpleasant to look at. I’m looking at you flayed body with the item that I need embedded in your blood-soaked wrist.
For most of the story, Charlie, Mac and Moses are exploring the derelict rig alone, each facing different horrors, and will come across items that will often be needed by another in the trio to solve the conundrum they are facing. So … how do they get the item they need?
This is solved by Charlie’s Quantum inventory system, which lets the trio swap items they find between themselves using Quantum Storage Devices strapped to their wrists. Think of the devices as mini-portals that allow them to transfer items between them.
Handily, Charlie can combine two items to create a new item while Mac can crush things with his robotic arm to utilise hidden components. Think separating a pneumatic piston from a cybernetic arm or combining a chain with a bone. Moses is able to hack computer systems.
Puzzling Puzzles on occasion
At times, the puzzles will challenge you [I’ll admit I did have to use a Steam walkthrough at one point because I was just stumped so much] but for the most part they’re logical – and when you do solve the tougher ones, you’ll likely mutter to yourself “Ah, that makes perfect sense. Why didn’t I think of that?”
With a bit of lateral thinking, you’ll solve them without much problem. That said, I’d recommend what I tend to do with games like this. Take a lot of photos of things I came across that I thought might come in useful later. As well as jotting down numbers and codes that were written on walls or posters. I’m glad I did as sometimes the solution to a puzzle had been written on a poster I’d seen a few rooms back.
If you’re a player who struggles with games that have a lot of exposition and back story revealed through reading PDA entries, then you might struggle with Stasis Bone Totem as there are literally dozens of PDAs scattered about the game world that are packed to the gunwales with diary entries and commentary from long-gone sailors, rig workers and scientists. The in-game dialogue, too, is plentiful, but, thankfully, you can skip it if that’s what you want.
Gravitating to Moses
Unexpectedly, Moses proved the most endearing of the three characters. Which I put down to the great voice work by Danny Doyle. Don’t get me wrong: I thought Brian Grey as Mac and Michelle Campbell as Charlie did a sterling job. I honestly wasn’t expecting to get so attached to a robotic toy bear, but I was and Moses endeared himself to me with his charm and reassuring “I am a smart & strong bear” quip when he is urged to explore deeper into the rig, uncovering more horrors. Ultimately, Moses’ story is the most tragic, too. The soundtrack, too, from Mark Morgan (who was responsible for the soundtracks of Fallout & Planescape) is suitably haunting and fits the tone superbly.
If I had one criticism it would be the finale. I just felt it didn’t do the game justice after hours and hours of building tension. I didn’t hate the ending but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed at how things concluded. It just felt a little rushed and for me just seemed a little flat after what I was anticipating based on the preceding hours.
Make no mistake, Stasis Bone Totem is a thoroughly enjoyable romp through a horror-infused world that strongly questions the ethics of human experimentation and the corporations behind it. It has characters that are genuinely interesting and a story that drips enough unsettling imagery that it’ll scratch that horror game itch.