A three- person crew aboard the stealth station, the Espial, set out on a mission to study an alien planet, the first with a civilisation. When contact is lost, they dispatch an agent to The Station.
Developer: The Station
Publisher: The Station
Release Date: February 2018
Played Full story
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4
The Station opens with a short cutscene with a narrator explaining the premise. A planet’s been found with an actual alien civilisation, but one locked in a civil war. Deciding that the best move was to be cautious, a three-person team on a stealth space station to gather samples from the planet’s flora and fauna, perhaps some tissue here and there from the populace and in general stay out of the way of their planet-wide war. It’s a brilliant idea, until something knocks the Station out of their cloak, leaving them exposed to a potential enemy.
As the story says, an inspector goes to The Station to figure out what happened and why contact was lost.
The game opens with your ship docking and you stepping into a small hangar. From there it’s up to you to find how to open de-powered doors, fix maintenance robots and even break into lockers to not only make it deeper into the station but also figure out what happened to the crew and what kind of people they are. You read logs on terminals, hand-scribbled notes, emails and even listen to their audio logs to figure out the dynamics of the crew and get to know them as if they were with you, telling you of their actions, as if these two men and their female captain were long-lost friends you haven’t seen in a while.
Each of them has their own motivations for the mission, beyond what’s official on paper. From the desire to finally step out of someone else’s shadow to having enough to pay for someone’s medical bills, each of the characters’ motivations, quirks and bonds ground them and make them come alive. The Engineer is a man of few words and doesn’t mince them, straight to the point, and though he takes his job seriously, he’s also constantly drinking and playing practical jokes on his team mates, much to their chagrin, especially when after hiding all the pens in the station.
The station is small enough that they each leave their mark on it and every room and discarded item feels personal. The hallways and some of the common areas might be pristine or even cold, but where the crew goes there are signs of life left behind and each of those tells you more not only of these people but also of the story, of how things got this way and what they did to avoid, cause or stop it.
It also helps that the voice acting is good. I loved Silas’ actor, Sayer Roberts. There’s something of a condescending tone in everything he says, the air of intellectual superiority always about him, except for when he’s trying to talk to his captain and love interest, then there’s a deep shame in his voice, for actions committed just so he could be here with her. On the flip side is Alexandra Voicu’s Mila, her voice dripping with venom towards Silas’ and mild, sometimes even playful, annoyance towards Aiden, the engineer, whose voice actor has mastered the art of “vocal deadpan,” for his delivery.
But while the above descriptions might make you think The Station is an exploration game, a walking simulator, it’s not, as it has some really fun puzzles, with plenty of easy to miss clues if you’re not careful about interacting with everything you find. I particularly liked the locker puzzles, reminding me of the pattern lock screen on my phone. I liked even more that the game allowed me to guess my way through and didn’t force me to find all the clues for the symbol.
I do wish the game were longer, especially as the latter part of the game has some fantastic puzzles and big revelations, but I suppose a bigger station to play in would stretch the premise of a three-person station too much.
I would have liked to have an autosave function, as I’m the kind of player that gets lost playing a game and often forgets to manually save, unless something happens to make me lose progress and then I remember. With The Station, assumed an autosave function was present, but fortunately I saw the save menu right as I was about to quit the game for a while. Otherwise I would’ve had to repeat the entire game up until that point.
I love The Station’s visuals and I want to hire whoever decorated those rooms to do my future home. There’s a mix of classic sci-fi space station and luxury hotel aboard the Espial and each room speaks volumes of their occupants, from Aiden’s rooms, full of junk and parts to Silas’ which is not only huge but houses a giant library and extra security.
There are hundreds of little visual cues in the environment, subtle details in the animation and design of The Station that help tell the story. It’s amazing stuff, and interwoven with the logs and the Augmented Reality notes and titbits, it helps you along, often even giving out clues to puzzles. It’s an AR chat recording that lets you know how to open the lounge door, the first challenge aboard the Espial.
Even your menu is AR and it’s simple, efficient and as it just floats there you can leave it behind instead of closing, which is a lot of fun to be honest. Feels liberating not having to manage menus when you can just pop them up, do what you need and then just move along, forgetting it was even there.
The Station is an astounding piece of audio-visual storytelling, and proof of just how amazing a short game can be when developers have the care of polishing every aspect of it, from the sights and sounds to the writing and everything in between.
5/5 – Hell Yes!