Horror fans out there should all be well aware now of STAIRS a kickstarted psychological horror game in which you’re armed with nothing more than a camera. In fact over the past 2 years we’ve been given two very solid and terrifying tech demos. Unlike other psychological horror titles that use constant heat-attack inducing jump scares as their key appeal (Slenderman), this game takes the alternative route of building tense, nerve rattling gameplay. So two years on from the early student project demo that got horror gamers so excited we now have the finished product but how does it stand up?
Players are placed in the role of journalist Christopher Adams as he tries to piece together a story of 3 missing individuals. His story brings him to an abandoned warehouse, where supposedly the body of one of the missing persons has been found. So why has the body turned up now in such a location? Why has it appeared now after 3 years? And what’s with the creepy underground passageway below the building? Armed with only a camera and journal we’ll need to descend the stairs into madness to find the truth. There are 3 different floors you descend to, each with their own story; one for each of the three victims. The entire spine chilling experience lasts around 3 hours, which culminates in a bit of a messy ending that doesn’t completely seem to tie everything together.
STAIRS isn’t an endless stream of jumpscares, instead the focus here is to create a tense atmosphere and let players imagination run wild. The game keeps players on edge at all times, always making you question what’s behind you and what’s lurking around the next corner. Because the scares aren’t a constant threat when something does jump out, or casually walk past you, it really is nerve shattering. Framing plays a big part and it gives us some great moments. Mysterious figures lurking in the distance, perfectly positioned text and audio ques and some fun setups that’ll turn your stomach but you can’t help but smile at. Look out for the bathroom stalls and blurred shadow figures if you want to see what I mean. The game plays out in a first person perspective and there’s very little to the gameplay, other than exploring a series of winding hallways and snapping photos of your surroundings. The camera is your main tool and it opens up some interesting mechanics. Firstly to capture key items/locations which updates your journal and secondly it can be used to reveal hidden objects or rooms. Other interesting camera mechanics are added over time and you’re gently eased into them such as night vision. The other meanwhile throws you straight into the deep end with a mechanic that is completely terrifying but also a stroke of genius; camera flash! I was leaning right back in my chair at this stage.
The first two scenarios both start with your slow paced exploration to build up tension. The second parts throw you into a separate maze like environment. The catch this time there’s active AI wandering through the corridors. While it is terrifying to be chased around by these nightmares, these sections are fairly tedious. Navigating corridors with, sometimes glitchy, AI enemies can be a pain as you have no way to fend them off and they’re generally much faster so running (well jogging) is often futile. Plus, as with most horror games, enemies become less frightening each time you’re killed. Now the puzzles are more interesting and there’s some nice variation although some can be a little on the vague side. Some are you generic fetch quests, others boil down to navigating corridors for combinations, but the best are ones that require the camera flash. One puzzle for example plays out like spot the difference, spotting what’s missing from a picture and then snapping a picture to reveal the difference.
The areas we find ourselves exploring include a very confined underground facility and a mine and they’re undoubtable creepy but they’re not very original. Levels are rather generic with the same props repeatedly littering the environments. Perhaps the most interesting environments are the first and last areas which are forests (yes there’s a forest at the bottom of the stairs) but they mirror each other the first all bright, with luscious greenery the second sinister and dark. Sound is a key element in horror games and this one doesn’t disappoint. It might just be the best feature of the game, it’s absolutely superb it really sets the tone for the game and the strategically placed audio ques really put your hairs on end. It’s also helped along with some great voice acting. The first area was a particular highlight as you’re helped along by the voice of a sweet girl but the further you explore the more her tone takes a sinister turn.
STAIRS is a fantastically terrifying game; you’re constantly put on the edge by some perfectly framed shots and some great sound effects that’ll constantly have you looking over your shoulder. There are some nerve racking stealthy like sections but they feel just a little tedious, and while the individual stories are enjoyable they don’t seem to tie up neatly. Still you do get some decent puzzles to solve, some interesting gameplay mechanics and of course some great scares. This is a must play for any fans of horror out there.
This review is based off a review code of STAIRS provided by DigitalTribe.
This review was originally published on the site GamersFTW which unfortunately has now been taken down. It’s been published on my personal blog, DanielVaughanReviews, out of respect for the developers/publishers that were kind enough to give me review copy of their game.