Are we alone in this universe? This is a question that has been answered in many different ways both by games and film, with the latest in that line being that of The Station, coming from the developers at, The Station. Yes, the name of the studio is also the name of the game that they are creating, but this shouldn’t distract us from the question that was posed at the top of this paragraph. For the purposes of this game, the answer is no, we aren’t alone in the universe. But what should we do with this information?
It was decided that the best way to see what kind of life we are dealing with would be to send a space station (the Station of the title no less) across the galaxies, equipped with the very latest cloaking technologies to see what our neighbours are up to. So far, so sneaky, right? Well, it appears that this approach may have been the correct one, as when The Station was in orbit around the planet, it appeared that the inhabitants were engaged in a full on war, busily killing each other. Now, this wasn’t the sort of first contact that the team who were sent to the station were hoping for, as who knows how an aggressive alien race with war like tendencies would react to an eye in the sky?
The premise of the game is that for some reason, the advanced cloaking has failed, The Station has been detected and the aliens aren’t best pleased, sending ships up to have a look at what is going on. As the game opens, you have been sent, on your own, across the vast gulf of space to try and figure out what happened to both The Station and its four man crew. As your craft docks with The Station, your mission of discovery and exploration begins. Apparently.
Controls for The Station are pleasingly simple. It comes with standard first person controls, with movement tied to the left stick and looking around on the right. RB is the interact button, allowing you to pick things up, manipulate them and carry bits and bobs from place to place. It is also used to trigger audio logs you may find, read articles that give you back-story as to what has happened and turn lights on and off. Y meanwhile is used to open the interactive menu, allowing you access to a map, your inventory, and the current mission. All that’s left to work out is that your left trigger lets you duck, and the right one allows you to run.
The game itself is well presented, with a shiny, futuristic look to the surroundings. The Station is a multi level affair, with various staircases dotted about, and you’ll need to explore each and every corner if you want to complete the game with as clear an idea of what has happened as possible. As you explore, you’ll find locked doors that have to be unlocked, power cells to charge, symbols to be deciphered and many more puzzles besides. A special shout out has to go to one of the locked door puzzles, which stymied me for nearly a week, in the end leaving me to draft in the wife for help to solve. I’m not going to go into details now (if I had to suffer and turn my brain to cream cheese, so do you!), but the feeling of elation when it finally pinged open was palpable.
Gameplay wise, and The Station isn’t what you’d call action packed. It put me in mind of Dear Esther or one of the other numerous “walking simulator” type games that are available, as despite the alien threat, various noises and jump scares, there is no actual combat to be found. You see, the Station is much more about building atmosphere, bringing you in close with a story that unravels the more you explore, and the more datapads you read. Was the cloaking system going down an accident or was it planned? What did happen to the crew? Why have one of the labs been destroyed? The more you look, the more you’ll find as the game unfolds. The sound effects play a huge part in building the tension too, with sparse sounds being heard as you hunt around, to jagged chords being played at certain parts of the story that will make you jump more than once.
The Station is an enjoyable experience, with a pleasing balance of exploration and puzzle solving. Sadly, it isn’t what you’d call a long game, as after finishing it first time round, my game time was just about two hours in length, not counting the time spent banging my head on that locked door. Once I knew the solution to that puzzle, I ran through things again to see how fast it could be done, and my completion time was 21 minutes. That’s 100% complete, and all achievements unlocked in under two and a half hours. Now, that’s not a long period of time in anyone’s book, and I am far from the creme de la creme of speed running gamers. Just to kick The Station a little bit more while it’s down, the desire to replay things for a third time is pretty non-existent. The story also feels like it was brought to a close way too soon, with a very sudden ending that seemingly comes out of nowhere.
In conclusion then, The Station is an absolute gift for all you achievement hunters out there. With 1000G up for grabs in (potentially) 20 minutes, the time investment for G return is amazingly high. However, The Station does pose some genuinely interesting questions in its gameplay. What if we aren’t alone? Can people really be trusted to do what’s best for the species? Are all contacts between sentient species destined to end in conflict? But aside from answering questions, the atmosphere and overall presentation of the game certainly makes a decent fist of engaging players, but that short play time hamstrings The Station before it can ever really get going.