The Station (Xbox One Review)
It’s amazing how games can frequently rattle our brains with complex puzzles, intricate designs and complicated story telling. But when it comes to the finer details, such as background noise or set dressing, our minds become complacent; not wanting to focus on the specifics of a scene or moment, but rather to look toward the main event and ignoring the lesser details that surround us.
And that’s what The Station duped me into doing. Doubling my efforts to uncover the true nature behind the remote research station Espial and the whereabouts of its inhabitants rather than taking in my surroundings or urging myself to question every facet of the setting I find myself in.
The stage is set. You’ve been sent on recon mission to the Espial, a deep space research base on the outer edge of a new world brimming with sentient life. The Espial’s goal was to study these extra-terrestrial beings from afar and report their findings to headquarters, until things suddenly go dark. You are to survey the now abandoned Espial facility and rally home.
As banal as setup as the story may seem, The Station does a good job of directing the players focus toward the goal of searching for clues, solving blatantly obvious puzzles and reading data logs of crewmates past conversations. And that’s when The Station decides to throw a few narrative curveballs at you throughout your exploration. The conspicuous becomes more apparent and everything then on feels like it really comes out of left field. Which in hindsight, it really shouldn’t have. I should’ve picked up on information here and there that would’ve solidified my theory of what was really happening. But all that didn’t really matter as I was too enveloped in the story to sidetrack myself. However, there are some aesthetic faults that take you out of the experience.
One these faults being the vastness of space itself, the black engulfing nothingness that envelopes theEspial. Peering out of one of many observations windows the Espial has, it’s quite clear that the deepness of space looks more like a cardboard backdrop of a movie set (which isn’t a plot twist incase you were wondering). The stars are lifeless and the planet below looks out of place with the rest of scene. What’s more beguiling is the outward size of the Espial compared to the inner depth that the Espial wields. With a visually outward smaller frame concealing a much larger space station within means players will have to suspend their sense of disbelief to really immerse themselves in The Station’s world.
That being said, the Espial’s interior design is stellar, further doubling down on what I previously said earlier, by paying close attention to detail will go a long way to enjoying The Station as a whole and understanding the story afoot. Though The Station is an atmospheric walking simulator at its core—hence the level of detail The Station shows—there are a few instances of puzzle solving that may entice some players to engage with the environments more periodically, but in most cases items are nothing more than props to fool around with. In fact, any puzzles that the player has to solve to progress are delivered to their feet on a silver platter, answers brandished and all. Usually a piece of paper telling the player exactly what to do, or near enough doing the work for them, taking any fun out of the scenario all together. These long leisurely strolls down The Station’s hallways were supposed to be broken up by engaging puzzles but instead offers the player a somewhat patronising solution before they even began to work it out.
The one thing that did jump out at me—quite literally—is the user interface for your HUD. Like most walking simulators, the screen is not cluttered with crucial information such as health, stamina and the like as they have no necessary place here. However, an inventory system is far more crucial. Instead of the the inventory screen being tucked inside a pause menu, The Station uses AR (Augmented Reality) mechanics to overlay your inventory screen within the game world. The game doesn’t pause and the world continues to flow around you, you’re free to move around while you mess about with the items you have, read your journal entries or even see your mission parameters. The AR functionality may understandably be un-exciting to most, but I’ve honestly never seen anything like this outwith mobile games before, making it a nice surprise that made the futuristic setting feel less fallible.
While The Station doesnt go above and beyond to deliver a new and tantalizing atmospheric experience for walking simulators and the genre as a whole, it does solidly deliver an tight and unpredictable journey. There are a few immersion breaking elements, as stated above, that harm the The Station’s appearance as well as a few minor bugs were rooms didn’t load properly or the frame rate dips when things got cluttered. But overall The Station is a sleek, though short, adventure that surprises you with every short turn it has.