Are we alone in the universe? Whatever the answer ends up being, it has some pretty heavy ramifications across multiple facets of society, such as religion and science. The Station looks to explore these topics by telling the story of The Espial, a space station setup to observe an alien civilisation to determine if first contact should be made. When the facility suddenly goes dark and all contact is lost, you’re sent to find out what happened to the crew and assess the status of the mission.
In a similar vein to titles such as Gone Home and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, you’ll spend most of your short time with this title – it only lasts a couple of hours – poking around every part of the seemingly deserted space station. As you uncover details about the three crew members by exploring the private and communal areas of the station, you’ll be able to build a portrait of their personalities and get a glimpse of their lives through audio logs, emails, notes, and all manner of environmental storytelling.
Even when done well, this sort of approach to unfolding a games narrative can feel a touch contrived at times, but if the story and characters resonate then questions about why on earth people seem to have an overwhelming urge to leave so many notes lying around tend to drop away. The problem with The Station is that there isn’t much depth to either its story or characters.
Not only will you likely see exactly where the story is going quite early on, the pace at which you move through each area, and just how little there is of actual note to find, means that you never really end up caring about any of the characters, and when the conclusion arrives, there’s hardly any emotional punch to it.
It’s disappointing. The idea of a mission to observe an alien race embroiled in civil war to determine if first contact should be made has the potential to be a lucrative thematic goldmine, and there are some interesting narrative threads that are touched upon, but in most instances they never go anywhere. You’ll feel like there’s the parts of a much more thought provoking story in your hands, but they just haven’t been matured and put together in a way that would’ve made for a more engaging experience.
It’s not a total bust though, as wandering around the dim, well realised corridors of the station can be particularly atmospheric – even if the framerate surprisingly struggles at times. With explosions frequently rocking the damaged installation as you explore, you’ll start to realise that something went very wrong with the mission, and a sense of unease will begin to build. Make no mistake, this isn’t a horror title, but it does do a good job of building tension throughout the couple of hours you’ll spend on The Espial.
Another aspect that proves to be somewhat enjoyable are the puzzles you’ll periodically need to solve. There aren’t that many in the grand scheme of things, but you’ll need to complete all but a couple of them in order to get to the end. The solutions to these are always logical and give you everything you need to solve them within a contained area – whether it’s repairing a maintenance robot, or working out a door combination. It also keeps you on track with some decent signposting using an AR unit your character possesses. This projects hot spots on the environment, highlighting major points of interaction, as well as detailing just what you’ll need to do to overcome particular obstacles. It sounds more impressive than it actually is, but it ensures – along with the easy puzzles – that you’ll make swift progress and always know what you need to do next.
So called “walking simulators” live or die on whether they deliver an engaging story, and while The Station appears – at least at first glance – to have this covered, it misses the mark in a number of important ways. It’s not bad by any means, but its characters and themes feel light and underdeveloped. While it stumbles narratively, it does at least successfully craft a tense atmosphere, but neither this nor its modest number of enjoyable – if somewhat easy – puzzles are enough to make this a prime candidate for first contact.