The idea of isolation in space is a tried and true theme. We’ve seen it done time and time again, sometimes really well, and sometimes leaving the player wanting something. We’ve even had an entire game dedicated to the theme. It’s something that seems easy to implement, but in reality, is actually a lot harder to do well. It’s here where The Station thrives.
The latest entry in the “walking simulator” genre and funded via Kickstarter, The Station drops the player in the role of investigator, exploring a space station that went dark to try and discover what happened to its crew assigned to monitor a planet full of some new species. This is all explained in the form of an exposition dump as your ship is going through the docking procedure, but after that, the player is left to their own devices to figure out what happened. The history of the proceedings of The Station is laid out to the player in the form of audio logs and text diaries (both messages and text messages on each of the crews personal terminals), documenting the dynamic on board, as well as the roles and responsibilities. However, if the player rails straight through, they might miss some of the small details. For example, if so inclined, there are clues for each crew member’s locker combination, which when opened, shed some more light on their personality.
While short and sweet, The Station does a solid job of compartmentalizing out the different sections of the game, leading to a specific progression line for players to follow. To unlock specific doors, they might need to find the right keycode, or execute a string of steps to repair something. Unlike a game like Gone Home, where the player can get to the ending in under 60 seconds, The Station presents the player with a kind of purpose, and agency that is so rare to see in these types of games. All in all, the game takes around 2 hours to play through, and can feel very sparse at times, especially since there are no indicators or objective pings. Players need to familiarize themselves with their surroundings and pay attention to what they’re looking for. This can be aided with the help of a menu system that draws inspiration from Dead Space’s, represented as a hologram to the user. However, said hologram stays in place, so you can’t move around with it open. This is just one of a few small quality of life issues I’ve seen with the game, like the generally lethargic controls.
Overall The Station sets out to deliver a mystery around what happened on this derelict area, and it does so for the most part. Despite a feeling of sparseness and emptiness in some areas, the game succeeds in making the spaces feel lived in and personalized; be it a dryer still running with a random shoe in it, or a letter from a crew member’s child. The twist towards the end made the game for me, as I didn’t see it coming, especially with how well paced the game is in terms of length and storytelling. I found myself bored in a few moments, but that was moreso because I spaced out when looking for something to get me into the next necessary area. While the story may have been fun, the characters were largely forgettable, as was any kind of message the game tried to send. The feeling of isolation in The Station is conveyed very well, but it’s nothing mind blowing. The Walking Simulator genre has become increasingly saturated since its advent, and The Station, while overall a good solid entry, does nothing to really elevate the genre as a whole.