By Michael Fontanini / November 5th, 2015
|Release Date||September 28, 2015|
|Genre||Indie, Horror, Adventure|
Stairs drops you in the shoes of a freelance journalist (Christopher Adams) looking for a story to sell to anyone who’ll take it. Unfortunately, his dark past soon catches up to him. You start out by heading to an old, abandoned factory in search of answers about a cold case involving three people. One has been missing for three long years, and her body was just found in the old factory by police a few days ago. While sneaking into a crime scene is probably not the wisest thing to be doing, that’s exactly what you find yourself attempting as the game begins. As you delve deeper into the bowels of the old factory and the tunnels below, can you piece together what happened? More importantly, will you get back out with your life?
After the intro sequence, Stairs starts with you on a small, peaceful footpath. Your first task is to take photographs of certain places in the game world. Each level of the game contains a total of eight photographs for the player to find and take. Once you find a way into the factory, you should get photos of some of the crime scene markers inside the factory, before descending into the basement. The main aspect of the gameplay is exploring to find the photographs and notes scattered around each level.
Being a journalist, you also have a journal that you can view at any time. Your character takes notes in it when you find certain things and places in the world. There is a page that shows you which of the eight photographs you’ve found so far in the current level as well. The notes you can find laying around in various places in the levels help to fill in some of what is going on. The number of notes in each level varies and there are achievements for getting all photographs and notes in each level and so on.
Above is a screenshot of the factory. Once you’ve ventured inside the factory, you will become trapped inside. The entrance you came in through will slam shut when you’re on the catwalk just above it, guaranteeing you hear it.
You can see in the image that the sign is not in English. You will encounter writing in other parts of the game like this as well. Some books on shelves in the game have titles on their spines in English, and of course the in-game GUI text is all in English. The game does not seem to have any language options in it though.
You can switch to camera mode in Stairs at any time by pressing the right mouse button. Pressing it again exits camera mode. While in camera mode, pressing the left mouse button will snap a photograph. In a later level, you will also get a night-vision upgrade for your camera, which can be toggled on and off via the N key. Oddly, this key is not present in the controls screen. In the second level you will get a flashlight that you can use for a while. It can be toggled with the F key. Movement is pretty standard, using WASD keys to move around and mouse to look around. You can sprint by holding down Shift, and you can crouch by pressing Control. You cannot jump, but you can get on higher objects (if they aren’t too high) by crouching in front of the object, then un-crouch while moving toward the object. Objects like doors can be interacted with by pressing the E key. So, the controls are mostly pretty standard. You can change them if you like, too.
The screenshot above shows the first area inside of the old, abandoned factory. It also shows what the screen looks like when you turn on camera mode. As you can see, the environments in the game are crafted very well, and are enjoyable to explore. They are quite convincing and well designed. There aren’t that many levels though, as the game is somewhat short. It builds the mood with very ambient background music that creates tension and sets a tone of uneasiness and foreboding. The sound effects are pretty well done, too. A good example is the creaking and clanking of the scaffolding in the wind outside the factory as you walk by.
The main area inside the factory is a very open space, as you can see above. But as you venture deeper, you will find yourself in tighter, more claustrophobic spaces, such as the very dark mine tunnels that you discover a bit later. The first level is pretty safe, as there are no real dangers to the player right away. As you move down into the area where the woman was imprisoned, some supernatural stuff begins to happen. Danger increases as you delve ever further into the darkness, such as the false floors in the mines. These rickety stretches of floor composed of wood planks are very weak. Running over them will cause them to creak and collapse, sending you plummeting into the pit below. I recommend crossing them while crouched.
The levels in Stairs may be fairly large and pretty well crafted, but the game does have some significant problems. Some of these might be related to my computer’s hardware, or the operating system (Windows 10) of course. However, many of the issues I had have also been reported by a number of other members of the game’s community. Some have reported game crashes, though that only happened to me once. The achievements are another source of a lot of issues. They seem to be heavily bugged, particularly in the later stages of Stairs. The counter that should be keeping track of how many notes you found on a level seems to stop when you die (in the later levels), as does the counter for the photographs. So if you should die, the game apparently doesn’t count notes and photographs gotten after you die as counting towards the achievements. Also, one of the achievements is also completely broken according to the forums.
Another issue I encountered in Stairs is with the night vision upgrade for your camera. It gave me some glitches on a couple of occasions during my playthrough. I needed to turn it on for a very dark area in one of the last parts of the game, but when I turned it on it gave me a black screen, as though the night vision effect had become completely opaque somehow. So I could see nothing but black. I found I could use my camera flash to work around the issue and advance anyway. I also had a case where the night vision simply would not turn on at all when I needed it.
One other issue is that the story presented by Stairs is a bit confusing, as the game does not really present enough information to the player. I understand it more now after finding a post from the developer in the Steam forums for the game. In it, they mention that Christopher Adams (you) has taken stories and sold them in the past. But he took the shady step of adding extra details to the story to make it more interesting. In doing so, he made people in the stories into things they were not, such as prostitutes. But as you advance in the game, knowing this, it seems that the paranormal forces at work wish to make him pay for his sins.
Overall, Stairs was an enjoyable experience in spite of some of its issues. It is not one of the scariest games I’ve played, but I still would probably not recommend it for kids, of course. You can finish the game in a handful of hours at most depending on how thorough you are. The experience is more ambient than truly dangerous, but there are ways you can die. I did enjoy exploring and finding the notes and photographs, but the issues with some achievements and the night vision hurt the experience and broke immersion. You can get the game on Steam for a price of $12.99, though you may want to wait for a sale. It sounds like some of these issues may be fixed in the next patch, but there is as of yet no word on exactly when that patch will release. Stairs sends you chasing a hot story as a freelance journalist, but you can’t run from your dark past forever…
Review copy provided by Publisher.
AdventureDigital TribeGreyLight EntertainmenthorrorIndieiosStairsSteam