Chasing Static may sound like a crude auto-fill suggestion for the D’n’B duo Chase & Status, but it’s in fact a precise description of going to one of their concerts… As well as the newly released game by Headware Games, published by Ratalaika. I’ve said this before in my Voyage review, but Ratalaika have recently become quite the competent curator for low-budget indie games that could fly under your radar, but definitely shouldn’t.
Set in North Wales during the dead of night, you play as a character called Chris who has just attended his father’s funeral. Torrential rain and whipping winds drive you to take shelter in a lone roadside café in the middle of nowhere. Not long after your much-needed coffee break you are seemingly teleported into a reality that’s lost in time. The cakes that once sat in the display are rotten, the walls are grungy and chipped away. Exploring the foreboding rural land, you’ll shortly come across a Frequency Displacement Monitoring Device (I’ll refer it to as FDMD from now on), it’s described in the game as an FM radio. Poking the attached microphone around your surroundings picks up frequencies which enable you to discover the secrets of the town and hopefully escape in one piece.
Government cover-ups, strange anomalies and glowing green fungus litter your environments in an open approach on how you uncover the mystery. Besides an opening and closing sequence, the story is up for yourself to discover putting all the pieces together to paint the full picture. Character dialogue has an uncanny charm similarly to how Silent Hill 2 did back in its day and whilst it’s not perfect, Chris does go on a poignant journey. Chasing Static goes to strange places narratively but ending on a human note definitely sold the shrouded plot. There are also multiple endings adding to its replayability and subtle differences in your actions can alter your end resulting in a “good” or “bad” ending. The bulk of the game does have notes for you to find; but none of it felt helpful in the world building which is a shame as there may be more to read between the lines that I missed, but I wanted to know more of the world. The game left me wanting to know and see more of its unique world.
Chasing Static’s lo-fi PSX era approach in its design is at the forefront. However, it plays like a modern first-person exploration game making it a smooth experience. As I previously mentioned, a proponent is the FDMD which helps you hunt for echoes to discover fragments of the story. Though what drives the plot forwards is visiting three specific areas to return power to machines that are also searching similar frequencies you are. Each area has their own puzzles -you’ll need to have a keen eye to look out for the key items. One early example is a broken fuse box that needs a new fuse but to fix it you’ll need a screwdriver and two spare fuses. Visual cues throw just enough of a life line for you to solve it, but the game’s dark aesthetic makes finding some key items difficult.
On top of that, if you miss what you’re looking for, whether that’s due to dialogue text or a tutorial pop up it could feel like fumbling in the dark until it clicks. Later in the game the puzzles do get a little bit creative despite having no real sign posting that I saw, but the open-ended exploration does mean you could be going back and forth as the key items for one thing may not be useful in your current area. It’s not a huge issue but it felt like if it was a more guided experience I would have faced less confusion. One feature I didn’t expect to ever write about in a review is the ability to save. Here you use a polaroid camera, taking your own photo creates a save file, to load it back up you sift through photos/save files of pictures you took. It’s unique and adds to the strange nature of the game.
Face for the Radio
The low-poly aesthetic feels quite fashionable these days, but Chasing Static’s art style has more substance than just following a trend. I’ve made the comparison before of it being Silent Hill 2 and in some ways it definitely is apt, without being a knock off. The Lynchian intro reminded me of a PSX version of Twin Peaks, nothing is at it seems on the surface. The stark shades of greys of the surroundings makes the neon green splattered across the floor and the harsh red of lights in certain areas stand out, making it claustrophobic and unsettling.
I won’t spoil what you do discover but the scares aren’t ever really there. However, there is a consistent feeling of dread and it’s all thanks to the minimal use of sound and the strong design. Music is sparse and when I did hear it, again it sounded like SH2, but the silence is deafening when you’re exploring. Voice lines and other audio is muffled when using the FDMD which is a nice touch that adds to the immersion. The culmination of the audio and visuals result in a fine sci-fi horror setting. The nostalgic touch of the PSX era does make it feel like you’ve stumbled upon a forbidden VHS you’d find in the Sinister movie but nothing reached any frightening heights.
Chasing Static doesn’t overstay it’s welcome in the story it tries to tell. With around a 2.5-hour completion time, it’s a digestible sci-fi psychological horror that results in a personable story which was welcomed. It may not have delivered on the scares, but the atmosphere and mystery was intoxicating enough to progress through to the end. In some instances, I did run into a bug or two that stopped me from experiencing fractions of the story, as well as seeing below the surface in the form of black squares. Neither times completely detracted from my enjoyment but it did take me out of immersion a little bit.
A little rough around the edges, even for the lo-fi approach – Chasing Static is a decent time if you’re looking for a short sci-fi horror story. The PSX art style lends itself into being an aesthetically memorable experience that might please fans of that era of horror games. Despite the game’s title I wasn’t necessarily guided by the static, resulting in a missing trick. However, the decent albeit a little vague story made me want to stay in the game till the end.
Chasing Static is out now on PlayStation 5 (review platform), PS4, Xbox Series S|X, Nintendo Switch and PC (Steam)
Developers: Headware Games
Publishers: Ratalaika Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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