It's been a great time for Horror Games, from big budget console exclusives to indie gems the genre has never had as many excellent games for people who like things that go bump in the night. As the resident Blast Process horror guru i'm not one to shy away from terrors in darkened asylums, cabins in the woods and spooky warehouses, as everyone's favourite 80's paranormal fighting team would say "I aint afraid of no ghosts!"
Stairs by GreyLight Entertainment however is a little different, it doesn't rely on jump scares, it doesn't need gore and viscera. What Stairs excels at is lulling you into a false sense of security and then gradually ramping up the terror, a nagging psychological fear that will rundown your spine until finally the game decides to take off the baby gloves and hit you with full skin crawling intense horror that will have you looking over your shoulder and jumping at shadows.
In Stairs you play as investigative journalist Christopher Adams as he tries to piece together the events of three deaths that took place at a secluded factory in the woods. Armed with nothing more than your trusty camera and a note book you descend into factory to solve the mystery of these murders and grab some photographs before any rival journalists.
The mechanics are basic with one mouse button pulling your camera out and the other taking a shot. Your journey is filled with outlines of images you must take and you gradually fill these in as you explore and take pictures of the surroundings. I quite enjoyed this element of the game, moving from area to area snapping crime scene shots in order to fill out the backstory of the events that have happened. Imagine a combination of Project Zero (Fatal Frame for our overseas readers) and Pokemon snap and you're halfway there!
The camera also serves a second purpose and that is of lighting the way. At times the environment is so dark you will need to use the flash of the camera to slowly edge your way around the building, your heart stopping each time the flash bulb goes off in case you see something spooky in the small moment of illumination...
Early in the second story you pick up a torch, but I do think the areas when you just have the camera to reply on are much spookier.
Finally the camera can also be used to find hidden passageways that can lead to secrets and continue progression of the story line. While at the start of the game i had my camera put away so that I could run, by the end of the first story i was clutching onto the camera to make sure I didnt miss anything!
As the game progresses there are puzzles to solve and secrets to find. An early puzzle involves trying to find the combination to a safe, with clues regarding the digits scattered around the stage. This gives the game some momentum as you try to piece together the clues as the unnerving atmosphere and well paced horror comes together.
Visually the game looks great running on the Unreal Engine with some suitably dark and spooky lighting.
The music is excellent with chilling themes and environmental sounds that get the pulse racing, unfortunately the voice acting is a little unconvincing at times and this does take away from the otherwise excellent experience.
Despite some minor issues such as having to be in just the right place for photos to be counted as having being taken and the slightly awkward way the journey is laid out, this is an excellent horror game and well worth a play! The story is only a couple of hours long, but in that time you will fear genuine terror leaving you feeling deeply unsettled, and any game that can have such an emotional response always gets a thumbs up in my books!
Stairs is currently available on steam at a launch price of £7.49 - Buy it here!