Space…the final frontier, this is the voyage of the Bento Lighthouse. In its only mission, to sit still in space, to be a lighthouse in the dark, to point and click where none have pointed and clicked before.
Space is associated with thoughts of adventure and wonder, with large scale battles and the fate of the galaxy in the balance. More often than not we forget that space is a deep and encompassing vacuum that’s dangerous, unforgiving and worst of all, lonely. Still There from developer GhostShark seeks to focus on the loneliness of Space, how it can take you far away from your loved ones and your home and how it can be the best way to run from your past. The protagonist of Still There, Karl Hamba, is doing just that. A father to a young daughter and husband to a distant wife, Karl decides to work aboard a space lighthouse called the Bento which is used to monitor star activity and to send signals into space. The reason why the station’s there is never made clear at the beginning, but throughout your journey the true purpose of the station becomes apparent.
The bread and butter of Still There are the puzzles, playing like a point and click adventure, the core gameplay loop is Karl exploring the station, performing tasks to keep it running and your money reaching your pocket until you are contacted by a mysterious voice over the radio sending out an SOS requesting rescue from a disabled ship stuck in space. The puzzles are varied and very engrossing with each one feeling like you are a space engineer, one of my personal favourites was messing with the power settings in order to turn the stations power off. You do get one or two puzzles that you have to repeat a few times, especially the grid puzzle where you have to install the breakers in the right order to do specific outputs.
To aid you in the puzzles you are given an AI by the name of Gorky, a wisecracking little shit who is both endearing and irritating on several levels. Most of the time however, Gorky will only give you hints and often tells you to refer to the technical manual to solve puzzles. That manual is the only guide you have in-game to solve the puzzles (unless you cheat and look online) and for the most part it is useful but often I found the instructions to be unclear and contradictory at times but they did their job as I only had to look up the solution to 2 puzzles because I was completely lost, which for me personally is brilliant as I normally don’t have the patience for puzzle games at all.
The characters are well fleshed out with all of them having believable motivations and some character growth but quite often they end up being one dimensional with a single trait that is dominant throughout their screen time; Karl is depressed, Ellie is erratic and Grey is just an asshole. Gorky seems to be the only character with any real growth in their personality going from being an irritating voice in the background to your best friend. You don’t spend that much time with the characters due to the games length being between 5 to 6 hours so I’m not expecting in depth character development but when the interactions between the characters is the main part of the game a little growth would go a long way.
One thing I feel I need to mention is the dialogue, 90% of Still There is dialogue driven with the interactions between the characters being the main driving force of the game. I love a good story driven game and Still There had me gripped from start to end but I must admit that quite often the dialogue felt like it was written by someone who doesn’t know how human beings actually interact. Still There, at times has some of the most cringey dialogue I’ve seen in a game for quite a while, which can sometimes pull you out of the situation but for the most part they hit the nail right on the head with delivery.
The final note I’m going to make is the art style, my god is this game pretty. A lot of the environments and characters appear to be hand drawn and whoever drew the cutscenes is a very talented person. It’s easy to forget that in this current age so much praise is lumped at CGI and in game character models for being impressive, but its games like Still There that show perfectly how effective hand drawn art can be in conveying emotions and beauty. The soundtrack is also nothing short of phenomenal with some truly Spotify worthy tracks that will both embolden and haunt you.