Mistery and a creepy atmosphere don’t necessarily make a good game.
Developer: Headware Games
Publisher: Ratalaika Games S.L.
Release date: 14 October, 2021
Chasing Static is a game coming from the Haunted PS1, a community with a collection of low-resolution horror games with a style similar to those of the first PlayStation. The title sets itself as a short psychological horror story set in Wales, specifically around the village of Hearth. Chris Selwood stops at the Last Stop Cafe after a hard day, but he doesn’t know that things are just about to get messier.
Chasing Static starts as many horror films and games start. You ride your car down a long road deep into the forest and are, well… pretty lost. After a while, you find a beacon of civilization, the Last Stop Cafe: interesting name, because it will also be your last stop, more or less. You drink some coffee and have some lovely chatter with the waitress, until suddenly you are left in the dark. You have to understand, cafes deep into god-knows-where don’t have the best electrical systems, but luckily you have some experience and make quick work of the broken fuses. What you didn’t expect, though, is the invisible force attacking you and the waitress when the lights come back, or waking up in a desolated forest with just dead bodies to talk to.
You try to drive away from the place but, as you discover later, you cannot. It wants you there and you won’t be able to escape: a car accident, a landslide, you will always find something keeping you in the area. Luckily, you have help: exploring what seems an abandoned bunker you get a radio connection with a friendly voice. It briefly explains that something has broken loose, that you have to contain three areas and that you will be able to do that thanks to a special tool that acts as a sound listening device.
The tool is almost like a parabolic microphone, but with a twist: it is able to locate nearby zones with static activity (called echoes) and signal their direction to you. These zones are invisible to the naked eye, but once you get inside, you’ll be able to see what happened in that same zone in the past. This will let us see the scientists that worked before us to contain the three zones and discover a little bit of story for each echo. Sometimes discovering echoes is also important in order to proceed further into the game, as they reveal the location of important tools.
This sort of parabolic microphone is the tool that gives the title its name and its main mechanic in terms of gameplay. And also one of its problems. One of the points of strength of Chasing Static is its sound design: while most of the environmental sounds are simple (in the fashion of PS1 games), they are able to consistently create a creepy atmosphere throughout the game. I was honestly struck at how simple yet effective the sound design is. And yet the game is able to ruin it all by giving you a tool that, once activated, muffles all the sounds you hear. It could’ve been so much better, maybe boosting a specific set of sounds to make the atmosphere even creepier, or letting you hear sounds that would have been otherwise impossible to hear. The worst part is that you will have this tool on for the majority of your exploration, since it is the only way to find the various echoes around the maps.
There are two other big contributors to Chasing Static’s dark atmosphere: its graphics and the sense of danger that the game creates in the first steps of the story. Starting from the former, the PS1 style is beautifully recreated and definitely one of the main selling points of the game. Even better, it’s perfectly suited for the game and it adds to the overall creepiness of the title’s locations. The sense of danger is instead instilled very early into the story, when you get attacked in the cafe, and stays there for a little while. This sense of danger is mostly created by the dead bodies around the locations we will explore, but also by the fact that we have no idea of what happened in the area before. You know that the thing that slaughtered those men is still roaming around. And then you meet it.
Meeting the monster of Chasing Static was a completely anticlimactic experience: the first time I met the monster, I started to hear static, then turned around to see a weird translucent figure coming after me… at an incredibly slow speed. Just by walking (you can also run) I was leaving the monster behind me. Then, just to see what would happen, I decided to run into it: screen fades to black and I reappear a few steps behind my actual “death” position. The monster is gone. Nothing happened. This completely killed the atmosphere for me, tearing away the “psychological” from horror for the last part of the game. I was suddenly running around, because there was no reason for me to not do so.
Chasing Static is a title constantly working against itself. It revolves around 2-ish hours of gameplay, building a nice dark atmosphere, just to ruin everything with the wrong ideas and mechanics. Truly a shame, because I really enjoyed some aspects of this title, first of all its graphical style.