Stairs does an excellent job of setting the stage and creating an atmospheric first-person action/adventure game that relies on smart use of tension and does not fall back on cheap jump scares all of the time. The end result is an interesting narrative with some good puzzle mechanics that remind us that it is in fact horror season.
The moody lighting is what stood out to me the most. The narrative began with a tale that seems very singular in purpose, though later you start to realize that there are a trio of story arcs at play here that are tied to the titular stairs. These are a confusing, supernatural set of stairs that you realize you cannot simply climb up and escape or down to delve further into the game’s horrors until you complete the current level’s task.
Initially the gameplay kicks off in a shadowed forest on a sunny say. Rays of brilliant sunlight peek through the overhead canopy of gently swaying leaves and limbs, casting shadows down onto the ground below. Before long however, our protagonist – Christopher Adams – finds an old building to traverse. Here the game teaches without holding your hand. To its credit, Stairs does a good job of leveraging its environment for organically logical puzzles. However, it does only give you a handful of on-screen prompts at first, leaving you to experiment and figure out how the different controls and mechanics work together.
Once you infiltrate the abandoned building and find your way to the winding stairwell and descend to the next level, things really start to get creepy. Instead of nature accented by sunlight, here we have a completely enclosed environment where only artificial light helps to pave the way. Shadows and lighting make you jumpy, but the sound effects really help to seal the deal and make for an immersive atmosphere. However, before long Christopher finds himself in some very diverse new environments while trying to solve puzzles and sneak past the occasional creature.
Pacing is probably the greatest strength Stairs exhibits beyond the quality visuals and sound design. New elements are introduced, used as carrots in the story to keep you moving forward as you try to solve where to go or how to unlock something, all of the while using your camera to take snapshots of potential clues along the way. That being said, and I don’t want to delve too deeply into the story, I will say that the game’s ending (which you can reach in about three or four hours of play) was somewhat underwhelming. Truthfully I felt that the story deserved a better finale, as there were a few too many loose ends for my liking.
The first-person view works very well here – but then I am of the opinion that first person is probably the creepiest perspective one can use in a horror game. Very little in the way of danger occurred during my first hour or so of play, but the tone gets set so effectively that you do not care. I remember the first time I was creeping around a dark passage and paused as I saw a shadowy form at the end of it. Reluctantly, nervously even, I approached. Once I got close enough, I realize that this was a figure painted on the wall with some light shining down on it for additional creepiness – and it worked. Of course, things pick up the further in you and rest assured – there are plenty of legitimate scares to be had later.
In the video I have included above (which has a small event spoiler in it during one of the game’s creepier early moments, so watch at your own risk), I end it on a fairly tense reveal. The sound design really set up and made the whole thing happen and the scene was certainly an impactful one.
Stairs is a short game with a solid storyline that deserved a better ending, but the overall experience is still a good one. If you are looking for a title with tense, moody atmosphere and some quality puzzles to keep you busy along the way, Stairs should provide you a good dose of creepy horror action.
Article by Nick