by Joel France
previewed on PC
Is This Loss?
Still There places you in the role of Karl, an astronaut stationed far up in orbit, managing a space-lighthouse alone save for your AI companion and taskmaster. It’s quickly revealed that the solitude of this role is something Karl sought out following the loss of his young daughter, as a way of avoiding his emotions. Developers GhostShark have taken the classic point-and-click approach and built this story around a man coming to terms with grief in his own way.
The game is split neatly into days aboard this space-lighthouse, with routine tasks being a key element of your workload — Karl will need to navigate the cockpit of this craft to perform systems analysis, maintain energy supplies and generally keep things (space)shipshape. As the story progresses you will begin to communicate with nearby craft, and it’s hinted this will form the basis of the narrative development of the game. Whilst the control panel felt spacious during first impressions, this being the only room you have access to in the game creates a looming sense of claustrophobia that will only heighten as time goes on.
There’s a clear unity between the visual aesthetic and the gameplay — where every action on the delightfully old-school control panel feels almost tactile, despite being operated with the cursor. You’re introduced to the dials and sliders at your fingertips in an organic way, with instructions for your initial tasks guiding you across the various modules. This gives you plenty of time to see how the complexity of the command station is likely to ramp up over time. The retro feeling extends to the mechanics at play — taking heavy inspiration from legendary LucasArts adventure games, and using the same dry wit to convey incidental anecdotes as a form of world-building. The light-hearted tone seems at odds with the heavy subject matter, though humour as a coping mechanism is nothing new and in this case only serves to amplify the emotional connection to our protagonist.
Still There wants you to succeed. At certain points in the game, you might find a puzzle just that little bit too challenging — in fact, the developers are counting on it. Part of coming to terms with an obstacle in your life is knowing when to ask for assistance — in this case from the AI helper that accompanies you in the otherwise lonely control room. By asking for help, you can ease the challenge through guidance in the right direction. But it was made clear that this is not a fix-all solution - whilst you can get help, the final push will need to come from your own initiative; the puzzles won’t be fully solved for you. Gaining control over your fate seems to be an important motif in the game’s narrative. Near the start of the demo I played there is an indication that your character is not ready to come to terms with their own emotions. I don’t want to spoil it, but it was satisfyingly and uniquely conveyed through the mechanics of the interaction.
With a release window of Fall 2019 fast approaching, Still There is not far off on the event horizon — though with time still for polish, as GhostShark tweak minor elements of dialogue and UI to create the most seamless and emotive experience possible. I’m certainly looking forward to accompanying Karl on his isolated voyage once the game launches later this year.