Created by solo developer Nathan Hamley of Headware Games, Chasing Static joins the pantheon of retro horrors being released in the Indie sphere. The blocky graphics, strong audio and gripping lore coalesce to make a great game. The game is far from perfect, with the short length, bugs, and at times underdeveloped story hampering it’s enjoyability.
Chasing Static has captured the feel of the PS1 era horror games, with it being in review, one the better walking simulators out there at the moment. All that said, it’s an investigation game that could use a bit more length to really hammer out its themes. But as a showcase of what Headware Games can do, it’s the sign of a promising career.
Story – What on Earth Happened to Hearth
Chasing Static begins with the player character, Chris, attending his estranged Fathers funeral in the 1980s. He is presented with his fathers’ journal in which talks about his regrets, and his work at a strange facility. Leaving the funeral, Chris is caught in a storm, forcing him to seek shelter in a roadside diner near the Welsh town of Hearth.
Shortly after arriving the waitress is attacked by a strange wraith and the diner is plunged into darkness. Chris is now stuck in a dark version of the town, with bizarre anomalies around with moments being relived over and over in echoes. An energy field has engulfed Hearth, causing madness and leaving ghostly apparitions of past events behind. With guidance from Helen over the radio you are tasked with fixing the repeater devices that contain this energy.
There are two main story threads. First is the overarching plot regarding the events caused by the odd energy field, with echoes of deceased researchers and townsfolk providing insight into the disturbing events. This aspect is genuinely intriguing and offers numerous distressing moments, as well as an interesting horror/sci-fi world. The second thread regards Chris himself and his mysterious past. Whilst this had potential, it falls flat due to it being largely forgotten for most of the game. You don’t find out much about him until the end. This is where the shortness of the game felt most apparent. There wasn’t enough about Chris for you to really connect with him or get an engaging mystery about his past.
Overall, the Chasing Static’s story was a mixed bag to review. The big picture was great, with strong ideas from the developers, but the main character was underwhelming.
Gameplay – Hunting Anomalies with the Power of Sound
The gameplay is a familiar mix of walking simulator and point and click puzzle solutions with an inventory. There are several locations to investigate: the diner, forest, shore, town, bunker and facility. Each one contains anomalies and echoes of past events which you need to discover as you aim to restore the repeater devices that contain the anomalies.
This is mixed up with the addition of the Frequency Displacement Monitoring Device. This is essentially an anomaly/ghost radar. The display lights up when you point the dish in the direction of an anomaly or echo, showing you where to go next. At times this feels a bit monotonous. You’ll spend a fair bit of time spinning in places to find the next disturbance. However the puzzles are well designed to keep you engaged. It keeps itself from falling into the pitfalls of many walking simulators.
The puzzles are effective, with the echoes providing clues on how to progress and solve puzzles. This is supported by the voice acted lines when interacting with objects, giving hints as to what kind of object you need. There is also a sort of loudspeaker shotgun which can be used to combat the odd wraiths floating around. This seems like a feature that was meant to be cut. I only used once in the whole of Chasing Static for this review.
All in all, the gameplay is effective, although a touch too simple. It never detracts from the distress made by the games atmosphere and offers a nice, if not unique, twist on the gameplay. It’s worth mentioning for review that Chasing Static currently has a number of bugs. The most notable one was a major screen tear when moving between area which required a restart.
Graphics and Audio – Retro Style at its Best
Chasing Static takes its visual inspiration from retro horrors, in particular Silent Hill. The game uses PS1 era graphics in all their blocky glory. Whilst there are many modern attempts to capitalise on old school graphics, whether 2D or 3D, Chasing Static showcases that it knows how to use these to their best effect. Far from detracting from the atmosphere, it enhances it. There’s a sort of uncanny valley effect to the visuals, making the disturbing visuals even more unsettling when they appear. It also effectively adds to the oppressive feel as you walk around the countryside and town, with your limited perception adding to the fear of the unknown. The visuals really feel like a stylistic choice, rather than just being there for nostalgic reasons.
Given the visual style, the audio has a lot of weight to carry. Fortunately, the sound design is perfect for the game. It almost contrasts with the graphics with the distinctly modern and well implemented sound. The sound of rain and whispering noises add so much to the atmosphere with a lot of being hearable without you being able to make out what exactly it is. The dialogue is well acted, with the ghostly incidents having a dream like distortion to them that fits perfectly. It gives the impression of being underwater, which is thematically appropriate.
The graphics and audio work together seamlessly to create a palpable sense of tension and oppression in the dark woods and streets of Hearth.
Chasing Static was played for review on PS4 with a key provided by StridePR.