Games Review: The Station (Xbox One, 2018): ET Gone Home

It only took me a little over two hours to knock The Station over but I’m stilling idly thinking about it whenever I’ve nothing else to occupy my brain. For a game this short, there’s a surprising amount to unpack once the credits have rolled. It’s not perfect — the edges are rough like shark’s hide, even a graze will take skin off — but the story is quite strong, and if you can muscle past all the technical problems, it may reward you.
The Station wears its walking simulator inspirations on its sleeve. Titles like Gone Home, Dear Esther and last year’s Tacoma are the most obvious ones, drip feeding you information as you solve reasonably straightforward puzzles before moving into a new area. What about these technical problems you mentioned, David? Yes, let’s get into a few of those.

Actually walking has your character move at a pace where, were they on earth, they might be outstripped by a passing butterfly. Leaning on the right trigger to run ups your character’s pace to the kind of jog one does when a motorist allows you to cross the street in front of them, indicating hurry while not actually moving that much faster at all.

Despite living on a space station in the future, your character’s greatest challenge seems to be simply opening a door without getting it horribly wrong. You’ve never seen a person fuck up opening a door so completely. Your character is a person who, on a fundamental level, does not understand doors practically or conceptually. You press RB, which is your Action button, to select the door and then open it by moving the right stick, which sounds quite simple. The thing is, sometimes the game just ignores whatever direction you’re pushing the stick in and sends the door the other way.

The game is riddled with annoyances like these, and that’s important for you to know as they’ll dictate your level of enjoyment. I do think you should do your best to put up with them and push through anyway because the story The Station is trying to tell is worth all the suffering.

Your character is a reconnaissance agent sent to inspect a derelict space station orbiting a distant alien world. Heretofore undiscovered alien life forms were found on the planet’s surface and brought back to the station for analysis, but before any work could begin a bloody mutiny began among the station’s three crew members and the whole place went dark. Your mission: get in there and piece together what happened.

Every scrap of info you pick up on the station’s crew is well-written and displays a grasp of character and nuance that’s quite rare in games of any genre. Despite some rather rigid voice performances, there is a lot of detailed, beautiful writing at work here and it culminates in an ending that will give you genuine pause for thought as it side steps all of your preconceived ideas for how this thing was going to play out.

Like last year’s indie fave Rumu, The Station has something it wants to say. As someone who likes to see people putting in the work where games narrative in concerned, I applaud this. I’d like to see a little more work go into the gameplay but as an experience, I think it’s a valuable one that shouldn’t be slept on.

Score: 8.5 out of 10
Highlights: Great story and character work; Decent puzzles
Lowlights: A lot of poor interactions and mechanical hiccups
Developer: The Station
Publisher: The Station
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC
Available: Now

Review conducted on Xbox One X with a retail code provided by the publisher.