Nowadays, it feels like horror games have to be all go. Especially with the rise of high-octane stalker horror titles like Outlast or jumpscare-heavy romps like Five Nights At Freddy’s, it doesn’t feel like you come across slow-burn, tension-building horror any more. Needless to say, my interest was piqued when Chasing Static showed up on my radar, boasting a narrative-heavy psychological horror experience instead.
We play as Chris, a man still mourning the death of his father, as he travels into the Welsh countryside. Stopping at an isolated diner and striking up idle chit-chat with the waitress, the power soon goes out, and he finds himself alone. After finding a radio and managing to get in contact with a nearby research team, Chris learns that he is trapped in an area that has succumbed to a dangerous energy field, causing Chris to see strange ghosts and visions of the past. The only way he’ll be able to make it out alive is to fix the energy field containment equipment scattered around the area to suppress the rogue entities now running rampant.
While Chasing Static is labelled a psychological horror, I think psychological thriller is much more appropriate. There’s no loud, blatant jumpscares or spooky monsters hunting you down at any point. The most gore or violence to be found are the corpses of researchers who already long dead. Some may even find the gameplay loop to be quite relaxing, considering the heavy emphasis on unhurried, thorough exploration of the rural Welsh countryside. Yet, subtle as it may be, this is exactly where the horror lies – there is an uneasy sense of dread as you explore. A creeping gut feeling that someone (or something) should be around the corner. This feeling is heightened tenfold when you make it to the quaint village of Hearth. It feels like this should be a vibrant area bustling with life, when in reality it’s anything but. The knowledge that there is no one out there who can help you – and anyone who could have helped you is already long dead – is exactly what carries the suspense here.
The gameplay is rather straightforward. Throughout the story, you’ll explore three major areas: the cafe we started at and its neighbouring forest, the seemingly abandoned village of Hearth and the nearby lakeside farmland. In order to track down and pinpoint the anomalies in each area, we need to make use of the FDMD given to us by the researchers, or Frequency Displacement Monitoring Device, which is a fancy name for a parabolic microphone and a radio. These anomalies are usually recorded memories of past people and events, or “echoes”. Some of them provide essential information to solve puzzles in each area, but others are purely optional and serve mainly to help further flesh out the story.
The experience is further enhanced by the gorgeous, retro-inspired graphics. The low-poly textures fall somewhere in between the fifth- and sixth-generation of consoles; like a slightly more pixelated Dreamcast aesthetic. The resulting blocky visuals end up making the static-y, humanoid apparitions of the past all the more unnerving as you encounter them. Between the bleak, unwelcoming bluish haze of the rainfall mixed with the drab, grey buildings scattered across the landscape, the art design goes a long way in further emphasing the feeling of isolation. The attention to detail is a massive achievement on the developer’s part not only visually, but technically too – it runs like a dream and I encountered virtually no technical or visual hiccups in my time playing this.
While the plot itself may not be the most exciting, the dialogue proves to be yet another one of Chasing Static’s strong suits. Chris’s reactions feel very legitimate, something that can often be amiss in horror games, where the protagonists are often stony-faced despite the grotesque abominations they usually encounter. Chris is confused by the surreal things he sees, and gasps in terror at the more terrifying sights. The natural, realistic performances right out the gate between Chris and the diner waitress set a quality standard that is upheld all the way to the very end.
It’s a shame, then, that it feels like Chasing Static ends before it really gets started. The premise and gameplay loop is one that could have easily warranted a longer playtime than three hours, yet just as you’re settling into the experience, the credits begin to roll. This isn’t helped by an ending that, while passable, also leaves some questions unanswered. Especially considering the potential for some very emotional storytelling through the ghosts of people long gone. I feel like this psychological thriller is less of a fully-fledged title and more like the warm-up event. Of course this is an indie title and a grander experience may not have been possible with the budget and time constraints, but if anything my critique is a testament to how engrossed I was in the experience. I wish there was more material to sink my teeth into, and was disappointed for it to end so quickly. Though thankfully, the game does indeed offer multiple different endings, and there’s always the option to go back and look for echoes you may have missed the first time around.
While a lot of love and care clearly went into the voice acting, soundtrack and visuals in Chasing Static, an admittedly simplistic and underwhelming plot holds this title back from being a more memorable experience. There’s more to uncover in the curious village of Hearth, and should the devs humour the idea of creating a more fleshed-out sequel or some kind of follow-up to this exploration-focused thriller, I’m all for it.
- Well-written dialogue that's complemented by solid voice acting
- Gorgeous visuals and soundtrack
- Simple but effective exploration mechanics
- Great, tense atmosphere with no reliance on jumpscares or shock horror
- Multiple endings and optional content justify the price tag
- The experience feels too short
- Underwhelming story that feels like it could've been so much more