Chasing Static Review – Stranger Things Happening in the Dark
Developed by Headware Games
Published by Ratalaika Games
Available on PC
The Haunted PS1 community is near and dear to my heart, whether they know it or not. When I first got involved in indie horror, as a fresh-faced Twitter baby talking about how good David Szymanski is, Haunted PS1 welcomed me with open arms. Since then I’ve seen the launch of 2 successful demo discs and countless jams. I’ve been lucky enough to interact with some developers that I never thought I would get to talk to. All of this is just to say that I like Haunted PS1. So when I saw that Chasing Static, one of my favorites from the 2021 Haunted PS1 demo disc, was coming to Steam, I was overjoyed.
Chasing Static evokes a lot of feelings. It’s a story of fathers and sons, lost opportunities, and the fragility of the mind. It also touches on ghosts, metaphysical manifestations, and possibly aliens. Its sparse way of telling a story hints at a lot of possibilities but stays vague enough throughout to keep you guessing. It’s probably my favorite thing about the game. Presented in first person, Chasing Static might be confused or unceremoniously classified as a, “walking simulator”. While you do a fair bit of walking in the game, I wouldn’t call it a simulator. It’s an adventure game, in my opinion. You move through the world, gathering bits of the story, and solving puzzles.
The story, as I mentioned above, is really up to interpretation through the first 3/4ths of the game. You are Chris. You’ve just left your father’s funeral when you receive his journal that was collected from his room in the convalescent home he passed in. You take the journal and head off. Later that night, you stop off at a small roadside cafe for directions and a cuppa. I say cuppa because this whole game takes place in Wales, and every character is very British. While you talk with the waitress at the cafe, the lights go out. You volunteer to fix the lights, and when you return, the world has changed.
The brightly lit cafe you entered is now abandoned and cluttered. There’s no sign of the helpful waitress. Thankfully, your car is still parked out front. I’ll give you a fun hint: Get in the car, and leave the area completely. See what happens. It’s very good. In place of a welcoming atmosphere and clean tables, there’s now a strange tape deck hooked up to speakers and antennae. You’ll have to leave the confines of the cafe and travel into the woods, where something is obviously terribly wrong. The corpses are a big indicator that things have gone off the rails. You’ll find a large bunker in the middle of the woods where you’ll get a bit of an info dump from a helpful researcher named Helen.
A series of signal arrays that keep something contained has gone down, allowing something to slip through the weak places. You’re tasked with restarting these arrays. There is no combat in Chasing Static. You are chiefly a repairman/investigator. You’re in these dangerous areas after everything has gone down. You’ll find notes and dead bodies that start to tell the story of just what happened at these sites. There are three sites in 3 very different areas. Exploring these sites is the meat of Chasing Static. Each site is covered in lore. A lot of it is purely optional. You don’t have to pick up any notes. You can still beat the game without collecting a note or finding any echoes.
Okay, so echoes. You’ll be given a parabolic mic when you enter the bunker. You can use it to search out echoes, which are like force ghosts of things that had happened when everything went to shit. I can honestly only think of 1 or 2 echoes that felt required. I think you can go through the game without checking out most echoes. You’d be missing out on some great writing though. Chasing Static is well-written. A full voice cast adds gravitas to the writing. I don’t think it would be as impactful without the excellent voice cast on display. I haven’t touched on the story much except the beginning, because the story is so multi-layered and complex that revealing almost anything would be a spoiler for sharp-eyed readers.
The aesthetic and story combined feel a lot like the Netflix series DARK, or Stranger Things. The overall feel is rainy and sullen. The game takes place entirely at night. The soundscape provides the patter of rain everywhere you go. The music switches between ambient and concerted, with a beautiful piano theme that is hinted out throughout but comes in at its full glory at the end of the game. That’s not really a spoiler. I guess I can say, “expect piano during the end!” Which end though? There are multiple endings in Chasing Static. I managed 3 endings according to my Steam achievements. I’m not sure if there’s more or not.
One thing I want to point out because this is ostensibly a horror site: Chasing Static is scary without jumpscares. There is one jumpscare, but it’s earned. It isn’t heralded in by a violin sting. It plays out naturally, with main character Chris -chatterbox he is- gasping loudly when faced with a sudden horrifying moment. The terror of the situation hits him just as it’s hitting the player, and it feels very organic. Everything else in the game is about dread. It’s about seeing things that you aren’t sure are even there. It’s a subtle horror. It plays with your expectations constantly, serving you up moments that you would expect a jumpscare, but subverting it and hitting you with something more low-key later on down the line. The atmosphere of dread persists throughout, and only really ever lets up once the final cutscene plays, if then.
Chasing Static very much feels like the endgame of what Haunted PS1 is about. It’s a game from conception to completion hoisted up by the community. The network of support for these devs is something the indie horror community, in general, is just good at doing. From its beginnings on the demo disc to a full release, Chasing Static is a triumph. If you want something spooky for Halloween, you should definitely look into Chasing Static.