A distant civilisation has been spotted, a very aggressive and violent one, and so a space station is sent to monitor our distant (yet not too distant) neighbours. Something goes wrong though, and the stealthy space station malfunctions and as a recon specialist you're sent there to investigate and make sure the station isn't discovered as there is no telling with the violent aliens might do if they were to learn of our existence.
It's not exactly the first time in recent months that we've found ourselves on an abandoned space station for a narrative adventure. It's a popular setting and it makes sense. It's a self-contained location. The exotic nature of being in space (something most of us will never experience) is perfect for an adventure. The space station dwellers (who typically have gone missing) have lived close together and formed friendships and rivalries that are great to retell through the environment or notes/recordings, whatever it may be.
The Station is that sort of game, set inside a space station (hence the name), and focused on environmental storytelling, some puzzle-solving, and a thought worthy theme that doesn't paint mankind in the kindest of lights.
The problem for us as we play yet another narrative-focused game set on a space station is that it's hard not to compare The Station to what came before, and quite frankly it stumbles on a number of fundamental levels that ruined our first impression of the game. The oversized and ugly prompt to start the game by pressing the X button. The long loading. The very basic artwork that set up the backstory (a cinematic would have been preferred). This simply isn't on the same level as something like Tacoma when it comes to production values.
That's not to say that The Station isn't without merit, though. The story and the scenario are rather interesting and the level of detail inside the various locations on board the station is impressive. There are also a couple of well-designed puzzles to conquer over the course of the roughly three-hour-long experience (a little longer if you take your time and like to explore optional elements). While most of the story-telling is well crafted, some of it is a bit on the nose and not as elegant as we would have liked.
As mentioned the game struggles with its first impression and, from a technical perspective (the game makes use of the Unity engine), this is not what you expect from a PlayStation 4 title. There is a great deal of detail when it comes to the various locations across the station, but in general, the visuals are a bit basic and to top it off the game suffers from severe slowdown in a couple of places.
Most of the puzzles in the game are as simple as finding an object or ID card, but there are more elaborate ones, such as figuring out password patterns to lockers and a couple of more elaborate puzzles that involved multiple phases. The game does a great job of giving you environmental clues so while you may get stuck it won't be for too long. We also appreciate the amount of work that has gone into non-critical path content as this sort of narrative experience often doesn't allow for detours.
We don't want to spoil too much of the story here but needless to say, there's a reason why the crew of the station is unresponsive when you arrive. The narrative itself is told through audio files, and the environment, up until the finale where things take a more urgent turn. This isn't handled all that well and feels a bit rushed. We were left pondering just how we were able to take our time with logic puzzles when apparently there were some rather urgent events taking place elsewhere on the station. It's a bit of a shame as the ending of the story itself features a nice twist.
Overall, it's hard not to feel that The Station is something of a missed opportunity; there's definitely good bits in here, but the disappointing presentation, the rushed ending, and technical shortcomings hold it back from being anything more than a fairly decent adventure.