It’s nice when a good horror game comes along. Too many horror titles on Steam nowadays rely on gore and jumpscares to get a cheap shock out of the player. When a game that claims to be “old fashioned psychological horror” comes along, and then manages to back up that claim, it’s a fantastic moment. In terms of horror, GreyLight Entertainment’s Stairs does everything right. It’s a genuinely scary adventure game in the vein of classics like Silent Hill with a pervasive atmosphere of dread that really gets under your skin. It’s just a shame that some pretty nasty bugs and a general lack of polish manage to sour the experience.
Stairs has a simple, but effective premise. Playing the role of freelance journalist, Christopher Adams, you’re investigating a series of mysterious disappearances. When a missing woman is found dead in an abandoned factory somewhere in the woods, you set off to gather clues and end up being trapped in a sequence of horrifying alternate dimensions, linked by an otherworldly staircase that descends seemingly endlessly. In each new location, you’ll solve puzzles, collect notes and take photos of noteworthy landmarks as you slowly uncover the fates of the people you’re searching for and learn of the events leading to their demise.
The atmosphere in this game is simply incredible. From the very moment you set foot in the empty factory at the beginning of the game, GreyLight manages to convey an atmosphere of lurking dread that doesn’t ever let up. The audio design and some truly creepy visuals come together to give you the constant feeling that you’re being watched, that something is going to jump out at you, even when it never does. Meanwhile, the otherworldly environment plays mind games with you, as spooky set pieces put you on edge and locations subtly change when you’re not around. If I were to describe how it feels to play Stairs, I’d say it’s like reading a well written horror story in the dead of night, with nobody around to hear your screams.
Unfortunately, Stairs has some pretty nasty bugs that prevent it beating the likes of Frictional Games’ latest offering. While playing through this nightmarish adventure, my progress was halted not once, not twice, but three times by game breaking glitches that forced me to reload my save (and, in one case, to restart the game). I got stuck on pieces of scenery, unable to move in any direction. I found myself entering rooms that had suddenly de-spawned from the game world, falling through the floor into an endless void. One time, a note I was reading became “stuck” to the screen and wouldn’t go away, and my character lost the ability to interact with anything in the environment. Meanwhile, my journal failed to update each time I entered a new area, leaving me at a loss trying to figure out what photos I needed to take to advance, and preventing me from reading any new clues I picked up. GreyLight definitely could have done with some more beta testers.
If the most glaring issues are fixed, I could definitely see Stairs becoming a classic horror game up there with Amnesia and Outlast. It’s clear that the developers have put a lot of work into creating a true psychological horror experience, and underneath the bugs and the rough edges, there’s a fantastic game here. I’d love to see GreyLight’s labour of love get the attention it deserves, but I just can’t justify recommending it in its current state.
Check out Stairs on Steam.