Stairs is a psychological horror game created by a small group of Indie developers, Greylight Entertainment, based out of Sweden. This game has been 4 years in the making and at one time earlier this year even had its own kickstarter campaign. Unfortunately funding wasn’t reached and the campaign was canceled, but the developers were still committed to completing and releasing the game. The story focuses on journalist Christopher Adams who is trying to uncover the mystery behind the disappearance of 3 individuals. The horrors you encounter throughout the game are based around real life events, which increases the sheer fear factor.


Nope, Nope, Nope, Nope.

Stairs plays out in the first person perspective and is billed as a psychological horror. Upon reading this I immediately lumped the quality and definition of “horror” into how I see the genre today – jump scares and sudden loud noises and over the top gore to startle the unsuspecting individual. This was just one more product that was going to disappoint. It turns out I was wrong and my inner Mr. Scaredy Pants was just waiting to be released by the combination of eerie sound effects, flashes of ghostly images and evil lurking in the shadows.

Taking on the role of journalist Christopher Adams, I began my story in a wooded area armed with only a camera, headed to an abandoned warehouse. I was relentless on my mission to unravel the mystery of a missing high school cheerleader, a businessman and a pastor. Within the first few steps I could see the bright sun shining through the trees, and I was surrounded by green grass and a clear blue sky. It actually felt like a nice day. The ambience immediately changed as I entered the factory where equipment looked old and worn and graffiti was sprayed across the walls. I soon found myself descending down a long, winding industrial staircase into the bowels of the factory. It seemed to be a descent into madness or even the layers of hell.

This game truly has some chilling moments. On several occasions I found myself with goosebumps on my arms, sitting on the edge of my seat and trying to prepare myself for the next cardiac arrest inducing scare. One instance played out like a scene from the movie “Saw” where I found myself wandering through pitch black hallways with only the flash of my camera to light my way. I was just waiting for some horrific piece of nastiness to jump out at me when I came across some words on the wall, written in blood, that changed every time I flashed the camera. My bladder control was without a doubt tested when I suddenly heard an eerie voice say, “Behind you.” While gameplay is rather simplistic, the developers themselves even state on their company blog that “the main focus of a horror game should always be the atmosphere and immersion of the player.”


The calm before the storm!

The three tales in the story are based on real life events, with Greylight Entertainment adding their own dark gritty twist. The game plays fairly smoothly, with some slow periods, but at times it could be incredibly frustrating. The camera lens is not only used to see but also to interact with paranormal items throughout the game. I was not aware of this initially, and this lack of knowledge caused a major delay while solving a puzzle involving numbers and turning valves. No other forward progress could be made until that puzzle was completed, and I was stuck there for far longer than I would have liked. There were a number of sections where I had to constantly walk around with my camera on to be sure not to miss any paranormal items or clues.

The physical limitations of my character were very frustrating and illogical at times. I had extreme difficulty stepping over anything above knee high height or ducking under blockades that should have been easily surpassable. The interaction with my surroundings was very limited and I could only view the bright glowing hand written notes and touch very few, select objects. There were tools and other items within reach that seemed could be helpful at times, but I did not have the capability to touch or pick up the majority of them. I have a sneaking suspicion that my character may be a gremlin given the invisible wall that presents itself to stop me from ever stepping in water.

There are several puzzles in the game that need to be solved, mazelike hallways to navigate, and at least one supernatural being in each section of the story that can kill you. Given that no combat mechanics are available you are forced to evade, run and hide when faced with these beings. Unfortunately folks, your unlicensed nuclear accelerator is staying in the closet for this round of paranormal activity.

Before playing Stairs, I knew relatively nothing about the game with the way my PC gaming has declined in recent years. Doing some research on the game, I found out that Greylight has been trying to put this game out for years. Four years in the making and a failed kickstarter campaign and finally they were able to complete it by taking on part time jobs to finish it. This game truly is an indie underdog success story, which also has an appeal to me aside from any gameplay. I thoroughly enjoyed the amount of time and research devoted to aspects of the game, namely sound and level design. Their Facebook page has two very interesting blog posts on both aspects. One describes and shows photos of a tour the designer took through an abandoned factory to help inspire the setting of Stairs. The other article focuses on the sound and when it comes to horror, sound is a key element. Those creaks and moans and footsteps you hear shuffling about need to sound authentic or you just aren’t going to be scared. Stairs excels in this area by creating a very realistic, all engrossing atmosphere for the gameplay. On Greylight’s website you can read an interesting blurb about the use of “data bending” as well as “data destruction” that was used to create some of the sounds in the game.