Stela is an atmospheric puzzle platformer brought to us by Skybox Labs. The game consists mostly of travelling through the world and avoiding being killed by a series of mutant creatures.
The most notable thing about Stela in my opinion is the art work and music, somehow coming together to give the player a sense of what is happening. With no dialogue or investigatory points to figure out what to do, the music really guides you through the game. It tells you when you are in danger, when you need to hide or when you need to run. The music not only creates the atmosphere but adds massively to the gameplay.
The whole atmosphere of Stela is tense, running away and hiding from a series of bugs and creepy creatures, using the scenery to hide, and in many circumstances having to figure out the best way to pass by trial and error. There is a certain amount of ambiguity on when the background becomes an active part of the game play rather than scenery. In some areas there are items with red highlights or little shimmers which make it clear, but other bits it just takes a bit of messing around to figure out where to go. The backdrop and scenery in some areas are interactive, but there is very little to point towards this, which makes it difficult to know when progression requires climbing on and through pieces of scenery.
The game took around 2 hours to complete, but this was without finding all of the secrets, which are well hidden and require searching for. If you do not manage to collect all the secrets then the story will be missing parts and that is somewhat frustrating, luckily you can return to areas of the game through the checkpoints from the main menu. The game has regular checkpoints every time you reach a new obstacle or complete part of the scene, which is helpful for going back to get the secrets.
The control style is simple, with no use of mouse. The game is simplistic, not only in its controls but in the somewhat lacking story line. There doesn’t seem to be much conclusive evidence of what has happened until the end of the game where you are able to investigate the gallery in the main menu. This is where the secrets you have collected come together to create the story of Stela. Overall I was satisfied once I had found this area, but it left most of the story to the imagination until the very end.
The overall tone of Stela was definitely creepy, again this was really enhanced by the music. There is definitely a lot of tension and at points that tension really builds. Looking mostly at the art work the game is well designed to create this sense of discomfort which is apparent throughout the game. Each scene is well portrayed with good use of background and lighting, a lot of silhouette style art which added to the atmosphere of the game. At points it was hard to see where the enemies were and which way to go but overall it is definitely a clever use of shadow and light to give the game its unique style and tone.
Stela does exactly what it was designed to do, and it does it well.