Shoddy Signals

The Haunted PS1 collections have put out some truly intriguing projects. From Dread Delusion, to Peeb Adventures, to Sauna 2000, the hits are there for those who look through well enough.  A few games are finding their way to full releases from the 2021 collection, most notably the Toree 3D series and the soon-to-release WALK.  But one demo that was touted for its extensive polish and care has finally hit the 1.0: Headware Games’ Chasing Static.  And, uh.  Well let’s talk about that.

It’s been a tough few days for Chris Selwood. Back in his hometown in Wales and recently having to lay his father to rest, he finds himself caught in a fierce storm and has to stop at the aptly named Last Stop Cafe.  When staying indoors with a lone waitress and nothing but the rain and some soft music going, a flicker of the lights and the loss of radio waves trigger a sense of something afoot in the darkness.  After fixing the breakers in the back, Chris comes back to a haunting monster on the ceiling and his vision fades to black.  When he comes to, the cafe has been trashed, with new mysterious technology scattered about the abandoned looking building.  Now Chris has to find his way out of this new mysterious circumstance and make his way to the woods to search for a reason as to why he’s here.

Chasing Static bills itself as a psychological horror short story so I wasn’t expecting many jumpscares, and instead feeling out more of a creepy, ethereal vibe in this weird pseudo-Upside Down World feeling layout of rural Wales. For the record, I was right.  Static takes the fear of the unknown into building an unnerving constitutional stroll through the countryside by putting crumbs of what happened in the area, and showing that those crumbs can rip people in two and crucify the top half of the poor bastards onto a tree.  The first hour or so is on pins and needles fumbling around the area you’re thrown into, and not knowing what has caused what has happened is genuinely distressing.  In order to snuff out what did this and to add a creative flair as to how to find out, Chasing Static uses audio driven cues with is dubbed Sonic Exploration.

Early on Chris will grab an experimental device that can feel out things not seen to the naked eye through a mechanical form of echo-location.  Finding these signals will trigger flashbacks of a previous team of scientists looking to understand the same thing you are.  For the most part, Chris’ hands will be glued to this piece of equipment because the game essentially functions around this item to progress forward.  You’re given a lighter and later a flashlight, but no place is truly dark enough to need it, so the sonic reader thingie is gonna be your friend.

And that kinda sucks, because the sonic device really takes away from any instilled horror through its environmental sounds. When the device is out it muffles all audio in exchange for radio tuning noises to find the next location.  Having to put away the device that’s necessary to continue the game to be immersed in the non-linear-like world is gonna take you out of the game’s intended range of emotions.  Instead of walking in captivated uncertainty, you’re more or less fixated on B-lining to the next part of the game and the psychological horror title starts to become more of a muted hidden object game: like an old Resident Evil, but without the fun.

Chasing Static is short and never really overstays its welcome. The plot gives enough interesting tidbits for you to keep on your mechanical dog nose for the 2-3 hour runtime, but the ending felt way out of left field for what was being shown throughout the title and is bound to leave some players scratching their heads. We knew Chris didn’t like his dad from the beginning conversation at the cafe, but the reason why comes out of nowhere and seems thrown together at the last minute with a more supernatural shtick and potential plot points for a sequel down the road.  Clues and plot points throughout the game never get tied together and they end up playing second fiddle for the a-ha moment that falls flat compared to what was being shown for the majority of Chasing Static, which is a real bummer.  I really wanted to see more of what it was that did what you see, but whatever it is is long gone and you’re left with family drama instead of a harrowing horror encounter.

Chasing Static pulls a very neat premise together, and most people agreed with its intriguing and interesting demo in the Haunted PS1 Demo Disc. But what has been brought together is a good idea poorly realized; sonic exploration is Chasing Static’s blessing and curse. With a little tweaking, and maybe some more scares, I’d be chasing (and rooting for) this title a little harder.

A Steam code was independently purchased for review.