Stasis: Bone Totem demo preview: The Brotherhood innovates with a cool Quantum Inventory, but the writing is painfully weak and overwritten.

Grizzled old salvager Mac has a problem: The generator he needs is out of gas. The fuel pump is on the other side of the abandoned deep-sea rig he and his partner Charlie are exploring — and the only way over there is a suicidal leap across a vast chasm. Luckily, Charlie is right next to the pump, and thanks to their trusty Quantum Inventory system, Mac can transfer the fuel canister to Charlie, who fills it up and sends it right back over.

It sure beats backtracking, even if the existence of the technology clashes with the game’s Alien-inspired aesthetic — why do they need boats and cranes if they can teleport?

Stasis: Bone Totem is a point-and-click adventure developed by The Brotherhood and another entry in its sci-fi horror canon, like Cayne. Think Disco Elysium but with less Marx and more Lovecraft. In the Steam Next Fest demo, you switch between three characters to explore the derelict rig and try to find out what happened to the crew after they discovered something horrific in the depths.

It’s a familiar setup, especially for anyone working through the Dead Space remake. Still, there’s a reason filmmakers have been riffing on Alien for almost 50 years: Haunted ships are cool and scary. Bone Totem has some great design and the puzzles are logical, but the atmospheric location is let down by an overwritten script, weak voice acting, and some tropes that should have been left in the ‘70s.

Stasis: Bone Totem demo preview: The Brotherhood innovates with a cool Quantum Inventory, but the writing is painfully weak and overwritten.

Your three explorers are Mac, Charlie, and their teddy bear “supertoy” Moses, who says his own name by playing a recording of Mac and Charlie’s… daughter? I’m only sure of Mac and Charlie’s relationship thanks to a blurb on the Steam store page. It’s emblematic of the game’s biggest problem.

Do you like your games with a lot of reading? Stasis: Bone Totem is for you! The rig is stuffed with items of interest, easily highlighted with the click of a mouse button. Unfortunately, the writing is a severe case of quantity over quality. Here’s how the game describes Mac and Charlie’s bed: “Bathed in the glow shed by the fairy lights, the thick blankets promise warmth and security while belying an undertone of bitter memory and regret.”

All the writing is like that. In Disco Elysium, the pretentious writing is deliberately over the top because the protagonist is an over-educated windbag, and the game is about interrogating a collapsed society’s philosophical underpinnings. Maybe Stasis: Bone Totem will justify its poetry in the full game, but it doesn’t in the demo.

On top of all these flowery descriptions, Mac, Charlie, and Moses are constantly narrating what they’re doing. Worse, all this dialogue is unskippable and with forced subtitles. The game lets you know at the beginning the voice acting is all placeholder, and, well, I’ll just say that’s good news.

Stasis: Bone Totem demo preview: The Brotherhood innovates with a cool Quantum Inventory, but the writing is painfully weak and overwritten.

Even the requisite PDAs of the dead crewmembers are stuffed with text. There is some fun in filtering what’s relevant and what isn’t, but even in an hour-long demo, I groaned when I saw how many diary entries every PDA contained.

It doesn’t help that Mac and Charlie fall back on outdated gender tropes: Mac’s special ability is “strength,” and in the demo he bends a curved metal thing straight. Charlie’s ability is “engineering,” as she can combine two items to make one item, like duct tape and hose. Boy strong, girl smart. Laughably, their interfaces are even gendered: Mac’s is blue and utilitarian, while Charlie’s is pink and covered in flower stickers. (This makes the fact they’re husband and wife even weirder, as Mac is coded to be much older than Charlie.) Again, this could prove to be thematically relevant later on, but so far the writing is pretty superficial.

Outdated tropes and a desperate need for an editor aside, Stasis: Bone Totem is a nice-looking, spooky throwback to the weirder point-and-click adventure games of the ‘90s, like Sanitarium and Bad Mojo. The demo even ends with an honest-to-god cutscene, and the cold cockles of my ‘90s heart stirred, ever briefly, as the flickering diodes — oh great, now I’m doing it!

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