They say great minds think alike, but Statik does a lot to disprove that theory. Like developer Tarsier Studios, I’ve long wondered what types of unique VR experiences you can get out of using PS4’s DualShock 4 as a tracked object in a virtual world. But while our concepts for games may be similar, Tarsier outsmarted me at every turn with its devilishly clever new puzzle game, resulting in a memorable challenge.
In Statik, you’re trapped. You’ll constantly be drifting in and out of consciousness and each time you awaken you’ll find yourself in a different part of a mysterious laboratory. You’re joined by Dr. Ingen, a world-weary scientist that puts you through a series of bizarre trials. Each of these involves several puzzles fitted into a box that ensnares both of your hands. Every time you complete a box, you’ll be knocked out and moved onto the next level.
While that might sound formulaic on paper, Statik is anything but. First off, the game does a really good job of capturing that cramped, claustrophobic feeling you can have when using a standard controller inside VR. I often felt a panicked frustration as I helplessly flailed my arms around inspecting each box. We’re used to grabbing Move controllers and reaching out into the virtual world around us, but Tarsier finds something else in dialing your control back a few notches instead. There are some minor niggles with the controls, especially as you assemble parts to build a mysterious box between some levels where you’ll long to use the analogue sticks, but overall this is an ingenious approach to immersing you in a virtual world.
Each of the game’s eight puzzles is individual and unlike the others. At one point you’ll be changing filters on a built-in projector and matching them up with shapes in a room, while another challenge has you steering an RC car around the lab in search of answers. There’s a sense of invention here that’s rarely seen in puzzle games today, and infinitely more exciting than yet another escape room game for VR.
This variation in puzzles is Statik’s biggest strength. The game doesn’t have a central mechanic that it falls back on; each time you wake up you’ll be starting from scratch as you work out what makes your new box tick. It’s to Tarsier’s credit that, for the most part, the puzzles are all polished and present a fair level of challenge. I only found myself stumped for more than a few minutes on two occasions, and the solutions were (often literally) right under my nose. I sat for half an hour trying to figure out a color-coordinated brain teaser in the second to last level, convinced I had tried all I could, before a frustrated jolt of my hand revealed an element of the puzzle I hadn’t yet considered.
The game thrives on those excellent “gotcha” moments, though the variety here does come at the cost of length. You can clear the single-player mode in about two and a half hours (or faster if you’re smarter than me), though Tarsier has thrown in a fun second screen multiplayer mode via the PlayStation App that brings the game much closer to Steel Crate Media’s excellent Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes than its refined single-player puzzles do.
Perhaps the more interesting puzzle in Statik, though, is its story. While I enjoyed the satisfaction that came with figuring out challenges on my own, I found myself even more eager to peel back yet more layers of its ambiguous plot. Ingen makes for a bewildering companion, if he can be called that; a character that first comes off as exhausted slowly morphs into a tragic figure.
You’ll soon start catching strange sections of dialogue as his blurred face stares longingly towards the ceiling, or listening in on his outside communications between levels. You’ll take Rorschach-like tests in which he’ll seem indifferent to whatever answers you give, and leave you questioning your place as his lab rat (the answer to which is quite a shock). In this day and age Portal is the easy comparison to make (and Ingen himself reminds you of one of Half-Life’s archetypal scientists), but the game really has an identity of its own, and that’s something to be proud of.
Statik’s sheer invention and fascinating premise are somewhat betrayed by its short length. No two puzzles are the same, and they’re all well-balanced and thought-out trials, but they left me begging for more. Still, that speaks to just how enjoyable an experience this is while it lasts. The game casts a web of intrigue that will pull you in and I suspect have some people picking it apart for even longer than the initial run time. This isn’t quite PSVR’s Portal, but it wouldn’t take much for Tarsier hit that high with a sequel.
Statik is available now on the PlayStation Store for $19.99. Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score.