Some of the best horror films completely ditch jump scares in favour of great cinematography, sound, story, and character development. They don’t rely on cheap tricks to draw in their audience. Instead, these titles focus on creating a tense atmosphere and emotional bond between the observer and the situation at hand. Such an approach is often successful, and definitely not limited to filmography. When first-person exploration games like STARDROP go for a cinematic approach, they are able to achieve the gradual immersiveness that works so well. Although STARDROP isn’t directly a horror title, it keeps you on the edge of your seat right from the beginning.
In STARDROP you play as Ayrn Vance, a space explorer who works alongside her partner John. For the most part you never see John, who serves as a guiding voice within your helmet’s speakers. Observing the relationship between the two main characters is one of the main features in STARDROP, where most of your core gameplay involves walking and talking. Constant dialogue fills the lonely void in your deep-space adventures and you quickly begin to feel comforted by the sound of John’s voice. The voice acting is best described as casual and raw. It’s so believable that I felt like these two astronauts were being voiced by some random people picked off the street. Even though the dialogue is pretty cheesy and amateur-sounding, it does wonders for realistic immersion. There’s no exaggerated emotion here, so you feel as though Ayrn and John are real people. Dialogue is a unique highlight that makes STARDROP a one of a kind experience.
The early-access version of STARDROP contains two chapters, each about an hour long. Although the current state of the game is short, there is a ton of promise and potential in these two hours of play. You start off on your own spacecraft, walking around and getting a feel for the controls and navigation system. Then, you board an abandoned ship floating in space, where several mysterious secrets are discovered about the missing crew. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that STARDROP is a walking simulator, but the point of the game isn’t puzzle-solving or action. It tells an interactive story where the player’s job is to simply enjoy the ride. Uncovering lore, feeling alone in space, and having some uncomfortable moments are all part of the journey. That being said, STARDROP is not for everyone and it’s important to know what you’re getting into before diving into this game.
One feature not present is STARDROP is interactive environments. You’re unable to trigger various animations like turning on sinks, opening cabinets, knocking things over, or flicking light switches. Adding these little moments to the game would surely add to the immersion and make walking around just a tad more interesting. Even looking in a mirror doesn’t show a reflection. Although you can interact with certain items such as laptops and doors, there is room for improvement in this category. In addition, the game’s navigation map could use some work, as it’s printed very small and difficult to understand.
I highly recommend trying out the STARDROP demo before purchasing the game, as there is a severe crash-bug for some users. I was unfortunately plagued by the bug which temporarily blocked me from advancing past a certain point in the game. Luckily, one of the developers was kind enough to provide a custom save file, allowing me to bypass the crash zone and continue playing at a later point in the narrative. The game’s development team is very active in the STARDROP community, constantly interacting with players and listening to their advice. I have high hopes for STARDROP, and can’t wait to discover how Ayrn and John conclude their adventure.