STATIC: Investigator Training
First posted on 09 May 2010. Last updated on 17 July 2010.
The horror genre offers us a delectable intelligence when inquiring about the unknown and awakens within us a startling expansion in our mortal awareness. It is with this precise shift in our paradigms that a tall naked and new reality becomes apparent to us. With alarm, fascination, and perhaps helplessness, the journey into an unfortunate truth is often a blessing in disguise. After we recover from an initial experience, our sense of self is fragmented and we are pushed to reexamine our own identity. As we are perpetually challenged to suspend our disbelief, our everyday living becomes more and more strange and opulent to our senses. This is the pride and wisdom of horror.
With STATIC: Investigator Training, Ethereal Darkness Interactive attempts to exploit these dimensions of horror in the supernatural. The game opens with a hauntingly seductive introduction that leaves you hanging in suspense. It sets the tone for mystery by weaving a storyline that revolves around a family's tragic demise from long ago: a mystery that leaves you hanging in limbo because it is too frightening to continue but too enticing to forget. You are presented with pictures of the deceased, black backgrounds, and other ghoulish imageries. It is an ambitious tale with a dark lyrical vibe.
As the game starts, I begin asking myself to what extent do I need to suspend my disbelief for the game? Looking back, I remember the classic horror films, such as Rosemary's Baby (based off Ira Levin's novel of the same name), that have made lasting impressions on my mind. These movies scare me to death, and whenever you are sacred enough, you start to believe in irrational possibilities. This, in turn, creates conversation. You begin to merge superstition with reality, and at worst you become fanatical about it. From the outset, it looks that the game is heading right into that direction.
The game, however, abruptly drops you on your face once you bypass the introduction. You suddenly find yourself launched into a monotonous dialog with a pretty looking but cocky receptionist named Lindsey. The transition from the earlier haunting prologue is jarring. As Lindsey and Nick (another character) start talking, icons of themselves pop up over their heads. They jabber like soulless puppets, which is quite funny to watch. I then wonder if I can ever take this game seriously enough. In retrospect, this is never a big deal. This is because a lot of surrealism in the game soon quickly takes the lead in my imagination.
The game uses this downtime as an allowance to also debrief you on your mission. The dialog may feel a tad bit lengthy at first. You are introduced to Julie Masters (your player character), who wishes to take up a job opportunity at the Berkshire Paranormal Society in North Adams, Massachusetts. She does not believe in the paranormal, but she is willing to give ghost hunting a shot. Despite the gothic attire, Julie has a cheerful personality that does not fit with the goth stereotype.
You do not build relationships with other characters in this game. Perhaps the strangest bond that is absent is between you and Lindsey, who is supposed to help you out on your investigations. She is in the same spot in the game from start to finish, always drinking coffee (and then drinking even more coffee) or polishing her nails. Throughout most of the game, you communicate with Lindsey mostly via a wireless earpiece, and whenever you report to her what you have just found, she retorts back with her own commentary. This is meant to provide you with some degree of character interaction, but in reality it leaves you with a very solitary experience as you are left alone to fend for your own hunting for ghosts.
In the beginning, you are allowed to choose only 3 (out of 6) ghost hunting gadgets that let you detect, record, and monitor supernatural activity. The idea behind this is to encourage you to replay the game in order to reselect the other gadgets. The game progresses somewhat differently depending on what gadgets you choose, and some of the gadgets appear to be more valuable than others. For example, there is a gadget that detects the temperature of the room. I learn quickly that the cooler the room is, the more likely a ghost is present. Beyond this single use, however, this gadget does not really do much else.
A more useful gadget is the EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon), which may just be by far the coolest device in the whole game. With it, you can record unique voices from every area you can explore in the game. The voice recordings are chilling and beautifully executed. The voice acting is surprisingly believable, and it really helps to compel me to finish the game. At times, you can even feel the sorrow in their voices. What is more is that I feel enamored to help their situations out after hearing their pleas. Some of the words that they speak are bizarre and can only be described as otherworldly, but this is just part of the game's charm. Admittedly, it is odd to see Julie remaining totally unperturbed even as she watches ghosts manifest from thin air, erratic voices jump out at her, and dark shadows creep across the room. She also harbors no compunction about getting involved in the ghosts' affairs, which strikes me as a strange emotional reaction seeing as this is her first time ghost hunting. Some of her encounters are indeed quite frightening, such as the time when a shadowy figure grows until it is running straight at, and then through, Julie. Yet, it does not faze her at all. Given the fact that she is starting this investigation as a skeptic of the paranormal, it is never clear to me as to when she is making the transition to from a non-believer to a believer over the course of the game.
The story about Mary's tragic death and her mysterious lover unfolds with mild intensity. You will need to wander around the house in order to uncover details about her back story. It is peculiar, but perhaps well suited, that the old mansion has secret places where Mary stashes her prized possessions, such as her diary. I also find it peculiar that it is still there after so many years, and that given Julie's freshman ghost hunting skills, nobody before her has ever found it. There are only a few areas in and around the house where you are allowed to explore, such as Mary's room and a nearby cemetery. As you travel to different areas, you are shown short clips of black and white videos of Julie moving around.
The game is a throwback to Full Motion Video (FMV) games once popular during the mid 1990s. Real actors and real sets are filmed for footages, and digital mashups of these footages are rendered for the scenes in the game.
Restarting the game to reload a previous save is awkward. When you want to resume the game, you must bypass the introduction all over again and play through the opening scene before you can even load up your saved games. Not to worry though, you can press the spacebar or right click the mouse to speed up the game along until you can access the reload option.
You can scroll through a drop down menu to recall conversations which you have previously had. This is convenient because there are moments in the game when you need to recall what has been said. For example, in a particular scene, a ghost talks to Julie from beyond the grave in rhyme scheme. However, none of the dialog needs to be memorized for you to complete the game.
Perhaps the most disappointing element of this game is the ending, which, similar to the introduction, ends abruptly and leaves you out in the cold. You unveil the tragic mystery, but you neither interfere nor intervene in Mary's brooding afterlife. You are left with the knowledge that some terrible fate is destined to reoccur over and over in the afterlife, but you cannot alter or prevent it. The game manages to just majorly reach its climax at the ending, but then it drops the ball with Julie commentating that she is now more of a believer than ever before.
In sum, I can recommend STATIC: Investigator Training to any gamer who may just want a quick thrill. I do not feel enlightened or disturbed coming away from playing this game, but I am thankful that the game is not another cut and slash, gory derivate which repulses me more than scares me. The storyline is decent as well as enjoyable in its mysterious attire and is kept prominent in a very spooky setting. Unfortunately, the characters are underdeveloped, and the game does little to let them reveal more about themselves. For example, in a particular scene, Julie asks Mary how she can help her, but there does not seem to be much conviction coming from Julie. Likewise, Lindsey does not do much either when Julie confides in her from seeing Mary's apparition. All in all, STATIC: Investigator Training is a game that has a lot of latent potential, but it misses the mark with a lot of unanswered questions and an ending which abruptly closes a story that is just climaxing.