We’re all familiar with the Marlon Brando’s Stellaaaaa yell, right? It has been parodied in many ways, most of the time in hilarious variations. While Stela has absolutely nothing to do with the 1951 classical movie “a streetcar named desire” I still regularly yelled Stellaaaa in my head when the unnamed playable character died yet another time. Gamers who played Limbo or INSIDE know what to expect, a platformer where dead is almost always right around the corner. We have seen many similar games but when the co-developer from Halo Infinite, Skybox Labs who also helped with Minecraft and Age of Empires launches an original game it is pretty normal to be excited!
What we liked!
- Impressive visuals and animations: Camera work is brilliant in Stela, using the scale of the environments to make everything so much more impressive. Combine that with an excellent lighting engine and some realistic views and you got yourself a real fancy looking game. Stela does so much more than simply looking fantastic, the animations enrich everything to a point that your mouth simply drops on the floor. The nameless character runs fluently, becomes tired and really struggles to stay alive. You see it all in the lifelike animations, honestly just really impressive work!
- Soundtrack: The mysterious sounds and atmospheric music is another reason why Stela is extraordinary, it has some monumental soundtracks that help to change the required setting. Things that would be boring become interesting by queueing the music on time, for example crossing a large bridge or descending a dark cave.
- Unusual Level design: What sets it really apart is the way that the game uses the 2D back and foreground objects. Especially the stealth parts in the forest are some fine examples of that. Avoiding the scary-looking monsters by using the environment is done in a way that I haven’t seen much in other games, the built-up is timed to perfection too. Giving you some serious nerve-wracking gameplay setpieces, just as in Limbo you learn from your mistakes and unexpected deaths, Stela takes it up a notch by challenging players with multiple dangers at the same time. One particular puzzle requires the player to avoid a deathtrap, climb multiple stairs on time for squeezing a tight jump. On this part, I died around ten times before actually managing to nail it and learn all the insta-dead dangers.
- Visual narrative: Not a single word is spoken or written in Stela, leaving everything to the player’s imagination. Thanks to some powerful and stunning visuals moments you have a slight idea of what is going on but things remain too unclear and confusing. It would have been nice to have a better understanding of what is happening. Who is the playable character? Why are there beetles and slender man creatures after me? Why are they shooting fire arrows in the forest? Who is the cloaked person that saved me after a painful fall? All those questions remain unanswered. I understand that it is all about something that clicks in your head, most people understood Limbo, a small percentage did not. Stela floats on the same water but is much vaguer, that might be deliberate by Skybox Labs but for me personally, I would have liked more understanding of the character, game world and the numerous monsters inhabiting the world.
What we disliked
- Rather short and no replay value: The length falls somewhere between Limbo and INSIDE, Skybox Labs made sure that the basic gameplay ideas don’t become repetitive by eliminating the overuse of mechanics. It would have been nice to have a little bit more content, especially because there is little to none replay value besides replaying it without getting killed. (150 Gamerscore Achievement) For example, a simple extra mode with developer commentary would have been so awesome for Stela.
I will be the first to admit that not everyone will be completely blown away by Stela, it has this specific gameplay that you either love or hate. As a fan of the genre and visual storytelling Stela truly is something special and worth playing. It is an audiovisual masterpiece with creepy, intriguing and emotional moments that you rarely experience in videogames.