I enjoy indie content, particularly when it pushes the conventional narrative limitations of media in an interesting way.The game I’m reviewing today does strictly that.
The thing that sets this game in a different category from other indie horror titles, is that this game is less “terrifying” and more along the lines of “tragically unsettling”. I wouldn’t call it a horror game per say, because I don’t find it scary in the traditional sense, nor unnerving in the general one. Rather, this game dives deep into the realm of psychological horror in ways I rarely ever see.
It’s not scary, it’s chilling. Thematically speaking, “The Static Speaks My Name” is a short title, but far from a sweet little package. The game is more of a “narrative experience” than a game itself. Actually, I’d hesitate to call it a game because there is a clearly a narrative to be found here, but there’s not a whole lot of “gameplay”. The price is right though. As of writing this blog it is completely free on steam, and the time investment to complete the game is minimal.
The fact that it will take most people about ten minutes to to complete it says enough on its own. Honestly, you can beat in it half that time if you really wanted to rush it. Now, while some people may find the length lacking, the content isn’t. What you’re given in that short time isn’t anything to scoff at.
When you begin the game, a brief prologue begins. Surrounded by a dark space, you’ll see something in the distance and you’ll have to walk closer to it. As you do, you’re given three things. A name, an age, and a cause of death. When you get close enough to what is basically that floating cloud in the middle of a dark expanse, you enter into the body of a man, and you live out is last moments alive.
The beeping alarm drags the man from slumber and he awakens to a home that’s just a little strange. Everything seems just a little out of place and just slightly out-of-sorts.
As a first-person game, you play as a man named Jacob Ernholtz. As a player, you soon put the pieces together to find out more about this man, and his final decision. To be clear though, the game isn’t all doom and gloom. It’s not all awfulness caked in pure and unbridled cynicism. If it was, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it.
Actually, “The Static Speaks My Name” does something else. It attempts to tell a story that has little to do with the event that ended this man’s life, and more to do with his final moments that preceded it. This game is not an analysis nor a deconstruction of the prevailing topic at hand. It’s not even about the physiological nor social conditions at play when ones goes about making such a choice.
Rather the game carries a heavy undertone with the concepts of obsession more than taking one’s own life. As though the pictures hanging upon the wall act as an all consuming focus that Jacob Ernholtz couldn’t possibly escape a fascination with. He isn’t a good man in the slightest, which only further makes it hard to relate with him on any level. I’d say that that fact alone is what makes it a horror title. It isn’t the inevitable end that makes the game so unnerving to me, it’s the character you play as, and just how disturbed he obviously is.
Just take a look at the image below as a hint to just how obsessed he is with that one painting and the painter behind it. I assume you could extrapolate all kinds of meanings from this if you really cared to, but as for me, I don’t care to try at all… really, just playing as the guy is enough for me to be unsettled about just what in the hell could have been going on in his brain.
As for gameplay, it’s just a game about slowly twisting mundane moments in this one man’s life. Cleaning the microwave, admiring his collection of paintings among the wall, or eating his pet shrimp. Simple details, really. However, it soon becomes clear that this is the point of the game, the simplicity beyond horrific spectacle, which the game cares very little for. it doesn’t glamorize it’s core themes, but rather, it seems to spit upon the idea that typical cliche’s about depression needs to be continued on in ways we would normally expect.
They’re tired, they’re dusty, they’re old and we don’t need them. The game seems to say this, to exemplify that notion in every act, The game doesn’t spell things out for you concisely, there is no neat or tidy conclusion, and you won’t be likely to find yourself re-playing the game more than once to pick to pieces every little detail.
Once is enough, and the slow spiral of madness seemingly induced by paintings upon the walls is truly macabre in notion, but not quite in a way that inspires empathy or compassion… especially after you notice just what else this man keeps in his house.
The fact of the matter is, what makes this game notable, is that it inspires a gambit of emotions. There’s dark humor mixed with tragedy and although it is sad, dark and pretty disturbing, I find that it is a fitting end to this short game.
Now, onto the “static” concept and the idea of seeing other “static deaths”. If you look at the reviews, or commentators on Steam you see that notion brought up often enough in their reviews section. Here’s the thing, I’m glad we only have one story. One glimpse, one looking-glass, and that’s all. I don’t want more than this, and I’m glad that we don’t get more than that.
The reason for this is because while I do think that perhaps more “statics” would have been interesting, I believe it would have made the game rather unpalatable in the long run. There’s only so much of this grittiness that anyone can take, and there comes a time when a compelling point to explore these concepts crosses a line too far.
If this game had been any longer, if it had explored too many more deaths or the disturbing minds behind them, it wouldn’t have just crossed the line for me. In fact, it would have trampled all over it and left a big steaming pile of dung in its wake. The solo developer, Jesse Barksdale, was wise not to take this narrative, or this game that far.
So, I guess the final question is, do I think you should play this game? All in all, if you can handle these sorts of themes, it might be worth your time to play it. Keyword being might. Once again, it’s short and it’s free. Those are low barriers to entry, so long as you can swallow down the core themes, which is the much larger, prevailing question. I can’t answer that, and to me that remains the ultimate conflict.
I think “The Static Speaks My Name” is an interesting narrative experience. However, I don’t think most people would “enjoy” playing as as such a disturbed man who eats his pet shrimp and has a nasty little propensity to obsess about a single painting. Honestly, give it a try if you want to take a dive down into that kind of character. If you have no interest in that, then this game is not for you… keep away from it.
This has been Kernook of The Demented Ferrets, where stupidity is at its finest and level grinds are par for the course. I’ll see you next time.
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