Right at the start, Stifled drops you offthe deep end. You wake up in a bed with no idea who you are or what you’re supposed to do. Exploring the house eases you into the game’s mechanics, where sound pushes back the ever-encroaching fog of darkness. You won’t get an immediate explanation as to why you suddenly can’t see or why you can miraculously navigate using echolocation.
You’re married? You’re going to a party with the wife? At least you think so, with the clues you find scattered about, but you’re rarely told outright. If you’re looking for a cinematic experience with a strong story component, then I’m afraid Stifled isn’t the game for you. It forces you to eke out whatever bits of story you can find, making this better suited to those who prefer piecing clues together and coming up with their own theories.
Once the tutorial’s over, you’re taken to the aftermath of a car crash and left to fend for yourself. It’s here that the game goes into its distinctive visual style, a predominantly wireframe view seen in the screenshots and trailers. It’s very cool.
Now, you can play Stifled in a variety of ways: with just a PS4 controller, with a mic added into the mix, or with both the PlayStation VR and a mic. There’s a world of difference between them and I can’t recommend the PSVR route enough; it’s the only way to get the complete Stifled experience.
Everything works through sound. Standing still quickly envelopes you in darkness, whereas movements generate sound waves that outline your surroundings for you. Nearby environmental cues, such as dripping water, generates incidental echoes that you can use to navigate, and the type of surface you’re on plays a part too. If you need a better picture of your surroundings you can either whisper and shout into the mic, or hit the R2 button. You’ll generate noise depending on how loud you are, or for how long you hold down R2, which in turn dictates how far those sound waves travel. Picking up and throwing objects also works, usually as a form of distraction.
However, you don’t want to make too much noise, or you’ll attract the creatures roaming around. They hunt you down the moment they hear you, and you’ll know when one’s nearby from the red sound waves they create. Your role, as in most survival- horror games, is to patiently sneak past.
That’s easier said than done. Stifled’s stages are cramped and don’t really allow experimentation, nor are there different ways to bypass these monsters. There’s usually only one right way to avoid them, and that often involves creating a distraction of some kind while you scramble in the opposite direction.
That’s pretty much how every encounter plays out, severely detracting from the game’s replayability. It also cuts down on the fun factor, as you’ll need to replay sections over and over again until you get it right – the way the developers envisioned it. Certain points had me dying so much that fear rapidly turned into frustration. That’s not to say that there’s a lack of craziness and fear-induced panic. Outside of the original Outlast, I’ve never felt more afraid running from an enemy. Stifled in VR is truly terrifying.
Needless to say, Stifled’s visual style lends to a blazing fast frame rate, which works greatly to its benefit for VR. Everything is fluid, and not once did I notice any slowdowns or experience any motion sickness. Although the wireframes tend to make everything look the same, it becomes less bothersome once you’re fully immersed in the surroundings.
While the monsters aren’t as scary as they could be due to the visual limitations, hearing them chasing you will get your heart racing. From water dripping off leaky pipes and boots sloshing in puddles, and of course the shrieks of whatever’s chasing you. It makes you feel as if you’re right there cowering in fear, not watching from the comforts of your home.
At the end of the day, Stifled fizzles out despite its rather innovative gameplay. The lack of evolution makes the whole game drag out, as you’ve pretty much seen everything it has to offer after an hour or so. I kept wishing for a break from the constant hide-and-seek, waiting for the game to introduce different elements or to open up its areas. It never does.
Even so, an expansion or sequel that fixes these problems could easily turn Stifled into a killer VR title it deserves to be.
Full color areas come across as visually jarring as there’s nothing much to do in them.
Red means danger. Shh... Be vewy vewy quiet.
Innovative and scary, but hampered by repetitive gameplay and inflexible rules.
AT A GLANCE
Sony Interactive Entertainment
Adventure, Horror, Stealth
PlayStation 4, PSVR
PICTURES GATTAI GAMES
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