Review – Stela

Stela is a cinematic platformer, much like Limbo and Inside, and it’s not afraid to wear its inspirations on its sleeves. But does it live up to these sources of inspiration? Let’s delve into the world of SkyBox Labs’ Stela and find out.

There isn’t much of a story to dive into in Stela. Instead, you simply cross a world that is dying and overrun by creatures. Beetles take up the early game, whilst shadowy monsters come into play a little later on. Much like Playdead’s games, Stela doesn’t have traditional storytelling. It attempts to go for subtlety and allows you to piece the mystery together. The problem is the mystery in Stela isn’t compelling or interesting enough.

Stela

Major Limbo vibes here.

The gameplay is also very similar to that of Playdead’s titles. The main character continues her journey to the right of the screen with some light platforming and puzzle elements mixed in. Everything is straight forward and pretty clear as to what you have to do, even to the point where you will solve the puzzle without seeing the whole picture. There’s nothing special here. Puzzles usually consist of moving boxes, ringing gongs, or getting light from one spot to another.

Moments of brilliance shine through with its unique yet simple use of bringing the background and foreground into the gameplay. During the tense shadow sequence in the earlier section of the game, you have to hide and move from a shadow in the background. When he leaves the screen, he walks towards the character and off the screen to signify that you are in the clear. 

Stela isn’t very difficult, each of the game’s puzzles can be easily solved without much thought and some even before you know that there was even a puzzle there. This is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the game: the lack of any real challenge. The few deaths I did have were a result of unclear directions or just a badly mistimed jump.

Stela

The scope of the world is impressive.

If you were looking for a lengthy gameplay experience, look somewhere else. Stela clocks in at around two hours with very little replay value, except a couple of achievements to chase after. It is however an enjoyable two hour, one-time game that fans of the genre will appreciate.

Where Stela does excel is in its visuals, looking absolutely beautiful across its surprisingly wide range of environments. The darker forests provide some truly atmospheric moments that remind me of Limbo in the best of ways, whilst later areas have their own distinctive feel to them. The scale is impressive with zoom out shots, making your character feel small and insignificant. However, it’s not all that good with some low quality texture work that just stands out among the great level designs.

Then to further help immerse yourself into the experience is the soundtrack. It does an impressive job building the game’s atmosphere and picking up where the visuals can sometimes letdown. There isn’t any dialogue and the ambient sounds in the maps are hardly noticeable leaving the soundtrack alone to do its job.

Stela

Stunning lighting effects carry the visuals.

Stela is a fine, short gameplay experience with great sound design and some beautiful locations. However there’s not much beyond this. The world is intriguing, but the lack of any real challenge definitely hampers the journey. Fans of  Limbo and Inside will still enjoy playing this, however.

 

Graphics: 8.5

Visually stunning areas can be let down by a few bad textures throughout.

Gameplay: 6.0

Falls a little on the easy side, but a fine cinematic platformer overall.

Sound: 9.5

Haunting soundtrack that carries the experience all the way through.

Fun Factor: 6.5

If you are looking for a short, one-time experience, Stela is a solid pick. Though there’s not much else in the way of replayability.

Final Verdict: 7.0

Stela is available now on Xbox One.

Reviewed on Xbox One.

A copy of Stela was provided by the publisher.