Chasing Static Review

This game has me chuffed to 32-bits

By Paul Hunter

I've reviewed a few games in recent years led by a single developer and I always find that feat incredibly inspiring. I mean, with gameplay, graphics, audio, story and other aspects to consider, spearheading a project solo seems daunting to put it lightly. The latest title I've tackled is Chasing Static by Bristol-based developer Nathan Hamly of Headware Games and published by Ratalaika Games.

Chasing Static is a retro-inspired psychological horror game with intentional low-poly visuals that look straight out of the 32-bit PlayStation 1 era. If you're a fan of the golden age of horror with titles like Silent Hill, Resident Evil and D then this game was made for you. Let's hop in the car and head to rural Northern Wales to see what this game is all about, here are three things I liked about it...and one I didn't.

Liked: Heavy on Psychological

While Chasing Static is billed as a psychological horror game, it leans way, way more toward the psychological end of the spectrum. I was initially surprised by this but came to appreciate the way that the game slowly builds tension with an escalating series of disturbing locations and creepy story developments. Having played through frightening horror games like MADiSON and The Callisto Protocol in recent months, I enjoyed Chasing Static's more laidback mind-bending approach that foregoes combat and jump scares almost entirely.

The game places you in the role of Chris Selwood, a man travelling through rural Northern Wales in the dead of night after attending his father's funeral. Seeking shelter from a severe storm, he visits a roadside café and is welcomed by a charming waitress that offers him coffee and a short respite. But soon thereafter he sees her violently murdered by a horrendous monstrosity, and worse finds that his world is now consumed by darkness and he's trapped within. Talk about having a rough night.

From there you'll embark on an unsettling journey through the Village of Hearth, which has a very Silent Hill-esque presence to it, to figure out how to get out of the scary situation you've suddenly found yourself in. You'll need to solve puzzles, mostly involving finding specific objects needed for progression, and explore the world for notes and clues that could possibly help shed light on what's going on.

With the exception of a device you'll discover mid-way through the story that allows you to shoot a limited amount of ghosts found throughout the village, there's very little combat in Chasing Static. In fact, you don't even need to shoot the ghosts, instead, you can simply touch them to make them go away. The only incentive you have to destroy the ghosts is to unlock a second, more difficult-to-achieve ending. As far as jump scares go, there are maybe three that I can think of in the whole game, and even those moments weren't particularly shocking.

Leaning heavily on psychological terror, the entire game takes place over one night and you'll need to visit several very dimly lit areas, forcing you to illuminate them with your meagre zippo lighter. Thankfully, later you acquire a weird contraption called a Frequency Displacement Monitoring Device that lets you track echoes around your environment, but also doubles as a light source; a very eerie and ominous blue light at that.

I was genuinely impressed with how unnerving the game is, mainly because you don't have a clue as to what's going on until near the very end of this roughly three-hour compact experience. Over that time you'll visit three abandoned research areas—all at the behest of a mysterious woman instructing you—to find cassette tapes and activate three Repeater Devices. The woman tells you that doing so will free you from this accursed place, but of course, it's hard to trust her at face value and that's all part of the game's general creepiness. Given that you can complete the main story in a few hours, it's a great title to get absorbed in and complete in a single night. And if you're a completionist, there are multiple endings and secrets to find to extend the gameplay.

Liked: Tracking Echoes

The main gimmick in Chasing Static is your Frequency Displacement Monitoring Device, or FDMD for short, which lets you scour the village in search of echo signals from the restless dead. You'll need to look everywhere, from mysterious government facilities to blackened woods to underground ruins in search of the static of the deceased entities. Finding them initiates an audio playback of their static-infused conversations that resembles the type seen in Tacoma or Ghostwire: Tokyo.

Tracking down echoes is one of the more enjoyable tasks you'll do in the game as your FDMD gadget looks cool and has a proximity indicator that shows how far you are from the nearest static-filled musing. Any time the tracking device indicated a ghostly vision was nearby I got a jolt of excitement to figure out where it is and to listen to its message. What's cool is the echoes will reveal light story elements or give you clues to help you solve the next puzzle, usually where you'll find the next useful tool or item. The ghostly messages are jarring, too, because the scenery around you turns dark black and staticky silhouettes of the strange forces recreate their final moments.

It's neat how the apparitions guide you through the journey, revealing new items or paths to help you progress. Any time I wasn't sure where to go next, I'd just pop open my tracking device and sure enough, I'd soon find the next echo to get me back on track. I also liked how whenever you loaded an area that contained a hidden item you haven't found yet, a message would pop up on the screen telling you as much. While it's rare to get stuck in this game, if you ever do the game gently points you in the right direction, which I had to appreciate.

Liked: Lo-fi Graphics

One of the biggest reasons I was curious about Chasing Static was its low-poly graphics that pay homage to the golden era of gaming. Now that I've had a chance to complete the game, wow, did those graphics deliver on the promise.

While I was originally wondering if the game would look like a modern horror game with obvious scale downs, I was pleasantly surprised to find in all regards it looks like an authentic PS1 horror game that could have actually been released on the console. Polygon counts are low, character appearances are angular and blocky, and textures are pixelated and muddy just like you'd expect from games 25 years ago. From a purely visual perspective, the game gives off clear Silent Hill vibes with its thick atmosphere, abandoned town and old PCs and other tech gadgets that look straight from the 90s.

There is one modernized element though: it has full English voice acting, and it's pretty good actually. The main characters, including Chris Selwood, the roadside café waitress and the mysterious woman that guides Chris over the radio all sound great, although the Welsh accents occasionally felt a little forced. As far as the soundtrack goes, it's nothing to write home about, but I did like the staticky whispers you constantly hear that make the abandoned woods and facilities feel no-so-abandoned after all.

Didn't Like: So-so Story

Chasing Static is a pretty good retro horror title overall, but one area that I felt was lacking is the story. The game starts out strong: Chris is seen smoking outside his father's funeral with a nice visual of the old-style church, and then his entire first encounter inside the rural café is also very engaging. But it's the middle chunk of the game where the story begins to get stale.

Your Frequency Displacement Monitoring Device points you in the direction of corrupted audio clips of the deceased, but the issue is that these static-infused visions do little to shed light on Chris' situation. Why is he stuck in this looping purgatory? Why is he asked to locate cassette tapes to activate a sequence of Repeater Devices? Many of the game's bigger questions don't get answered until the very end, with the middle section full of a lot of busy work but few reveals or hints as to what's to come.

The game's ending tries to explain everything in a five-minute segment, but it felt rushed and a bit anticlimactic considering how little I knew of Chris or his situation prior to the big reveal. It would have been great if some of the visions were of Chris himself, or perhaps folks he knew, as that would add a lot more intrigue and interest in the game's story.

The Verdict

Chasing Static is a fairly straightforward retro psychological horror title that foregoes any fluff in favour of a compact story that can be completed in a single night. I really enjoyed the lo-fi PS1-era graphics and the focus on a disturbing atmosphere instead of cheap jump scares, plus it was fun locating and listening to the many static-infused memories from the past. The story is decent, it could have been better, but at least the beginning sets a good tone for the remainder of the game and the mysterious woman on the radio is excellent at subterfuge. If you enjoy classic horror games from yesteryear, this game is ready to give you an earful of scares.

Final Score: 7.5/10 - Good

Chasing Static details

Platform: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Developer: Headware Games
Publisher: Ratalaika Games
Genre: Retro Horror
Modes: Single-player
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

A key was provided by the publisher.