Stasis: Bone Totem Review – I Am A Very Smart Bear Now

Stasis: Bone Totem, the latest out of the Stasis anthology series, launched on PC in May 2023. Despite being a fan of not only point-and-click puzzles games, but also horror and (more specifically) sci-fi horror, this series has somehow flown under my radar. It’s safe to say that I immediately grabbed this on PlayStation 5.

As an anthology series, you don’t need to have played the rest of The Brotherhood’s Stasis games to enjoy Bone Totem. We play as Mac and Charlie, a married salvager duo who come across an abandoned oil rig in the Pacific Ocean, previously owned by Cayne Corporation. And, surprise, oil drilling isn’t all this corporation has been up to.

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A bit more than just oil drilling.

Unfortunately, the first thing that grabbed my attention in Bone Totem is how awful the controller support is. While I can imagine this game works fine with a mouse and keyboard, playing with a controller was somehow the most painful it could be. For one, your character turns in a wide circle rather than just on the spot, which feels incredibly awkward and clunky – especially when maneuvering around a small space. In fact, it was so bad that I thought that I wasn’t controlling the game properly and that there had to be some other alternative – especially when pushing the joystick for the character to go in one direction makes them go in the other, but that’s just because they’re turning in a circle to go in that direction, it makes you feel as if you have no control over the character. It especially doesn’t help that each object in a room has a very large invisible wall around it, leaving vast amounts of space just unusable for no reason. I would have actually preferred a cursor control on controller over this.

But that is the end of any large qualms I had with Bone Totem. As a point-and-click game, we control three characters: Charlie, Mac, and Moses, the animatronic bear they created for their now deceased daughter, Hope. While I already liked Charlie and Mac throughout the first hour or so of Bone Totem, the introduction of Moses was a major highlight of the game and has become one of my favorite video game characters of all time. The way Bone Totem handles these three characters was the true joy of the game. Not only are the voice acting performances incredible, but each character has their own strengths, flaws, and growth throughout the story. Throughout most of Bone Totem, you can swap between each character at will and they will mainly be separated, exploring their own sections of the oil rig. You can pass objects between them in order to solve puzzles. As an engineer, Charlie can merge two items together to either repair one or create something new. Mac is able to break things apart with his brute strength. And Moses can fit into small spaces.

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One of many arduous tasks for Moses, the animatronic bear, is removing an explosive spear from a frozen shark corpse.

What I loved most about this were the minor touches between each character. Item descriptions will change depending on whose handling it, with Charlie being able to give the most intellectual description of an item’s purpose while Moses will hilariously comment on his outrageous handling of each item, such as a nuclear warhead sounding like a drum when he bangs on it or the lead container for said radioactive warhead making him feel dizzy when he puts it on his head. I also noticed that, on the rare occasion that two characters will visit the same room, the viewpoint when we zoom in on something interactive or observable will change depending on if we’re controlling Moses or Charlie and Mac (or Charlie-Mac, as Moses would say), with Moses obviously being shorter so we’re looking at the area of interest from below. Even each inventory bar and PDA (tablet device) are customized differently for each character.

Moses has a childlike personality and a heart of pure gold, he’s scared of most things and misses his best friend, Hope, who died saving him from being taken away by the ocean current. He’s also programmed to know when certain environments or items are unsafe for children, and will comment on this as we explore the abandoned oil rig. He also responds highly to praise, often making statements such as “I am a very smart bear now” or “I’m a very brave bear” after successfully completing a puzzle or preparing himself to approach something he’s afraid of. And quite right too, as comically this little bear arguably goes through the most grueling tasks of the trio, from brain surgery to defusing a nuclear warhead (and then banging on it like a drum afterwards).

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While each character progress through their own journey, they’re ultimately intertwined. 

When exploring areas from the isometric viewpoint, we can use a scanner to highlight interactive objects or viewable areas and also scene descriptions. These are shown as lines leading from the character to their location, with objects or viewpoints being highlighted in blue, and scene descriptions being highlighted in green. Unfortunately, scene descriptions open up automatically when we’re near them, and there’s… a lot of them, too many maybe. So there’s nearly always a scene description of some sorts taking up screen space. It would have been better if we could simply click on the description to read it, and I also wasn’t a fan of all the lines everywhere, just highlighting any hot spot would have sufficed.

Though they certainly painted a picture of each environment, a lot of the scene descriptions felt overfilled with needless adjectives. That being said, the writers clearly have some level of biology knowledge which is evident in a lot of Bone Totem’s writing. And, aside from the scene descriptions, Bone Totem is very well-written in its story, which I found myself fully immersed in. On top of this, it’s genuinely horrifying, clearly taking inspiration from classic sci-fi body horror such as Alien and The Thing to create some disturbing scenes. While I did think some intertwining sub plots and repeated dialogue weren’t needed, they in no way affected my enjoyment of this story.

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What is causing this mysterious fungus growth on-board the oil rig?

Puzzle-solving in Bone Totem involves a mixture of classic and inventory puzzles. As mentioned before, items can be swapped between characters and Charlie-Mac are able to alter items using their unique skills. I found most of the puzzles in Bone Totem to be intricate and challenging; there were plenty of moments when I was left scratching my head – but almost always the puzzle can be solved by having another look around each character’s area or by mixing and matching different combinations with Charlie-Mac’s abilities. That being said, there were a couple of occasions where puzzles frustratingly required either guess-work or going through multiple combinations to find the correct one which is a complete waste of player time and also didn’t feel as rewarding upon completion.

I, personally, also had some problems with Bone Totem’s audio settings. For one, there are too many of them. With separate audio settings for videos, voice acting, puzzles, sound effects, ambience and interface and more, it took me until nearly the end of the game to finally hit the sweet spot with audio levels. On top of this, adjusting your settings also doesn’t pause your input into the game, so you’ll often be unintentionally messing around with your inventory while adjusting your game settings. I also wasn’t a fan of the amount of controller vibration used in the game, which would usually be used as a reaction to an action to immerse you further into a game – but Bone Totem just uses controller vibrations for random ambience events such as lightning, or reading through the PDA messages of the oil rig’s deceased employees. It’s distracting and there is no way to turn it off. 

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This puzzle involve searching through the different level combinations until the three rows finally paired up with the levels above. 

That being said, the sound effects of Bone Totem are really well done and bring the environment to life. There’s some truly disturbing noises coming from certain creatures to further enhance the horror elements. The music by Mark Morgan is also used at all the right points, remaining mostly subtle throughout general exploration, but growing stronger during certain segments of the game.

Despite being a little washed out with its shading, Bone Totem looks stunning, with the isometric viewpoint environments being detailed, as well as gruesome, which are further enhanced when you’re able to inspect something – usually a horrible mutilated body – which brings you in to a detailed closeup. I was also pleasantly surprised by the cutscenes in Bone Totem, which felt more like high-end animation rather than game graphics. They’re used during integral story moments and also death scenes, which are comically numbered as game achievements. However, I did feel like a lot of pathways leading to out-of-view rooms weren’t obvious from the isometric viewpoint, and found myself stuck on a number of occasions because I hadn’t found the entrance to the next room.

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Bone Totem’s cutscenes use high level animation to really set the scene.

While Stasis: Bone Totem is undoubtedly in its prime with a keyboard and mouse, the writing, story, characters and puzzle-solving are so strong and enjoyable that even the horrendously clunky controls didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the game. While I would advise playing this on PC if you’re able to, I would easily recommend Stasis: Bone Totem to any horror game fan.

Jess played Stasis: Bone Totem on PlayStation 5 with a review code.

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2 months ago

Ok, they have made a patch, now its a lot better with controls.