Coming up from Vancouver’s SkyBox Labs, Stela describes itself as a cinematic, atmospheric platformer. Visually, it’s a perfect description – the camera falls back from the player, showing off the dying world around them, and strangely beautiful scenery fills the screen.
Stela takes us into the final days of a mysterious ancient world, putting us in the place of a young woman as she makes her way across the landscape and ruins left behind. Along the way, creatures pose an ever-present threat, eagerly hunting her path. The premise and atmosphere are certainly creepy enough, with plenty of horror elements lurking, but Stela’s atmosphere is something rather special.
While creating Stela, Skybox didn’t want to follow the tropes of stuffy, claustrophobic levels that are so prevalent in eerie games. You’ll notice two major unique things as a result of this. The first is that the camera is panned out rather far from our protagonist. The game isn’t solely centered on a character – in fact, at least in the demo – it’s hard to make out much about her at all. Instead, you’re the witness to the death of a world, watching as it passes by you, even as you play. The second is an amazing variety of environments and elements. Our demo took us through a haunting, dead forest. While most games might throw us into a dark, barely visible scene, Stela shows off its woods through a hazy, twilight-like glow. It certainly gives a fresh look to the game, making the world around you the main focus.
Stela’s gameplay is incredibly intuitive – while the demo wastes no time with instructions, anyone familiar with a controller should have no issue figuring out how to proceed. As I tried to stealth my way along the path, an ominous, humanoid creature occasionally appeared. You can’t quite run from them – the goal is to not be spotted in the first place. Sometimes this is as easy as hiding behind a tree. Others, it’s a little more challenging, as the creatures, run, crawl, and lurk through spaces you might have thought were safe. It’s not all hiding from monsters – much of the gameplay is puzzle-based – but stealth and quick-thinking will be important for you.
Difficulty-wise, Stela felt like a nice fit. When chatting about the game, Skybox revealed that they didn’t want the game to be too impossibly challenging. Instead, the player should be able to learn and adjust. It’s meant to be a game that anyone can play, if they’re willing to put in some effort.