Developer: Jesse Barksdale
Publisher: Jesse Barksdale
Played on: PC
Release Date: August 10, 2015
Time Played (Steam): 12 minutes
Paid: $0 (Free to play)
That was all I could really say upon “beating” The Static Speaks My Name. I have “beating” in quotes, as this was a case where it didn’t so much feel like I had beaten the game as I felt that it had beaten me. I felt uncomfortable. Disturbed. Anxious. I honestly considered not even writing this review, because I didn’t know if I could properly put into words how the game made me feel. Plus, I wasn’t sure I wanted to dwell on it any longer than I had to. But here I am, doing just that, so hopefully I can get some coherent thoughts out and not come across as much more pretentious than I usually do.First things first: The Static Speaks My Name is short. Like, really short. My first (and likely only) run took me 12 minutes. As a result, I’ve decided to try something new with this review. I’ll talk some about the gameplay and presentation like I usually do, but pretty much the entire plot will be left out. This is mainly because it’ll probably take you less time to play through the game than it will to read my review. Certainly less time than it took me to write it. And by and large, I’d say that this is a game that one should approach as blindly as possible. My only caveat is that if the idea of playing a game that deals with some very dark, disturbing themes is concerning for you, you should probably stay away. I wasn’t lying when I described my thoughts on the game’s climax in the first paragraph.
Anyway, now that I’ve basically rendered myself irrelevant by telling you to ignore my opinion piece on a game and just go play the game for yourself, let’s continue with me telling you why you should probably play said game.
As is the case with many other short, linear indie games such as this, the gameplay in The Static Speaks My Name is extremely basic. It fits the typical definition of a “walking simulator” to a T, with very limited actions that the player can take in the environment. However, I think that this serves the game quite well. It helps to prevent the player from being distracted by unnecessary mechanics and meaningless interactions, while keeping them focused on the unsettling, brooding atmosphere of the game. Additionally, the game’s brief running time and its focus on both explicit and implicit storytelling over gameplay mean that the overall lack of player agency in the world doesn’t really detract from the experience. I certainly didn’t find myself getting bored with it; rather, I got progressively more unnerved.There’s really no reprieve from the game, save for exiting it, which actually causes you to have to start over. Again, while this could be seen as a drawback, the game isn’t really designed to be played in multiple sessions. It starts, gets its point across, and is over, ensuring that the player doesn’t really have an opportunity to lose the plot of the game or get distracted from its intentions. I guess if you don’t have ten uninterrupted minutes to spare, this probably isn’t the game for you? Then again, if that’s the case, I’m surprised you’re reading this right now. Oh well, who am I to judge?
The game’s presentation is really what makes it work, though. In particular, the sound design is excellent. It’s minimalistic, but in the best way possible. Spoiler alert: There isn’t a single jump-scare in the game (unless there’s one that’s hidden or something). However, I still spent the entire game expecting something to leap out at me at a moment’s notice. Everything is just so deeply unsettling, from the near-constant hum that plays in the background to the small amounts of voice work towards the end.
While the graphics are nothing spectacular, they further reinforce the themes of the game. Plus, they work well for drawing your attention to certain elements of the environment; since everything is so sparsely detailed, the little bits and pieces stand out all the more. The intricacies of the world do an excellent job of giving a peek into the protagonist’s psyche. Conspiracy-laden scribblings on paintings, a freakish family (or friend?) portrait, and more do an excellent job of communicating the disturbed state of the lead, while leaving it open to interpretation as to how much is actually in their head.I’m starting to run out of things to say about The Static Speaks My Name without delving into spoiler territory, so it’s probably best to wrap up. The main thing that frustrates me about it is that I feel like I missed things. It’s a game that has me asking questions about if there was some deeper meaning: some symbolism to it all that I missed out on. Plus, there’s some stuff in the trailer for it that I know I didn’t come across in my playthrough. I feel like I should replay it, but I don’t want to. The game upset me, to the point where I had to take a break before I could start writing this review. I know it sounds like I’m being melodramatic. For all I know, you’ll play it and think I’m being utterly ridiculous. But that was my experience with it, perhaps because it deals with some issues that are very close to my heart. In some ways, though, I think that that’s the highest praise I can give the game. If it set out to disturb with its subject matter, it certainly accomplished that in spades with me. Regardless of what you come away from it thinking, though, it is, at the very least, an interesting look at how dark subject matter can be handled in games and the ways they tell their stories. It’s incredibly short, but to borrow a phrase that’s becoming a cliché these days, “It does more in 12 minutes than many games do in 12 hours.”