Anyone who has played low-budget, high concept titles such as Limbo and Inside will already know something about the next game working its way into that genre in SkyBox Labs’ Stela. The visuals are some of the best you’ll see for a low-budget release, but the puzzles will most likely leave players frustrated and scratching their heads on how to solve them and even more importantly, why.
Those not familiar with SkyBox Labs may remember their work on co-developing an expansion pack for Age of Empires II HD, developing the remaster of Rise of Nations and helping with the Halo 5 Forge map editor. So for them to go from those to this is a major step. There’s little plot at the start, but it follows an unnamed woman that you’ll have to guide through a mysterious world filled with scary creatures out to get her for some reason.
As with any puzzle game, this is easier said than done as you can only run and solve puzzles to avoid or defeat the monsters. Some of the solutions will come easier than others, such as grabbing a box or pushing a rock to climb up to somewhere higher and such. Others will involve a bit more thought as they become increasingly difficult, and it doesn’t help when you have monsters nipping at your heels as you struggle to find a solution.
Some may welcome this kind of challenge, but others may find it a tad annoying. Also you’ll often find yourself wondering why you’re doing all of this in the first place. What little story presented here is often told through background imagery, such as coming across ancient statues and markings that show the world you’re in somehow fell into chaos, but how or why is left up to you to decipher it seems.
At least the visuals and audio are very well done, as I often found myself getting lost in the simple yet lovely looking scenery that changes from snow covered plains to caves and other places that all have their own unique colors and musical sounds. These sounds will soon become your best friend as they’re your only source of warning for when danger is coming, from monsters running to chase you down, to other subtle dangers you’ll have to keep your eyes and ears peeled for.
It can be annoying and frustrating most times, but those who stick with Stela are bound to have a good time from the sense of accomplishment you get from cheating death and solving puzzles. The beautiful visuals and audio are spot on and are a perfect fit for this type of game, and will keep you thinking “I’ll try this part one more time…” when those puzzles and creatures try to keep you down.