Chasing Static Review | Radio Nowhere

It’s a dark and rainy night, and Chris stands by his car, smoking a cigarette and watching the church that looms over him in rural Wales. It’s his father’s funeral. His inheritance is a journal that tells of spooky sci-fi happenings that occurred in the area, and an accident on the way home thrusts him into the heart of the horror. Chasing Static sets a moody tone from the start, but what’s more apparent is the way it renders its low-poly graphics. You’ll immediately be taken back to the PS1 classics, but this time with modern touches that overcome its ancestral frustrations. There are, like all games, some pitfalls that compromise the experience, especially in the story and scare-factor departments, but amazing audio and unique graphical design mean this is one set to grab cult status among classic horror aficionados.

Silent Chills

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Pulling up to the Last Stop Cafe in the middle of nowhere on a blustery night tells you everything about what’s going to transpire. You meet a kindly Welsh waitress who asks you to brew some coffee and fix the fuse box when the lights go off unexpectedly. This serves as a well-integrated tutorial to show how to perform actions in the game. This section also showcases the ’90s-era Silent Hill and Resident Evil influences. The waitress cutscenes ooze Lynchian smooth-jazz vibes, TV-style camera angles, and deliberate soap-opera-like dialogue. The inventory screen twirls 3D renditions of your items accompanied by bleep and bloop jingles as you navigate to and fro. But this low-poly graphical style isn’t there as a copout; the way rain taps against the windows and streaks down and sink taps rotate smoothly show the modern underpinnings beneath Chasing Static’s old-school veneer.

A couple of new fuses later and that lovely waitress is now stuck to the ceiling by an invisible entity — oops. The world flits back and forth between the real world and some kind of otherworld Silent Hill-style, but now there’s radio equipment strewn about the cafe and a ringing telephone that sends you off on a twisted adventure into the Welsh countryside. Eventually, you reach a hub area where you obtain what looks like a listening device from a spy movie called a Frequency Displacement Monitoring Device. You know, a big dish you hold in your hands, connected to headphones, used to hear what people are saying through walls. Except this one lights up and emits static when you get near anomalies — areas in the landscape that seem to be the cause of whatever otherworldly nightmare is going on. Speaking with a woman via a radio in the hub area, she tells you that there are three of these anomalies in three different branching areas that must be brought under control before you can access a mysterious brutalist building, where there has no doubt been some nefarious goings-on that may or may not have caused the whole mess.

Audio Matters

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Following the signals from your FDMD, you explore each of the three different areas until you find the origin point of the anomalies. The device also allows you to see a shadow version of events that took place in the past along the way, showing you the outline of individuals and allowing you to hear what they said, unraveling the story via gameplay as you go. When you reach each of the anomalies, there will be a radio device that requires a cassette tape; explore the area, find more “shadows” to unravel the mystery, find the cassette tape, slap it into the radio device, and poof: anomaly under control. Nothing visibly changes, of course, but text appears telling you the area is clear. Do that three times gain access to the aforementioned facility for the final story revelations.

While this gameplay structure sounds simple, it’s isn’t. In true retro-throwback style, you will encounter obstacles in each area that require specific items to bypass. One area requires you to find bolt cutters to get through a fence, for example, but they can only be found in another area entirely, so there’s a kind of Metroidvania aspect to the overall experience that hearkens back to those Spencer Mansion days. And this is all conducted at night, in the rain, with crucified corpses in hazmat suits dangling from trees and notes that speak of entities watching them from windows.

Chasing Static’s audio is unbelievably well-designed. When a character talks to you from another room, their speech sounds suitably muffled. The shadow sequences have to-notch voice acting, and the characters have real regional accents. When you’re using the FDMD, the sound of wearing headphones is realistically mimicked, and the outside noises are dampened and distorted. When you’re in a tent, the pitter-patter of rain and cracks of thunder suck you into the world. This is all accompanied by a low-key, dread-inducing soundtrack that fits the genre-classics theme, and creeping through the woods with a Zippo to overbearing tones certainly garners the intended on-edge reaction.

The Road Less Traveled

But this also shines a light on Chasing Static’s major problem, making it all the more apparent: it’s not actually scary. Crafted as a homage to the PS1-era horror classics, Chasing Static has a lot to live up to. And while it is creepy and eerie and mysterious and puts you on edge, when you start traipsing around its world to complete objectives, you soon realize you’re not in any real danger; there is no boogeyman in the night. There are gruesome dead bodies and supernatural happenings and things better left unexplained, but there’s no Pyramid Head, no attack dogs bursting through windows leaving you scrambling for the exit. Every aspect of this game is building to a crescendo that never happens.

Equally as disappointing is the convoluted story. It’s interesting, for sure, but as your three to four hours with Chasing Static rolls to an end, the details about everything going on begin to get lost, and the ultimate scene is more baffling than punchy. There just isn’t enough explicit clarification to make the journey wrap up in a satisfying conclusion. There is a lot that Chasing Static does right, but the lack of a visceral gut-punch ending to the story quenches some of the fire it builds throughout.

Even with the faults mentioned, Chasing Static is an interesting game that’s well worth playing if you’re a horror fan, particularly if you’re looking for something to fill that nostalgic void. The unique rural Wales setting isn’t often explored in games, it has fantastic audio design, and it makes interesting use of items and their integrity to progression. Although it doesn’t tie up in as satisfying a manner as it could have, Chasing Static will keep you hooked for its duration, as its pacing doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Final Score: 7/10

This review is based on a PC download code provided by the developer. Chasing Static is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam.