The Stairwell

Author: Zykov Eddy
Released: March 2nd 2012
Download: Standalone | Classic

The Stairwell is an experimental horror which has been based on the story of SCP-087 from a collection over at The SCP Foundation. Having had no prior experience to these beforehand, I was jumping in head first for something new and I’d probably recommend other players in a similar situation to do the same.

I feel that horror is an under explored theme within the Build Engine, with one of the last releases offering It Lives, and old past time favourites such as the Red Series or Dark Place, so it is good to see another effort here. There is no shooting involved in the gameplay since The Stairwell is a short visual and audio narrative experience. Eddy follows this through by focusing strongly on building atmosphere and using sound to provoke tension as the player makes their long walk down the stairs. A thick fog also shrouds everything beyond a couple of metres, making it difficult to see what might be ahead without relying on total darkness, much in the same way I liked as in Mystic Radar for Sven Coop. The majority of gameplay consists of this constant and repetitive task of descent, which poses both some advantages, and a fatal flaw.

Upon doing the same task over and over, you usually get used to this pattern and an unexpected situation might cause one to lose track. This is used as an effective device to instead freak out the player and the very nature of not knowing when something will happen and what that could be, can help to create that fear. But unfortunately and without a doubt, this journey does get boring fast and increasingly so. Despite the good sound work and ambience, slowly climbing down over sixty flights of stairs will take its toll on someone’s patience. Cutting back on the length however might very well break the whole mood because of the intentional build-up, yet some may wonder if the outcome was worthwhile. The standalone release also makes a few small changes here and there, but I have a preference toward the classic version because some of the subtleness is gone in the update.

I never read the original material this project was based on before playing, or any of the other SCP’s for that matter. Of course, it did intrigue me and eventually looked at the source material. Eddy does capture the right tone and the experiment comes across as pretty faithful, but it also feels like more could have been achieved if taken a little further to add an alternative spin on the concept to better fit within a game or visual narrative environment. What that might be however, I don’t know. The charm of the idea simply comes from the unknown and whether or not the stairwell might actually have a bottom. Both the original text and this adaptation can make you think about the events and location without being given any cold hard facts. And this worked really well for me.

Captures the right tone from the original source material, effectively creating a creepy and tense atmosphere. However, the long and repetitive descent can become a bore despite this.

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