App Reviewed on: iPad Pro
User Interface Rating:
Replay Value Rating:
It's a hot summer and you've been cooped up in your apartment for most of it. People ask you to come out, but it's usually too much of an ordeal. Instead, you sit around, watch tv, scroll through social media, and talk to the shadow-being playing Solitaire in the corner. This is the setup for Stilstand, and--apart from the shadow-being bit--it's an interactive graphic novel that feels almost too appropriate for the current moment. Thankfully, the game has enough of a sense of humor and surrealism that it's hard not to be charmed while reveling in despair.
Stilstand tells the story of a young woman living on her own in Copenhagen who is struggling with feelings of isolation. The game itself is essentially a graphic novel that you tap through to see bits of dialog and scene transitions, though dispersed through each scene are more interactive moments where you do things like take a drag of a cigarette or navigate your way out of a party.
The only companionship your lonely protagonist can rely on is a shadow monster that lives in her apartment. It serves as a sort of spiritual guide who alternates between making encouraging and disparaging remarks in response to the handful of events that play out across the experience.
Surreal and silly
To keep things from getting too heavy, Stilstand makes sure to fill its stark and depressing world with humor. Some of this comes from the dialog, but the funniest bits in the game are the sight gags and mini-games layered in between the story moments. I wouldn't say any of these things make for "laugh out loud" moments, but they add a sense of charm to a game that would otherwise feel totally depressing.
What's impressive about Stilstand most of all is the balance that it's able to maintain between the seemingly disparate pieces that comprise its presentation and tone. The game is darkly grotesque, outlandishly psychadelic, occasionally downright silly, and it can even feel like all of these things at once. The thing that grounds Stilstand is how its applies these pieces to utterly relatable scenes about emotional connection, making for an experience that feels focused and natural, even as things go off the rails.
Shadow of a doubt
You can easily finish a playthrough of Stilstand in a single sitting. As noted on the App Store description, the average play time is about an hour. I personally did not have a problem with the game's overall length, although it did feel like it ended a tad abruptly.
More than the length, the only thing that somewhat bugged me playing Stilstand on mobile was its checkpointing. A small gear appears on screen when the game is saving, but this doesn't quite happen often enough if you're playing such a short game in even shorter chunks. There was definitely a time or two when making my way through Stilstand that I came back to it and had to replay a chunk of it. Given the overall length of the game, this isn't a huge deal, but something to take note of regardless.
The bottom line
The prospect of playing a game that so closely mirrors the disillusionment and unrest of our current environment might sound like a big ask, but Stilstand is impressively capable at making this something you might want to do. It's imminently relatable, but lets you have fun while wallowing in its misery. Sometimes, that's exactly what you need.