You are awoken in a dimly lit cave, the world shaking around you. You get up, climb out of the cave, and then, you run. Stela follows the life of an unnamed woman in the final days of a dying world. No words are spoken from start to end, and no words are need. The background shows a landscape crumbling and creatures ready to kill you for food. The suspense in Stela is continuous and unrelenting, death is around every corner.
You solve each puzzle, as the score booms and world trembles around you. Puzzles vary between timing based, such as outrunning a roller covered in spikes, problem solving, such as finding a way to avert a monster’s gaze, or a mix of both; running through a field of flaming arrows whilst hiding behind rocks and under decaying branches. Each puzzle however, left me gasping for breath, or laughing nervously.
Early in the game; barely five minutes in, I was engulfed in a swarm of beetles. Multiple attempts later, I make it through, only to meet the same fate on the next challenge I meet. Thankfully, you respawn at the beginning of each puzzle, with autosave making up for the ease of dying. The puzzles themselves are fairly simple, with the limited controls of grab/drag, jump and left to right, fitting of any side-scrolling platformer. No, it’s not the puzzles that make this game a challenge, it’s the atmosphere it creates. I was no longer lying on my bed, playing a game – I was running through the ruins of my world, running for my life, and I was scared.
The score alone isn’t what creates this unforgiving atmosphere; your unnamed character is so unbelievably human, she stumbles, she gets out of breath from running too far, too fast. She is human, capable, barely hanging on, but still human. Adding to the already nerve-wracking atmosphere, it’s no longer the protagonist stumbling through this terrain, it’s you. Each gasp of breath she takes feels like it’s coming from your lungs.
Every area you explore has its own colour scheme and aesthetic. There’s a gloomy, beige forest, with slenderman-esque titans roaming the area, providing another challenge to overcome. The burning, glowing red remains of a battlefield showering you with falling fire lets you get to grips with timing-based challenges. This fiery world is countered by the cold, blue cavern you are led to by a mysterious hooded figure.
Throughout the various landscapes, there is one commonality; at some point in each area you will see a glowing blue symbol on a tower in the background. Curiosity is what keeps me moving – I need to know what this symbol represented? Who is our protagonist? What is the point of this seemingly endless chase? Who was the hooded figure, the only other human(oid) in the game? Unfortunately for me, the game ends without my slew of questions being answered.