Developer: Supermassive Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe
Release Date: Out Now
Platform(s): PlayStation VR (Reviewed)
I absolutely adored Until Dawn when it released back in 2015, so naturally I was excited when its spin-off Until Dawn: Rush of Blood launched alongside the PlayStation VR headset a year later. Whilst it was a heck of a lot of fun though, it focused more on shooting down gross enemies than it did exploring the haunting narrative that the first game was built upon.
Supermassive Games have returned to PlayStation VR to give gamers another fix of Until Dawn action though, this time with The Inpatient – a narrative-driven adventure that is set years before the original game but helps lay the foundation of the story behind it. This time, there’s an extended focus on the narrative over horror-driven action, though that doesn’t mean you’re not going to be left frightened as you uncover the origins of Blackwood Mountain’s feral inhabitants.
The Inpatient puts you in shoes (er… actually you’re barefoot throughout…) of an amnesiac patient at Blackwood Sanatorium – you know, the same haunting location you visit in Until Dawn. Fortunately, the game is set back in the 1950s, so the place is still run as a reputable mental asylum. Unfortunately, you don’t know why you’re there or who exactly you are, so you’ve got to somehow put the pieces together and find a way to get out of there. It wouldn’t be a horror game if something didn’t go wrong though, and it’s not long until the Sanatorium is seemingly abandoned and you hear the familiar cries of vicious monsters echo throughout the hallways…
The narrative felt ominous throughout and certainly kept me hooked into the experience, even if I was left completely baffled during the opening fifteen minutes or so. There are so many little clues as to what exactly is going on through the game, but it’s not until the backend of it that you’ll start to find out the truth. Of course, The Inpatient is set in the same universe as Until Dawn – naturally, your choices are going to have an effect on the outcome of the tale.
Throughout the game you’ll get to make certain choices that’ll have a great effect on the story. Typically, they decide which supporting characters will live or die, though they’ll also determine your fate too. Some of these choices boil down to what exactly you say in a conversation, but sometimes it’s the things you do – one time I didn’t respond quick enough during an action sequence, and it resulted in the death of another character. Your choices can also change the psyche of those around you, so you’ll want to keep a close eye on how others respond to you and their mental state throughout.
Besides the choices, there are plenty of optional memories to uncover in the environment too. Some of these are a little dull, but when pieced together they help flesh out the story and expand upon the situation you find yourself in (and how exactly you got there). It’ll definitely take a few playthroughs to see everything that The Inpatient has to offer.
It’s probably for the best though, because The Inpatient isn’t a long game. You could easily beat it in around two hours, which is a little disappointing given its higher price point. The emphasis on multiple playthroughs does make it more worthwhile (and it is definitely worth playing it at least twice), but those who treat video games as a ‘one run and you’re done’ sort of experience might be left feeling a little underwhelmed. On a personal side, I felt like I got my money worth – my two playthroughs felt different to one another, with the first ending I achieved feeling a bit sombre, but the second one gruesomely neat. I’m looking forward to having another run through the game too, since there are still some things I left undiscovered.
That being said, The Inpatient is a pretty linear game. You rarely step away from the beaten path, and whilst there are things to discover, you never have to go too far to find them. There are certainly plenty of ways in which you can change how the narrative pans out, but from a gameplay perspective it typically remains almost identical throughout each playthrough.
You can control your character by either using the Dual-Shock controller or two Move controllers, though I’d highly recommend the latter. The Dual-Shock is certainly viable, but it makes it a lot less enjoyable to interact with the objects in the environment.
The Move controllers on the other hand allow you to pick things up, look at them closely, use your torch, or just throw things around a lot easier (there are plenty of chess boards around the asylum you can mess around with too, because why not). The control scheme itself is pretty intuitive too, with the player moving forward by holding down the move button on one controller and turning by facing the other Move controller in a specific direction and pressing the move button there. It does take some getting used to, but after you’ve walked around a bit you’ll find yourself navigating with ease.
The only real flaw with using the Move controllers is how being around NPCs limits your arm movement. If you’re too close to another character, you can’t move your arm around – instead, it’ll be stuck by your side until you’re out of their range. Not only does this look unnatural in-game, but it feels awkward when trying to use your flashlight to spot something in your surroundings too. Fortunately, whilst it certainly feels clumsy in-game, it’s more of an annoyance than a game breaker.
One neat little feature in The Inpatient is the use of voice commands, with the player actually able to say their choice of response out loud when interacting with other characters. It actually works really well and I found it my preferred way to play (alternatively, you can just look at a response and hold the trigger down), though it did become easy to stop taking it seriously. Everyone is so frightened in-game and taking everything incredibly seriously, yet I couldn’t help but mockingly respond to everything in a ridiculous tone. Ok, sure, it’s me being childish, but I did actually find that it almost eliminated some sense of the atmosphere at times.
If you decide to take it seriously and play the role of the amnesiac patient though, you’ll find it adds an extra level of immersion to the game. There was only ever one moment where I had to repeat something I said (the thick Welsh accent probably didn’t help with that), but otherwise seeing people genuinely responding to the things I said aloud was pretty neat.
Visually, The Inpatient is one of the most impressive looking titles available on PlayStation VR. Characters look great and their facial animations are spot on, whilst your surroundings follow the 1950s décor perfectly and will really make you feel like you’re exploring this attractive but newly abandoned mental asylum. The fact that The Inpatient takes place in a mental asylum is a bit of a double-edged sword though; it’s definitely creepy and you’ll be kept on edge throughout, but at the same time it’s well-trodden territory in video games these days.
Still, it’s hard not to be impressed by the clarity of the fantastic visuals on offer. Supermassive Games have really managed to get the most out of the PlayStation VR hardware so far as visuals are concerned, with The Inpatient continuing to impress after the spectacle that was Until Dawn: Rush of Blood.
Between the mysterious story and the grisly visuals, everything in The Inpatient sets itself up well to offer a really creepy atmosphere. A lot of this is down to the fear of the unknown, though sometimes it might throw a nasty jump scare your way to remind you that you are in fact playing a horror title (seriously, one scene early on had me jumping out of my skin). It never cheapens the experience though, because for the most part it’s not knowing what’s around you that has you frightened the most – there are plenty of ominous sounds to be heard, and, with darkness surrounding you, you never know what might be around the next corner.
It works, and during each of my playthroughs I found myself worried about what I’d face next. Admittedly, it’s a bit shy on the horror-action when compared to the likes of its forbearer Until Dawn, but it still has its horrific moments that’ll stun you.
The Inpatient gives Playstation VR gamers a genuinely creepy narrative-focused adventure to head out on, and one that they’ll definitely be able to appreciate if they were fans of Until Dawn. It does a lot of clever things in setting up an atmosphere that’ll always keep you on edge, but rarely ever resorts to throwing jump scares your way. It’s the fear of the unknown that gets you the most, and sometimes that’s all you need to keep you nervously taking your time as you walk around each corner…
For the price, it was a little short, though the use of multiple narrative branches through your choices helps rectify this. Still, some players might be underwhelmed that they’ll be done with the higher priced title in around two hours. It could feel a little linear too, with most areas of the game always offering the same clear path for you to head out on – no matter what choices you might make in-game.
Still, The Inpatient is certainly one of PlayStation VR’s more atmospheric games and one that utilises its features in a highly immersive way. It’s certainly going to be a title that’ll divide gamers, but I personally had an enjoyable (and very creepy) time exploring Blackwood Sanatorium’s haunting hallways.