When Supermassive Games released Until Dawn, there was a lot to love. The characters were all varied and interesting, the inspiration from classic slasher films like Friday the 13th was incredibly well-executed, and the emphasis was on player-choice being significant to the outcome of the plot. Now the developer is back with a PSVR game called The Inpatient, set in the same universe but taking place around 60 years before the teenagers of Until Dawn took to Blackwood Pines.
It's worth pointing out before we go further that you don't need to have played Until Dawn to get the most out of The Inpatient because there's very little direct interaction with the plot of Until Dawn here. It's one of those things where you'll find yourself saying 'I know that!' when you hear familiar names and places, but otherwise the narrative doesn't connect. Instead, you experience a totally standalone narrative revolving around yourself, a patient in the Blackwood Pines Sanatorium who has amnesia, who must unravel the mysteries of the place and work out why you're there. The game took us around 3-4 hours to complete, so to say any more about the story would be venturing into spoiler territory, although we will say is that if you've played and finished Until Dawn, there are a lot of familiar elements here.
You play The Inpatient from a first-person perspective throughout, except unlike some other games of its kind your arms and legs are all attached to you in-game, meaning your arms move while you move the Move Controllers (you can also play with DualShock 4, but Move Controllers are the more immersive way to go, especially since motion controls on DualShock made a lot of simple tasks a lot harder). If you try to bend your arms unnaturally that'll look weird in-game, but it's still nice to have the whole body rendered, even if the tracking on the hands is sometimes a little off. For example, you can sometimes find the Move Controllers vibrating if they're clashing with things (like one another), but sometimes it doesn't seem as if they should be clashing with anything. You're also restricted from moving your controllers into objects, so your arms will often stay where they are if obstructed, before pinging back to where your actual arms are if the obstruction moves, which can be a little odd in execution.
Also, on the subject of Move Controllers, if you're playing with these then you'll need to make sure you're well away from the TV and that the PS Camera can see a lot of the room, as even when sitting down they can be problematic in regards to reaching. For instance, we often had trouble reaching down for things like doorknobs and desks, and we could've done with a bit more space in our playing area to access these better. We also found it kind of annoying that big symbols came up when your Move Controller is out of the PS Camera's range, as sometimes we just wanted to put our hands down while walking, but because those symbols kept flashing up we had to walk with our hands in front of us.
The tutorials in the game's opening are particularly useful in gently guiding you through the experience without feeling like your typical 'game tutorial'. At the beginning you're sitting in a chair answering questions on your past while trying to recover your memory, and here you are introduced to the dialogue system, choosing two different voice options with guides on what you'll say and what the tone is with each (i.e. "I feel great"/sarcastic). What's really great about this is that you can use your actual voice to say these options, which is a really nice touch.
Once the basics regarding your narrative choices are nailed down, we're then instructed on how to move, which requires you to walk forward with the left Move Controller's Move button, and rotate at either snapping angles or freely with the right controller's equivalent. We'd recommend snapping angles when turning, as we tried literally a minute of the free movement and it made us feel queasy enough to take the headset off.
You might notice that there's no reverse option, and that's because as far as we could tell there's no way to walk backwards, meaning that if you need to interact with something but have held the move button too long and walked past it, you'll have to circle back like an airplane to get in line with it again. Coupled with the sometimes dubious tracking on the Move Controllers, at times we found ourselves very frustrated trying to do basic tasks like inspecting an object.
Another hugely annoying issue is walking speed. We understand that it has to be slow to prevent motion sickness and for atmosphere, but it becomes painful, and at times we didn't realise whether we were walking or whether we'd got caught on an object slightly blocking our toes again (which prevents you moving forward). It made sense some of the time, but when we were, say, exploring a dark basement with just a torch, it would have been nice to have moved a little faster than a crawl on offer.
Since this is a narrative experience, it's worth talking about the story we see, which for the first half of the game is incredibly intriguing, as we get our seemingly safe and harmless lives thrown into disarray after a mysterious incident. What's even more mysterious is that we're constantly blacking out and being thrown into these dreams where all logic and sanity goes out the window and everything becomes much more sinister. The fact that you can find objects to transport you to memories of early times - fragmented chunks you need to make sense of - also keeps things interesting and raises a lot of questions as to what's going on.
The second half of the game, however, turns into a kind of blockbuster 'found footage' Hollywood film, walking around with a group of survivors while they jump at every noise and struggle to keep their sanity. The slowly unravelling mystery and intrigue in the first half then gives way to a pretty bland expedition around dark tunnels and hallways following the group, before a conclusion we didn't even realise was meant to be the end of the game.
That said, scares are utilised effectively and intelligently here. We weren't jumpscared that many times, but because they're used so sparingly and the atmosphere seems to suggest that there are sinister things happening, we were constantly on edge, especially since the first one hits you right out of nowhere.
At the end of the game we were left with rather conflicting thoughts. On the one hand, we were glad we didn't have to slowly crawl through dark corridors anymore, but on the other, we felt like we didn't get any answers to the various mysteries like we did in Until Dawn. Sure, we knew that our choices affected the outcome, but we didn't feel like this was any kind of conclusion. Either way, we knew for sure we didn't want to replay everything to find out, no matter how short it was.
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