Fobia: St. Dinfna Hotel is easily one of the more frustrating games I've played in a while, though not for a lack of quality or excessive difficulty. Instead, the game left me wishing its developer Pulsatrix Studios had embraced more original ideas instead of leaning so heavily on concepts and norms from other franchises.
A Promising Start
To be clear, this is not to say that Pulsatrix has produced a bad game. On the contrary: Fobia: St. Dinfna Hotel is an impressive debut from the studio, and holds up remarkably well considering how few people constructed every element that went into the title. Most of this is thanks to the fact that the studio focused on simplicity across the board, ensuring the core elements and themes of the game shine through.
The main beats of the story are a perfect example. After receiving a tip from a woman named Stephanie, aspiring journalist Roberto Lopes travels to the St. Dinfna Hotel in order to find out what happened to several missing persons over the years. Shortly after he arrives though, he's dragged into a dilapidated version of the getaway, filled to the brim with monsters and paranormal phenomena.
With no other choice, Roberto is forced to make his way through the hotel ruins, gathering clues that will lead him toward the truth of how he ended up there and why he was dragged into this hell in the first place.
It's fairly standard for a horror setup, but it works well enough to get the game moving and establish the player in the setting they'll be stuck in for the next dozen hours. This remains true as the story progresses and more is revealed about the wider plot, with most everything meshing well until the last third of the game.
Atmosphere is Everything
The same can be said of Fobia: St. Dinfna Hotel's art and sound design.
While the ruined corridors of the St. Dinfna Hotel are nothing horror fans haven’t seen in past survival horror series, it's undeniable that the game has created a great setting that draws players in with ease. Each wrecked room or hidden library feels like it has a story to tell, and that the cause of its degradation could be waiting around any given corner.
This remains true most anywhere the player goes. Though there are a scant few jump scares to be found throughout, most of the game's terror stems from the lonely journey through the hotel, discovering what happened before Roberto got there. The squelching of squealing monsters bursting from flesh a few rooms away; bloody streaks leading to abandoned body bags; and a brief power outage that leaves the player in complete darkness all serve to sell the scarier elements of the game in a subtle and nuanced way.
About the only thing that took me out of the experience was the voice acting. While clearly an homage to horror series like Resident Evil and Silent Hill, the cheesy line deliveries frequently sucked the drama and tension out of otherwise serious or somber moments.
Puzzling Out the Truth
As for Fobia: St. Dinfna Hotel's gameplay, it's largely well done and easy to get sucked into. Once again pulling clear inspirations from series like Resident Evil and Silent Hill, it's split three ways between exploration, puzzle-solving, and combat.
The first two are the high points of the game by far. With each new portion of the hotel I uncovered, the game would always pull me back into the experience no matter how long I'd been playing.
I wanted to see where I could use a newly constructed puzzle key and how it would open up the hotel further. Uncovering hidden passageways with a dimension-splitting camera had me dying to go back and re-explore every inch of past areas, and each new number puzzle had me excited to wrack my brain for past clues I'd noticed in passing.
These elements never feel unfair either. Though there is some backtracking required for certain puzzles and a few solutions can be very difficult to uncover, it's more than possible to speed around the hotel and come to logical answers for each conundrum.
As for Fobia: St. Dinfna Hotel's combat, it's probably the weakest aspect of the game. While it functions well enough technically, there were only a couple of combat encounters that felt well-designed. The rest were janky and boring in comparison, with repetitive enemy design and stiff gunplay making each one feel indistinguishable from the others.
Falling Apart at the Finish
If this were the biggest flaw to be found in Fobia: St Dinfna Hotel, It would have still been a really good game. Unfortunately, this isn't the case, as the experience falls apart upon entering the last third of its runtime.
Without going into spoilers, the story loses most of what made it interesting and veers into being a lackluster ripoff of Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Elements that at first seemed interesting and unique are shoehorned into a larger plot that feels rushed, poorly thought out, and like a cheap imitation.
Likewise, the puzzles become less intricate and almost entirely about taking one item to another location. Exploration becomes more about circumventing large, bland areas, and there’s little to no reason to poke around every nook and cranny anymore. To top it all off, a larger focus is put on combat, seemingly to fit more into what Pulsatrix is trying to imitate from their inspirations.
It was incredibly depressing and left me wishing the studio had more faith in its own ideas. If they had, I have no doubt they could have created something that ended up as more than a cheap knock-off of other horror mainstays.
Fobia: St. Dinfna Hotel Review | Final Thoughts
Fobia: St. Dinfna Hotel is not a terrible game. While it has its flaws, horror fans will find plenty to like about it and will likely love the majority of their time spent with it. I just hope that Pulsatrix can find the confidence they need to fully embrace their own ideas moving forward, and spend less time imitating series in ways that only drag their own work down.
TechRaptor reviewed Fobia: St. Dinfna Hotel on PlayStation 5 using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One, and PC.
- Great Atmosphere and Sound Design
- Solid Puzzles
- Story's Basic Premise is Interesting
- The Plot Derails by the End
- Janky Combat
- Borrows Too Much from Other Series