In 2015, after many delays and much reworking, Until Dawn came out. The game combined horror elements with branching narratives well and quickly became one of PlayStation 4's most notable exclusives. Supermassive Games followed it up with Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, a weird VR on-rails shooter which was fun despite having little to do with the original release. Now a second stab is being made at bringing the universe to VR with The Inpatient. Set 60 years before the events of the first game, does this VR horror game manage to scare, or is it just dull?
You play as a patient at the rather infamous Blackwood Sanatorium. You're not entirely sure why you're there, as your character is suffering from a rather bad case of amnesia. Things quickly take a turn for the weird as you begin to have bizarre and often horrifying dreams. Just to make things worse, you are locked in your room with a mysterious man whose sanity appears to be slowly degrading. With no food, no help, and mysterious noises outside the doors, things really seem to be in a bad place.
While the premise is interesting, a lot of The Inpatient's story doesn't really strike home. The game is broken into two distinct halves, with a first half that has you going through your weird dreams and trying to survive while trapped with your cellmate and a latter half that details your attempt to escape Blackwood Sanatorium. The first half is easily the more interesting of the two, with the psychological horror and crazy dream sequences serving to really give you some scares. The second half is when the game falters, with most scenes just involving walking around and getting exposition dumped on you. Beyond that, if you don't make the "right" choices you risk missing out on a good chunk of the plot, and even if you do about half of the characters vanish with little explanation only for them to be replaced with a new and less interesting cast. Fans of Until Dawn's world will probably find something of note in there, but I was mostly just bored.
Much like Until Dawn, nearly every character you run into has a variable fate. Your actions can cause everyone to get killed, for everyone to survive, or some combination of the two. On one hand, it's interesting that all these outcomes exist and I could see people wanting to replay the game to change who lives and dies. On the other hand, The Inpatient isn't really interesting enough to be worth replaying. The thought of having to sit through scenes of slow walking and waiting for exposition to be retold didn't appeal to me at all.
The biggest way you'll influence other characters is through dialogue choices. As you talk to characters you'll occasionally see two answers you can give them, along with the tone of voice you'll be using while giving these answers. What's really interesting is that The Inpatient allows you to actually speak your answers out loud and have the game pick up on it. Much to my surprise, this actually worked really well. The game seemed to have problems picking up my voice with phrases that contained noises like "Um..." and "Eh...", but otherwise worked correctly every single time I used it. Combine this with the game telling you which tone of voice you should be using, and you actually have a really cool chance to really get into character and almost roleplay your time in Blackwood Sanatorium. It's one feature I'd love to see expanded on in future games.
Unfortunately, most of the game is just walking around at absurdly slow speeds. You'll be spending what seems like hours just getting from point A to point B while a bunch of characters dump exposition on you. This isn't like other narrative games of the same type where you can explore and discover the story at your own pace either. It's just walking along the pre-defined path and talking. Rarely you can find a collectable item that gives a flashback, but this was the exception rather than the rule. It wasn't long before I was bored out of my mind, just looking for anything to get away from these sections.
While Until Dawn was full of gameplay moments to break things up, this is rather rare for The Inpatient. There's only a single scene of the fun "don't move" moments that showed up all over Until Dawn. This is particularly a shame, as the use of VR means that you have to stay absolutely still and can't turn to look at the monster clearly walking just outside of your vision and trying to figure out where you are. It's a great horror mechanic that is just never used when it should be.
The game supports both DualShock and Move controllers, though I found the DualShock to be a better choice. Move controllers come with the advantage that you can move both of your hands around and pick up random objects in the environment, but doing so is never actually required and just ups the immersion. On the other hand, the controllers have a weird movement system that requires holding a button and swiping one of the controllers to have your character turn, which just feels unnatural. DualShock lets you just use the analog sticks, though movement still felt off. You can only move forward and have to turn the camera to change directions. The fact that your character can't sidestep or move backward is baffling, and even the addition of a quick 180 turn button doesn't make up for this awkward scheme.
As far as visuals go, I was very impressed with how good the game looks. The environments and character models are very well done, almost to the point of being on par with the original game. It's clear a lot of work has gone into making sure the world of The Inpatient can draw you in. The voice acting is good as well, helping me care for the characters I had to survive with. On the other hand, the total lack of a soundtrack is kind of strange, and I found myself wishing for some creepy music to punctuate the moments.
I came away from The Inpatient genuinely disappointed. There's such a strong foundation for a narrative horror game in VR, but it's never utilized in a way that is anything other than boring, especially during the second half. With little to do here besides moving slowly, I'd suggest just looking for a summary of the game rather than actually playing it. That way, you can get all the world building without any of the boring stuff.
The Inpatient was reviewed on PlayStation VR using a copy purchased by the reviewer.
While The Inpatient tries, it manages to be little other than extremely boring. Long scenes of walking slowly while having exposition dumped on you does not make for an entertaining narrative.(Review Policy)
- Few Gameplay Segments Can be Fun
- First Half's Dream Sections are Great
- Quite Beautiful
- Most of the Game is Boring
- Story is Uninteresting
- Extremely Slow Walking Speed
- Awkward Controls