Horror is a tricky genre to pull off right, at least when it comes to video games. There’s a delicate blend between making sure that the player sees your scares without the game feeling like it’s on rails. You’ve also got to balance building tension and successful payoff, and even then, what you find scary changes heavily from person to person. This perfect blend of factors is something that indie horror especially often struggles with, resulting in a glut of adventures in tedium that may as well be clones of each other. So when Insomnis comes along promising to stand out from the crowd, it's a reason to get excited.
Insomnis is a first-person explorative horror adventure game from Path Games and came about as part of the Playstation Talents program. It was initially released on Itch.io back in 2018 and did the rounds on the YouTube let’s play circuit at the time. Now, it’s back at it again, with a fair bit more polish, but admittedly not all that much more gameplay. Luckily, if you have played the original version, this is a fair bit different, with a lot of effort put into making the areas you’re exploring feel like real locations with a connection story, rather than a bunch of random corridors.
Another important element of Insomnis that is pretty different from the original version is that it actually has a storyline. You control Joe -- who one day gets a call from his estranged grandfather’s lawyer. Your older relative is dead, and now it’s up to you to explore their home which you have inherited. Of course, once you arrive you start to uncover some pretty messed up details about your grandfather, and it’s not long before you’re being bothered by the ghosts of some children who may or may not be holding a very valid grudge.
If you thought the word ‘bothered’ was an odd choice for a horror game then you’re wrong. Bothered is about the most you’ll need to worry about in Insomnis. There is no danger to the player at all, at any point in the game, and that fact becomes pretty clear very early on. Not that this is necessarily a problem. All in all, it’s much more important than the game does a good job of setting up a creepy atmosphere that gets under your skin, and at the very least it does a decent job of that. At first.
In terms of gameplay, Insomnis is about what you’d expect from any first-person horror game made in the last decade. You walk around the house, interact with objects to solve puzzles, and pick up items or collectibles. As you pick up collectibles you unlock more details about the storyline and discover the deep dark secret of what has been going on in your grandfather’s house since you were last there.
Another point in the game’s favor, at least from my perspective, is the lack of jumpscares. There’s nothing wrong with jumpscares of course if that’s the flavor that you like your horror, but typically I’ll always think more of a game that can be creepy without them. For the most part, they’re not really here. Or at least, sort of. It’s sort of difficult to tell if some of the creepy and sudden moments were intended as jumpscares but just didn’t land. At the very least, I only jumped once, and that was the first time the game made a creepy child run past a door I was trying to get through.
The reason I say the first time, is because it happened quite a lot. While Insomnis does a decent job of building tension with the graphics and music in the early moments, it doesn’t really know how to pay that tension off. The game keeps using the same set pieces over and over again, like the aforementioned creepy children. It was a bit scary the first time one of them run past suddenly, but after the 4th or 5th time, I was just sort of tuning it out. Even worse, at a certain point, these same creepy children are just sort of standing there while you fiddle with puzzles around them. If there’s one way to stop something from being creepy, it’s letting you walk right up to it and stare it in its face without having it eat you or something.
Other than that, the puzzles are relatively rudimentary. There are a few here or there that were interesting, such as the clock-based puzzle in the second half of the game, but they’re mostly really standard puzzles. 99% of the time, the puzzle is “find the object hidden somewhere in the house you need for this specific moment”, usually hidden in a cupboard or on a shelf somewhere. The weird part is that you can pick up items for puzzles well before you actually know you’re going to need them, which is an odd thing to do and does sort of leave you wondering “why am I carrying these boxer shorts around for no reason?”. Also, most of the puzzles follow a very obvious structure of “wake up a ghost, placate the ghost, repeat.”
Insomnis Review | Final Thoughts
All-in-all, the biggest failing of Insomnis is that it’s just so utterly pedestrian. Back when it was still an itch.io game it sold itself as standing out from the crowd of similar indie horror games, and in fairness, there is a level of polish that you don’t necessarily get everywhere. But other than polish, it’s exactly like 1000 other indie horror titles that you can play anywhere. Even on my first run, it took me about an hour to finish the entire thing, and most of that time was spent looking for specific objects that the game flat out told me I needed. It probably doesn’t help that even on subsequent runs you keep all of your collectibles, so there’s not much replay value. In fact, my second run only took me about 10 to 15 minutes to finish.
No amount of eerie ambient music and sound effects, and no amount of decent graphics, makes a game scary on its own. The story doesn’t enthrall, the scares aren’t all that scary, and other than one or two interesting moments, none of the puzzles are all that clever or engrossing. By the time I was done with Insomnis I felt like it had been a very insubstantial experience. After not becoming attached to any of the characters at all, the ending gets you to make a single choice that feels like it only really exists so that you’ll have to play it twice to get all the trophies. How much fun you’ll get out of the game depends very much on how much time you’ve spent on itch.io around Halloween.
TechRaptor's Insomnis review was conducted on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the developer.
- Great atmosphere in the first half
- Decent visuals and sound
- Stop being scary very quickly
- Bland story and mostly bland puzzles