Supermassive is a sort of unsung hero for Sony. Its horror/adventure title Until Dawn was a shining gem in Sony’s relatively barren 2015 for exclusives (putting aside Bloodborne), and it then supported PSVR with two titles for its launch in 2016 with Tumble VR and the beloved House of Horror adaption of its Until Dawn universe, Rush of Blood. It appears the relationship is strengthening even further between Sony and Supermassive by kicking of 2017 with two high profile PSVR titles. While Bravo Team is slated for a March release, they decided to sing to their fanbase with yet another title in the Until Dawn universe. However, unlike Rush of Blood, The Inpatient attempts to lean towards the original game with its story-driven focus, interactive elements and branching playthroughs. Think of The Inpatient as a bite-sized Until Dawn series, but opting for a psychological horror twist from a first-person perspective. All of these changes make the gameplay tailored to virtual reality and due to their early experience with the technology, The Inpatient stands out as one of the more polished and ‘full-game’ experience for the device while sacrificing some of the stab the original game had inflicted upon us back a couple of years ago.
The Inpatient is set in the same universe as Until Dawn but takes place in a mental asylum 60 years prior, where you play as one of the patients of this institution trying to regain your memory. The game allows you to choose to play as a male or female, which does a really good job of putting you literally in the shoes of the protagonist from the start. The game predominately consists of dialogue between a character in the game and yourself. Each time you are asked a question, you can respond using two options. Players can do this by physically looking at the option and selecting it with a button. However, I found it more immersive to use the voice-recognition technology and speak the options. Not once did the game fail to recognise my voice or choose something I didn’t intend to which was very impressive. I did notice that there are times where there are slight pauses between your response and the character’s due to the nature of the system. So, while on one hand, the system is intuitive and immersive, this pause can temporarily interrupt that immersion. Nevertheless, the voice recognition system further concreted the fact that I was playing that character throughout the whole game.
Checking in… checking out
The first half of the game flashes between different locations. One scene can place you in a strapped chair, while being asked questions by your friendly GP. There are also many sequences that place you in your cell room and other parts of the buildings, where you can walk around and interact with the nurses, staff and other inmates. While relatively short, all of these sequences helped build an atmosphere and make you feel like you were an inmate in a loony bin. The doctor was responding to my answers very suspiciously and staff made me out to be crazy… to the point I started to question myself. The parts in your room in particular made me feel claustrophobic and I just wanted to devise an escape route to get the hell out of there. Then there are the dreams sequences, where blood-soaked walls, dark hallways and disturbing noises are par for the course. While Supermassive nailed the atmosphere of a mental institutions in the 1960s, these dream sequences have a whole different atmosphere, one that you do not feel comfortable being in. This is really where the game shines, and well before these terrifying episodes were over I was begging for the game to return me back to the safety of my cell.
The game changes a little half-way and takes on more of a horror direction. Without spoiling too much, the game ties directly into Until Dawn and it’s pretty cool to see how it all unfolded. The butterfly effect returns in The Inpatient, and making certain choices in the game will affect the path you ultimately take for the rest of the game. There are less instances where a butterfly effect can occur in comparison to the first game, but they provide more replayability with a cool branching narrative. You will recognise these sections in dialogue sequences when your answer explodes into little butterflies. That’s when I knew shit was about to go down, because no choice in any game really ends well for me. So while the game clocks in at a rather underwhelming three hours, the game does provide some reason to play through it multiple times.
I mentioned earlier the importance of Supermassive’s prior experience with VR technology, and unsurprisingly the production values in The Inpatient are through the roof. The visual fidelity is especially impressive as you move up to inspect character’s faces and the environment closely which is one of the beauties of VR, and most of the animations are top notch as well… but that’s not to say it’s perfect. The player doesn’t have to look far before they notice heavy aliasing in the backgrounds, and stand too far from a character and you can barely make out their face. I have seen games that manage aliasing and draw distances better in virtual reality but I feel this is a sacrifice Supermassive made to achieve the high fidelity.
Voice acting was pretty solid, aligning fairly well with the vibe that The Inpatient is striving for. This was one reason Until Dawn was so successful, using its self-awareness to nail the B-grade acting and predictable storylines of slasher teen horror films. The Inpatient certainly gave me vibes of Shutter Island using similar character building, narrative structures and sudden plot twists. All in all it’s predictable, but solid. However, I think Until Dawn succeeded more, purely due to perfectly marrying the genre of film with the David Cage structure of using multiple protagonists to continue the narrative even when the player dies.
Thank you doctor, for making me believe I was insane
The controls are adequate but I do have some issues with them. Firstly, the game fully supports locomotion which PSVR fans should be pleased with. However, I felt that this game had the potential to give me motion sickness moreso than any PSVR game I’ve played to date. I’ve played a lot and there have been maybe three titles that turned my stomach slightly, but this game did it quite a bit. I didn’t ride the porcelain bus in the end, but I can’t say that anyone prone to motion sickness won’t. The fact that the game doesn’t support teleportation or other comfort settings is especially odd, but I assume that due to the scripted nature of the game, teleportation may break it. There are turning options, offering different forms of snap turning including a welcome smooth motion turning, but I found it to be incredibly jarring and I quickly turned back to 15-degree increments, which served me fine for the duration of the game as I had enough horrors to deal with. It’s odd for a developer who has had so much experience with VR to provide such a rough solution to locomotion and turning.
The other little gnawing issue I had with the controls was interacting with objects. The game has a small number of items you can pick up and inspect, however this is only limited to physically picking it up, turning it with your hands and placing it back down. Inspecting some items triggers memories, which are important in piecing together what happened to your character, but otherwise serve no other purpose. The annoying thing about picking up these objects is, you have to stand in the right spot and look at the right angle to be able to trigger the animation to pick the object up. It’s a little finnicky, which frustrates me in an otherwise completely enjoyable experience.
My fascination with the Inpatient’s clever voice-recognition system had my family calling up a real doctor for help
The best thing the Inpatient did was make me feel completely nuts; the high production values and believable atmosphere put me right in the hospital itself. The choice of gender and voice-recognition based dialogue system made me feel like I was that patient, and it’s this sense of immersion that makes the somewhat predictable story, minimalist gameplay and limited horror sections serviceable in a confident entry in the Until Dawn universe. It may be the fact that we were surprised twice by Supermassive that The Inpatient’s splash is slightly less bloody, but it’s still a polished experience. I am a little disappointed a veteran VR developer has provided so few options, and some rough edges with its controls are compounded by the fact that I felt a little queasy in some areas having played many other VR titles with no issue whatsoever. But maybe I’m just crazy like they keep telling me in their game. All things said and done I enjoyed my stay at Blackwood Pines Sanatorium and it’s a game I’d recommend to anyone looking to go on a virtual holiday to a mental asylum.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro | Review code supplied by publisher