October is here, and you know what that means; horror movies are trickling into theaters, costumes and jack o’ lanterns are popping up in store windows and horror games are appearing on the shelves. That’s right, Halloween is almost here and it’s time to get scared.
Horror games don’t typically ‘scare’ me, but I do enjoy and appreciate the elements that go into them, whether it’s creepy game-play, a twisted narrative, or dark, claustrophobic game design. I was intrigued when I heard about Inmates, a gloomy, psychological first-person horror title set in an insane asylum, and I was even more intrigued when I saw that the game is from a one-man dev “team”, a guy named Davit Andreasyan. Inmates strongly leans into more of a story-driven puzzle game than a FPS, but with the right design and narrative, those types of games can still be a lot of fun.
You begin the game by waking up in dungeon-like cell, with little to go on. As you begin to explore your surroundings, you immediately get a taste of the surreal nature that this game employs. When implemented correctly, it works well; you begin to question the world, the story, your motivations and your past and Inmates does it well, mainly building the world through notes left lying around the asylum. It sucks you in, keeping you guessing as you begin to sort through the mysteries of the asylum, from satanic aspects to religious symbols, bad science and dark mysticism. The narrative is great, but once you take that away, there’s not much here - and maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
The gameplay itself controls like a typical first-person shooter, but the mechanics exist almost entirely to serve the game's narrative-driven focus. You flip switches, pop open doors and solve puzzles (none of which are particularly difficult), all done with a click of the mouse (or the interact button if you are using a gamepad). It’s pretty standard FPS fare, but sometimes it isn’t as smooth as it should be. For instance, opening a door requires having the reticule over the door handle, clicking the button when the floating hand icon appears over it. Unfortunately, some interactive objects require pin-point accuracy. You may completely miss something just because you didn’t see the interact prompt appear, or the object of your interest may be only a few pixels wide, leaving you struggling to find and click it. And the control issues don’t end there. I play inverted (master race), and any time I reload the game, it would reset mu options, which was irritating. Toggling this option didn’t even work on the gamepad controls either. This isn’t a huge deal, but it hindered my immersion from the start, since I had to keep fighting with and adjusting the controls to get going.
Graphically, Inmates looks pretty good on the whole. It takes advantage of the Unreal 4 Engine which is very good at displaying the high-quality graphical effects that appear throughout the game. From the realistic use of depth-of-field to the lighting, the game is nice to look at. However, it starts to fall apart when you inspect some of the models or textures, especially the human models. They look downright scary, and I’m not sure they are supposed to be part of what scares you in this horror title.
While most the game looks pretty similar, there is some environmental variety, and the developer makes sure to take advantage of it with Inmates’ visual style. You’re not just wandering through run-down jail cells; there’s also clean and surreal environments that are a nice juxtaposition visually, and the game's visual style shines here. The sound is suitable horror fare, nothing too amazing, but it does its job, even if it isn’t amazing.