While I do own a PS VR headset I seldom use it as much as I want to. Games on the system are great but other than a handful of them that push the boundaries of story-driven experiences on the headset, many of them are pretty much tech demos that are cool to play but get boring after a while. Inpatient was scheduled for release late last year and it was delayed until 26 January 2018.
No word why the delay was caused but the end result is a decent thriller that captures the deep decision making and Butterfly Effect I loved so much from Until Dawn. Not only is the game made by the same team but it is also a prequel to the Until Dawn story that lays the foundations for the Wendigo outbreak and the fall of Blackwood Sanatorium which you visit during Until Dawn. All the piece line up at the end of Inpatient, but it is the journey along the way that makes it great.
Set in the 1950s, sixty years before the events of Until Dawn, Supermassive Games truly brings Blackwood Sanatorium to life as the opening moments of the game are welcomed by some chilling sights and sounds. Classic music plays on an old box radio and the hospital truly looks like it came right out of a time machine and was placed in front of you on the headset.
Dr Jefferson Bragg, the game’s face and owner of the mysterious sanatorium claims to be helping you reclaim your past memories. As you try and look back at a few events, nothing really comes clear to who you are and what in the world you are doing in this hell house. The game looks great on the headset as the Unreal Engine 4 pushes the limit of the visuals delivered. Characters have decent facial animations, lighting it topnotch to bring out the chilling environments, and voice work is spot on, well most of the time.
While Dr Bragg insists he is trying to help you, your decisions are up to you and you can respond to his questions in any way you see fit. Here is the good part. Inpatient has some fantastic voice commands that let you say what you want to say into your headphones or the PlayStation Camera and it will trigger the game’s answer on screen. I was surprised to see how this worked and even sitting with a giant fan behind me due to it being 30-degrees in the headset, the game picked up my voice and what I was saying without an issue. There are even moments in the game where you can scream or make a noise and it might trigger some rather horrific events for characters you meet.
While this was great, I got over the voice commands pretty quickly and before I knew it I was using my head to point to the answers and pressing the Move’s trigger button to choose it. It just felt easier and I did not look like a complete maniac to whoever was passing my room at the time. Controls work, most of the time. I played the entire game with two PlayStation Move Controllers and each one acted as one hand. You can fling your arms in the air and it will react accordingly. You can also later use the controller to move a torch and swap the torch across to each hand with a simple press of a button. Where the controls don’t work is when you want to reach for things and interact with them. There is not much to interact with, but the items you can and can not interact with are not presented to the player as well as I hoped.
Some doors can be pushed open while some can’t and there is often a flashing light on the ones you can move but often there is no light too. This led me to walk around the game trying to grab every door handle to see if I could open the door and reaching for it ended in me giving up as my arm just never reached for the handle. While using the torch, other characters would also get close to me and they would bug out my control of it or completely block all the light from it. These are not major issues at all and they don’t impact gameplay but I am sure I missed a few memories, the game’s collectables, because I missed doors I could not open.
Movement in the game is easy enough. You walk forward by pressing the left Move Button and rotate your movement with the right controller by pointing it either left or right depending on where you want to rotate too. Default rotation moves at 30-degrees which is enough to keep the motion sickness away. Other than that the game’s movement and interactions make it a smooth experience from start to finish.
Inpatient is all about the characters as you would expect and most of them are all interesting enough to keep them alive right until the end of the game. Decisions are vital to keeping them alive and you will never know when a simple choice you make might end someone’s life. You start with your roommate, meet David, Susanne, Ted and Jason, and they can all make it to the end of the game or not. It is all about the decisions you make and what you say to them that determines their fate.
With that being said, characters and their relationship with you fail to blossom due to the sheer boring pace of the game. The entire game feels drawn out and its 3-hour experience could possibly be completed in an hour if it was not for awkward pauses in dialogue and the boring slow walks across the levels. No really, there was one collectable upstairs in the chapel that I went to go collect. I had to walk to the end of the room, up the stairs, all the way across the balcony and back. This little adventure took 3 minutes because your character walks like a Sloth. It does not end there though as all the characters have the same speed. This means that even the most intense moments in the game are never fully realized because there is simply no rush to get to safety or even a haste to survive the night.
It all comes crashing down when you realize that they have no motivation at all. All I craved was this intensity knowing that I could die or someone next to me could if we did not hurry to the end of the hall but it never arrived. Instead, I was forced to walk next to a bland character that said nothing and walked at a pace as if he had all day to get to where he was going. It destroyed the horror aspect for me and disconnected me completely from all the characters that Supermassive Games were trying so hard to bond us with. Not to mention that the character you play almost feels like an unwanted third wheel across the game with no attempt to get to know other roles or even yourself. It is a huge step down from the wonderful people in Until Dawn.
In the end, I played through Inpatient three times and got different outcomes for each. It was enjoyable to choose different answers and have different people die because of them. Even after three playthroughs I still had two Butterfly Effect panels empty which means there was much more to explore in terms of the game’s narrative and decisions. While the game’s pace is its biggest downfall, the Blackwood Sanatorium is a place I would love to explore more of and the characters, as shallow as they are, must have more to them that I need to explore.
Do you buy Inpatient? Well, if you were a fan of Until Dawn then yes. The game’s decision making is great and the prequel to the story adds a great layer of depth to it all. It is also a fantastic VR experience regardless of the issues I mentioned above. One that does not feel like a tech demo.