Though it doesn’t share the name and jumps from TV screen to PlayStation VR, The Inpatient acts as a prequel to Until Dawn. Set in 1952, most of the story takes place in Blackwood Sanatorium and under the hotel where, sixty years later, a bunch of teenagers will meet a grisly end.
You are the the titular inpatient, a prisoner in the sanatorium with no memory of why you are there or what you did, but bits and pieces of the story fall into place much faster if you’ve played Until Dawn. The game uses the same ‘butterfly effect’ mechanic as that game, with certain decisions and actions changing the story and with people’s lives in your hands. That said there is no action in the game. For the most part you are walking around, interacting with the characters, opening doors and pressing buttons.
You meet the good doctor as soon as you wake up at the beginning of the game, before being wheeled into your room at the sanatorium and locked away. Whilst awake you are tended to by a nurse and have conversations which hint at why you are locked up, but when you sleep you enter a creepy otherworld where things scrape behind doors, jump out from the shadows. and disfigured corpses litter the floor. You can also trigger flashbacks by discovering key items in the game, the scenes filling in more of the backstory.
A few days of this and you’re solitude is broken by the introduction of a roommate. shifting the nature of your existence by having a companion. Who is he, what does he know, and most importantly, can you trust him? These scenes, and the accompanying dream sequences are superb; you really do feel like you are trapped in a tiny room with a stranger and have no idea what is going on.
The voice acting and script is excellent during this section, but the star of the show is the sound design. The game really needs to be played with headphones – which is recommended for VR anyway – as you will experience every bump, scrape and scream. Things skitter across the floor, crash through furniture and snarl menacingly from behind your left shoulder. You will have seen many films using the ‘haunted asylum’ template and think it’s rather passe these days, but actually being there in VR is a completely different experience to watching a film.
So it’s such a shame that after a brilliant first two hours, the game completely falls apart in the last third. The trips to the otherworld stop completely and a completely new set of characters are introduced. The rest of the game is one long, rather dull walk through Blackwood Sanatorium, under the hotel and up to the cable car, picking up the new cast, some of which will be killed off before you’ve had a chance to say hello, if you don’t make the correct choices.
The long walk is broken by just one section where you have to go outside, something nasty appears and you have to try and remain completely still to avoid being attacked. It’s not a new mechanic – remember, T-Rex’s vision is based on movement! – and would make a great, heart pounding scene if not for the fact that a large portion of your vision is taken up by the words “Dont move!” and a large, white and blue picture of a PSVR headset. It breaks the immersion completely. The rest of the in-game graphics and menus are dark, fetid, and appropriate to the game’s setting, but then a space age hat is slapped right in front of your nose to remind you that you are playing a video game.
It really does feel like two games have been joined together, or perhaps that Supermassive didn’t have time to include everything they wanted. The graphics for the first portion of the game are excellent with lots of detail and textures bringing a claustrophobic ambience to the game, but the long walk is through large empty spaces and dull corridors. The sound design also takes a nose dive. There are a few bumps and scrapes in the background but you’re mostly following Basil Exposition as he trundles through corridors and explains the plot.
While the earlier sections of the game had made me doubt who was being truthful, when the new characters join the game I didn’t really care if they lived or died, there was no time to connect with them. Annoyingly, the post credit sequence is brilliant. It’s only a few seconds long but perfectly knits the story into Until Dawn and makes you think about that game in different light.
There is also a disconnect between the characters actions and the setting, and this is a problem that a number of VR horror games are failing to address. If something was snarling behind you in an abandoned asylum, you would run, and you would run as fast as you can, but to protect those who get motion sickness you can only walk very slowly in The Inpatient. A nurse can be telling you of horrific events, how dangerous the location is, and to be careful not to trip over that huge pile of headless corpses, but they amble along like it’s a sunny Sunday afternoon in the park. Your natural instinct is to run and that instinct really kicks in when you’re playing in VR with horrible things growling in the shadows, but you can’t and that’s very frustrating.
However, one feature of The Inpatient that works really well is the voice control, which many games have tried to implement with little success. Rather than press a button to chose a dialogue option you can say the words yourself and the game uses the PSVR microphone to recognise your choice. You can have real conversations with the characters in the game, which really helps immerse you in the world.
There’s two sides to The Inpatient: the first two thirds are tense, intriguing, and gives games like Resident Evil 7 a run for their money, but then the final third is ponderous, dialogue heavy, and has very little in the way of scares. With a play time of three to four hours it’s a decent length for a VR game and does have replay value with its alternate story paths. Despite its flaws, The Inpatient is still much better than many of the VR horror games available, so it’s worth checking out if you have an expensive fancy hat from Sony.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4 Pro