Until Dawn’s breakout success has spawned all sorts of spin-offs, none really capturing the essence of the original teen slasher. The Inpatient continues this trend with a straight-faced, narrative-based PlayStation VR experience set in the 1950s. You play as a patient sectioned in Blackwood Sanatorium during its final days of operation, and your task is to escape when things inevitably go awry.
The game follows in the footsteps of other “interactive horrors” like the infamous P.T. or Layers of Fear, serving up a small but tactile world that’s constantly reinventing itself to leave you on edge. Unlike rails-shooter Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, this is more about story than action, and the dialogue decisions from the main game play a big part in the plot development.
In fact, while it will only take you about two hours to see the story through, developer Supermassive Games has packed this fear-fest with replay value. We’ve played through the campaign twice, and while the through-line remains roughly the same, we’ve seen the gender of characters change based upon our decisions. Looking at the Trophy list, there’s a healthy number of permutations to this plot.
The problem is that the title fails to keep the butt-clenching tension alive throughout the entirety of the adventure. The opening hour is unnerving, and while the studio’s penchant for random jump scares will leave you cursing the firm under your breath, it means that you're always on the edge of your seat. But the push towards the finale is flat in comparison, and it feels quite rushed.
Moreover, the story doesn’t really come together in a convincing manner. The title relies on blackouts and hallucinations in order to convey the plight of your character, but it means that it’s hard to follow. You’ll find Memories around the mental asylum that fill in some of the blanks, but while there’s some cool character development in these, none of it really feels fleshed out.
This is a huge problem, because (depending upon your decisions) you’re going to see supporting characters drop like flies. But while the deaths are appropriately grisly, it’s hard to really care about these people when you don’t know who they are. While the same criticism could be levelled at the main game, Until Dawn almost adopted a parody approach, where The Inpatient is awkwardly serious.
Moreover, none of the outcomes that we’ve seen feel particularly fulfilling either. There’s one neat finale that attaches the narrative to the original story, but the others have been anticlimactic thus far. We should stress that we haven’t experienced every possible permutation at the time of typing, but if you need to follow a particular path to get a satisfying conclusion then it almost defeats the purpose of the game.
It’s a shame that the narrative never really comes together because there’s a lot to like about this as a virtual reality experience. Visually, you really get a sense that developers are beginning to grasp what’s possible with PlayStation VR, as the Blackwood Sanatorium is tremendously immersive. The 1950s setting is particularly powerful, with period appropriate music and props creating a real sense of place.
The game also leverages the medium effectively in a variety of compelling ways. While proportions are problematic (supporting cast characters look like giants, and even your hands look like they’ve been outfitted with novelty foam overlays), it’s hard not to feel a connection to the fictional game world when someone reaches out to touch you on the shoulder – or stick a needle in your knee.
There’s also some pretty clever use of the PlayStation Move wands. With each glowing stick operating each hand independently, the game uses rumble to replicate the feeling of touch when you come into contact with an object in the world. This means that, if you reach out to pick up a book for example, the controller will gently vibrate to convey the contact. Hammer against your asylum door and you’ll feel much stronger rumble as your hands collide, making the virtual world feel surprisingly tactile.
You can use the DualShock 4 if you prefer, but you lose a lot of interactivity. Practically everything in the game world can be picked up and examined with the Move wands, while the standard controller strips away a lot of this functionality. Without analogue sticks there’s a learning curve to movement with the motion controllers, but it’s easy to adjust to and the slow pace of the title accommodates the setup well.
One other nifty feature is the inclusion of voice commands. While you’re able to select dialogue options purely by looking at the answers you want to give, you are able to speak your responses aloud if you want that added immersion. We found this functionality to work flawlessly, though your mileage may vary depending upon the environment you’re playing in; too much background noise will probably confuse the technology.
The Inpatient’s strong opening is undone by a rushed finale, and while the various plot permutations add replayability, they come at the cost of a fulfilling narrative. As a PlayStation VR experience, this is a fine-looking spook-'em-up with some neat innovations that help create a tactile world, but the story is far too fragmented and, frankly, flat to do justice to the universe it’s inspired by.