If Until Dawn was Supermassive’s attempt to capture the heart and soul of campy, slasher horror, The Inpatient is its sometimes misguided sequel attempt to flesh out its universe of absurdity. Where Until Dawn reveled in the ridiculous at times but kept it in check with a fair share of jump scares, the PlayStation VR exclusive prequel dives deep into psychological horror and slow-paced madness instead. And while its eerie setting and rather novel voice acting keep you engaged with the haunting few hours it offers, it struggles to maintain the pace its opening starts out with.
Taking place decades before Until Dawn, The Inpatient seeks to show just how the Blackwood Sanatorium closed down and lay as a breeding ground for the flesh-hungry monsters of Supermassive’s first title. Players take control of a patient suffering from amnesia (with your choice of gender and skin tone, which is nice for a VR game trying to root you into a character), as they slowly descend down the rabbit hole in Blackwood’s final days. The asylum/ hotel is the perfect setting for unsettling mental horror and easy environmental storytelling, and Supermassive doesn’t waste the chance to use this.
Blackwood and its employees never feel comfortable to interact with. They leave a sense of unease after each conversation. Unlike Until Dawn, The Inpatient gives you far less control over your movements and actions, but supplements this with a clever approach to voice interaction. Much like the previous game you’re given the chance to make crucial story choices through responses in dialogue. Instead of just choosing options though, The Inpatient allows you to simply speak your lines through a headset microphone. It’s a feature that helps both personalise your experience and immerse you deeper into Blackwood’s tale. And it helps that it works pretty flawlessly too.
The Inpatient’s opening is also startling, limiting your control over events for well over an hour. It’s not expositional but full of world-building instead, drenching your character in terrifying dreams and surreal events that set the stage for the rest of the tale. Psychological horror is something your character very literally has to deal with after being abandoned in a cell, accompanied by a cellmate who is quickly losing grips on reality. Whether the world twisting nightmares are worse than the lonely realisation of starving to death, there’s a distinct slice in tone across The Inpatient’s middle sector, with the rest of the game not capturing the creepy highs of its opening.
As The Inpatient starts introducing more and more faces, many of which lead you down linear corridors that quell any sense of fear, it starts losing the DNA that once made it feel like something special. Unravelling the past of both your character and the super twisted experiments taking place at Blackwood stays riveting, and the many memories you find around the decrepit sanatorium help keep the fear factor heightened. But the ending limps to a close and had my fear-induced sweat well and truly in check. Good horror spaces out their fear with impactful pacing and momentary lulls in adrenaline spiking scares, but The Inpatient doesn’t seem to take this into account.
That really starts hurting on subsequent playthroughs, something The Inpatient implores you to do in the same vein as Until Dawn. The Butterfly Effect – a catchphrase for what Supermassive disguises as story branching decisions – rears its head in fascinating ways during exchanges that you would otherwise throw to the side. Taking a cockroach to eat, for example, could lead to the devastating temptation to snack on a cellmate later on. Not closing the door on an elevator could lead to an untimely character death, and choosing the order of passage through a haunted path can have massive consequences for who is left on your journey.
With the same strict auto-saving in place, The Inpatient doesn’t allow you to quickly pop in and out of these choices to see how they play out. Although it’s far more digestible than a 10-hour replay of Until Dawn, The Inpatient still makes replays a slight slog with its slow opening. It’s powerful the first time, but its jump scares lack the same punch when you see them coming. And when you’re forced to witness the same downward spiral time and time again with little alteration on the build-up itself, it’s hard to want to stick around to see how your small choices ultimately have an impact.
And even when they do start shifting things around, Supermassive doesn’t allow you to seriously deviate from its core narrative. Deciding whether to pursue ideals of bloodlust or acceptance of guilt over the monstrous horrors of Blackwood lead me down the near identical path – with the same after credits scene playing out. There’s clearly more to discover around the creepy halls of the asylum (missing memories and a whole blacked out character arc prove that), but The Inpatient doesn’t make a strong case for you to seek those out when it’s clearly pushing towards a singular ending.
Thankfully though, there’s a lot to come for in terms of solid VR performance alone. As far as PSVR titles go, The Inpatient is pretty impressive. Its detailed character models and convincing motion capture lend a healthy weight to the handful of characters you encounter, and soar well above most VR titles before it. There’s little in terms of interactivity, but comfort options for moving around in a 3D space are welcome when playing with a Dualshock 4. It’s a pity though that motion controls factor in during some sparse high octane moments. Especially when their tracking seems so far below everything else happening on-screen.
The Inpatient certainly leverages probably the best use case for VR yet, letting you escape into a truly unsettling sanatorium and giving you reasons to poke about. It’s opening is strong the first time round but is let down by the eventual closing, leaving a bad taste in your mouth that impacts any replays you might have in mind to see everything Blackwood has to offer. It ties into Until Dawn in a clever way, and certainly makes me want to revisit Supermassive’s first entry. But it suffers in ways that Until Dawn didn’t, severely crippling the desire to keep poking at it for just a little more exposition to ooze out.
Last Updated: January 23, 2018