Platform: PC (reviewed)
Developer: Davit Andreasyan
Publisher: Iceberg Interactive
Release date: October 5, 2017
TL;DR: Great atmosphere, unnerving but a bit too short. Good but predictable story.
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Inmates throws you in at the deep end – quite literally – depositing you at the bottom of what appears to be a very large well. Blinded by the light streaming in through a grill at the top, you have to make your way out, via a spiralling stairwell cut into the wall. As your eyes adjust to the gloominess of your surroundings, you notice grotesque bodies hanging in rusted, creaking cages, suspended from the ceiling by chains. A bell tolls ominously every so often, causing the entire place to shake.
Inmates is toted as a story-driven, psychological horror. Your name is Jonathan and you have no clue why you are here, in prison. The first person viewpoint lends itself to the immersion, limiting not only your field of vision but the ability to detach yourself from your surroundings and the undercurrent of fear, as you make your way through the rust and decay, in search of answers.
You are free to interact with your surroundings, and you‘ll feel compelled to check every cell and closed door to look for clues. I paused more than once in my exploration at the sound of errant door creaks and the intermittent electrical buzzing makes you question the reliability of the few flickering lights. You have your own personal light source, in the form of matches that you pick up as you explore, but these are limited. Add to that the use of some well-placed jump scares and Inmates succeeds in being genuinely unnerving.
There is no combat – that’s not to say you won’t encounter ‘things’ but these seem to be triggered by certain actions and are unavoidable. You progress through exploration: finding scribbled notes and books, ranging from the Bible to science, to the occult. A few puzzles have also been thrown in, though these won’t feel too taxing; if you try to leave a room or cell without interacting with something of importance, the game will turn you around and make you look at it.
In keeping with horror games in general, the voice acting is atrocious. Fortunately, this doesn’t seem to impact the game in any way, except for a few parts where the timing feels a bit off. And of course, no self-respecting horror game would be complete without the absurdly disturbing ghost/monster/hallucination with the rapidly shaking head, made famous by the ’90’s film Jacob’s Ladder, and later, Silent Hill 3.
Unfortunately, Inmates is not without its faults. The character models are a little wooden and lack the realism of their surroundings, feeling almost like they belong in a different, older game. The story isn’t bad but it is somewhat predictable and, while it has a few unexpected embellishments, it’s probably what you think it is from the first 30 minutes of playing. Even so, the story did make me curious enough to want to search for answers, though most of those answers ended up being what I’d suspected.
My only other gripe would be the lack of access to any items that you’ve picked up along the way, bar the matches. You come across a diary quite early on, and are promptly told by your character, that you’ll “read it later”. I wanted to read it now! A short time later, as I was exiting one of the many cells, the diary was thrust in front of my face – almost a jump-scare in itself – opened at a page, with my character reacting to the contents before I had even had a chance to read it!
While there is nothing groundbreaking about the title, Inmates manages to pull off a dread-inducing, claustrophobic atmosphere, perhaps by sticking to the well-known tropes of the psychological horror genre. Despite some of the more obvious issues – the timing of the voice acting, jump-scare-diaries – I found myself enjoying the game. I’ll be going back for more, and to pick up some of the items I missed on my first playthrough – just as soon as I get the nerve …
- Does a great job of building tension
- Very atmospheric
- Effective jump-scares!
- Only three-ish hours of gameplay
- Object interaction can feel clunky or forced
- Story is quite predictable
Not suitable for children. Violence, adult themes and disturbing imagery.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.