Bombslinger (Early-Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £8.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Version Reviewed: Update 13 (Aug 14th-Time of writing)

Normally, for a game review, I try to avoid referring to a game in terms of other games. With Bombslinger, its influences are so very clear that this becomes somewhat counterproductive. And those influences can boil down to two games, and one film genre: Bomberman, Binding of Isaac, and Spaghetti Westerns.

A shop, potentially for buying upgrades, piles of ashes where the simpler enemies once stood, the more challenging enemies are still around, and a super-bomb barrel that I could potentially use. Yup, this helps sum up that mixture of elements!

You are an outlaw who settled down, then had his house burned down by the very gang he left, and his wife murdered. As such, this pisses you off, and off you trot on a revenge quest that involves bombing the heck out of every person, beast, or supernatural creature in your way. Like Bomberman, you start with a single bomb, able to affect a single tile in each cardinal direction, and can level up your speed, number of bombs you can lay at any time, and the number of tiles the flames spurt out. Like Binding of Isaac, each room you enter can have chests, explodables, shops, and enemies in some combination or other, and, if it has enemies in, you can’t leave until everyone is dead. Somewhere in each level is a boss, and defeating this boss gets you to the next level. Take enough damage, you die. There’s more to it than that, with special abilities, experience from enemies (your main means of levelling up your stats), Snake Oil (Like potions in traditional roguelikes, these have a random effect, although they always seem to cause 1 damage in doing so), and starting items (Which can improve your stats or have other effects, like the Broom, which clears all non-fire, non-chest obstacles in a room once everybody’s dead.)

Part of the reason I have to explain this is because what flaws this game has, it inherits from its inspirations. Put at its simplest, the worst level enemies are more threatening than the bosses, but once you get the pain train rolling, that’s it, very little is going to stop you except the spectre of Yet Another Stupid Death. Let’s take the first level as an example.

The boss for the level is either a goat from the fires of hell (and its normal goat summons) or a carnival fire-breather turned bandit, who has, er… Fire. Both are heavily pattern based, and knowing the pattern… Largely nullifies their difficulty. Okay, fine, they’re first bosses. Taking damage from them once you know the pattern is, however, just plain embarassing.

I’m not even going to *pretend* the game isn’t using stereotypes. So yeah, be warned about that.

Now compare that to the rifleman and molotov thrower, both perfectly normal enemies. The rifleman only sleeps occasionally, wakes when you’re near or there’s a bomb nearby, and shoots. Yes, this blows up your bombs, so your tactic is to try to ambush him with the timed component, while also leaving you free to ambush him again. This is a lot trickier than it sounds. Similarly, the molotov thrower will, on seeing you, throw a 1-tile bomb in your direction. So, say, being 2 tiles away from him when he sees you guarantees that, unless your action is to run away immediately, you’re going to take damage.

Even normal enemies can, for want of a better word, be tedious. Both farmer types, for example, will run the hell away if they see a bomb, and only the white guys will occasionally fall asleep. Coyotes follow a very similar pattern, and the Crazed Miner… Ohhhh, I hate that guy. That guy is the worst of both worlds, because if he sees a bomb, his instinct will be to knock it the hell away before it explodes. Sometimes, you can use this. More often, it’s a case of having a very long range bomb.

Now, you might be getting the impression, from all this talk, that Bombslinger is a Bad Game. No. A game with some frustrating elements even after you’ve learned the enemy patterns, sure, and that’s certainly not a good thing, but there are interesting elements to the game, and it’s clear some thought has gone into it. For example, lesser versions of the hell-goat (who can also push bombs, but they have to charge to do so) present quite a few opportunities for the canny player, and some of the gun-toting enemies in the game (the cowboy and the gatling gunner) are, awkward placements aside, much more reasonable. The game uses sprites in a 3D space to mostly good effect, and with the exception of the farmers (Who just seem a bit awkward in the context, on a couple of levels), the enemy designs are interesting, and clearly communicate what they are and what they do.

YASD Strikes Again

So, Bombslinger, currently, is an interesting, but flawed game, experimenting with mixing elements that definitely seem to be able to fit together, even if they don’t quite gel right all the time, and, for four levels consisting of several arenas (the equivalent of a Bomberman World), a fair amount of unlocks and power ups to discover, and a soundtrack that works just fine, it’s not unreasonable to say this is alright. And good enough? Is good enough.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have much to close with this time. He’s busy grappling with a hell-goat. Damned petsitting…

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Let’s Talk Horror

I always feel nervous talking about game design, because, even as a critic who has examined, not just consumed, a lot of games, there’s always this voice saying “Nah, mate, you know noooothing.”

But y’know what? Fuck that voice, it’s time to talk horror. Specifically, how horror games are hard to do well, and some of the most common pitfalls.

No Individual Element Will Make A Game Horror

This is one of the most common ones, and, honestly, a flaw which many game designers can fall into even at the best of times… Your ingredients won’t work well if they don’t mix well. In fact, when adding a tool into the toybox, it can be very important to consider what it does. Let’s take, for example, the staple of many first person horror games: The Shit Light. The Shit Light (be it matches, oddly ineffective flashlights, or the phone-as-flashlight), just by the virtue of its addition, constrains you. And it constrains you, in many cases, more often than it frees you. You do, in fact, still have to pay attention to not just being empty rooms, or rooms that make no sense, or rooms that are fucking hard to navigate even without this inconvenience. You do, in fact, have to still pay attention to your gribbley, beastie, ghost or ghoulie, because they’re going to be lit up at some point. But now, everything you want the player to look at has to be easily covered by… Your shit light.

Conarium has, to be sure, its creepy moments. Unfortunately, only one of them really *relies* on your flashlight dying as an effect.

Now, here’s a question: Do you, in fact, need that shit light? Why is it there? I ask, because, funnily enough, this shit light ends up conflicting with another facet that often goes together with Shit Lights… The Highly Scripted Scare. A scare is, sadly, no good if you can’t experience it. Oh no, the… Er… What was that again? I couldn’t really tell, my light was too shit, and so it wasn’t scary. Was it sudden? Was it a jumpscare? Oh, er… Couldn’t really tell you.

Am I saying the Shit Light has no place anywhere? Well… No. In some games, it serves as a risk reward mechanic (The monsters can see you more easily, but you can interact with things.) In others, it’s a warning sign (The monster makes the light not work right.) In others still, it’s a light, but it’s not shit.

Sadly, just as there are ways to make a Shit Light useful, you equally have to take care not to turn it into arbitrary difficulty… Tattletail being a good example, as well as one that conflicts narratively. Not only is it a pretty shit light, not only does it have a nasty habit of winking off whenever Mama Tattletail is nearby… Turning it back on is noisy as hell. So, when are you most likely to recharge it? Er… When it winks out. When Mama Tattletail is going to speed her Furby ass toward you from nowhere. Because yes, occasionally it will just wink out on its own too.

Here’s the thing: It’s being wielded by a child. How many kids have you heard of who wouldn’t look for a different light, any other kind of light, that maybe doesn’t make noise which every kid knows is fucking asking for boogeyman induced death?

This, funnily enough, is a good segue into the next portion.

Because Reasons Doesn’t Cut It

A lot of both STASIS and its sequel CAYNE have major story elements that, sadly, fit very much under this category. This, for example, happened because a serial killer was knowingly employed by the captain of the ship, and his mulching the corpses somehow led to a sentient fungus that taints everything it touches. Because reasons.

One thing I see a lot of is a terminal lack of critical thinking on the part of the protagonist (Both by the writer/designer, and, as a consequence, the protagonist.) Tattletail is, as we’ve noted, an example, but it’s not the only one by a long shot. Part of this is, again, the use of an element of games design without thinking about the consequence (No, I do not, in fact, have to give a flying fuck about your amnesiac blank slate. Especially if they talk, cementing that they are not me.) But, unfortunately, horror is less horrific when you either don’t care about the protagonist, or think they’re… Well, candidates for a Darwin Award. Oh, hey, I’m in this haunted mansion… Why am I in this haunted mansion?

No, really… Why? This isn’t a question you can answer with “Just Because.” You don’t even have to work terribly hard at it. Let’s take SIREN, for the PS2, as an example of this. A lot of the characters are there because… Well, they live there, and shit’s gone to hell. They’re one of the “lucky” few, so the game quickly defines them, moves on. They’re defined by survival and escape. Kyoya Suda, one of the main characters, is a teenage mystery buff who decided to check out Hanuda because of the urban legends. He can’t leave, because he is, technically, dead. Tamon Takeuchi, similarly, is motivated by the legendry, but what keeps him in Hanuda is a combination of arrogance and professionalism. He will discover what happened!

Not all of them get equal screentime, not all of them survive. But all of them can have their goals, and even reasons why they can’t leave, established in a single sentence each.

The Shrouded Isle works as a horror styled game because there’s *reasoning* behind the evil. And, of course, it’s not *considered* evil by the protagonist. After all, few good villains *consider* themselves wrong.

Similarly, “Because” doesn’t cut it for any element. Why is this house haunted again? Hadn’t they lived there for years with no trouble? Oh, they had? Huh. Why the doll-head jumpscare? Oh, there’s no real connection there? Ummm… Okay, beyond the momentary shock, that’s just confusing me. It’s not contributing to the mood. Now, not every question has to be answered. But at the very least, you want to ensure there is reasoning behind even your gribbley(s). Wobblyhead McSmudgyShadow does not, funnily enough, scare me, because firstly, I know nothing about him, and secondly, he looks silly. Also, why is he walking when he’s made of smokey shit? Why, when he has clearly demonstrated he can run fast enough to get into my face, then down the corridor before I can blink, is he slowly stalking me?

Oh, you didn’t think about that? No. No you didn’t. Consider this, though… The Necromorphs would just be ordinary monsters, if it weren’t for the thought put into their lifecycle. Consider: Not only are they twisted versions of us that are functionally immortal… Not only are they highly infectious and it isn’t obvious at first when someone is infected… You quickly realise that the only major reason limb trauma works so much better than just pumping them full of hot plasma death is because the thing, the thing controlling them as one, decides they’re no longer useful for their purpose… Namely, turning you into them. Conversely, part of the reason The Thing: The Videogame didn’t work is because the idea behind detecting Thingism (An established, pre-thought idea) was ruined, unfortunately without thinking too heavily about the consequences, by Thingism being a plot trigger, making your blood test items completely worthless.

See how these factors are starting to tie together. Oh… BOO!


Sound And Fury, Signifying… Nothing.

I’ve already mentioned how jumpscares, like any other element, can feel completely without context, without reason. What I haven’t mentioned is the noise element. Christ, these things are loud. And while there is a reason for this, it’s a pretty crap one: For shock value.


Shock, funnily enough, is not fear. It’s not unsettling. It’s not disturbing. It’s just “Thatwasloud oh, it’s gone, I can carry on now.”

Like the monsters, like the character, like the setting, like… Well, everything, context is important. I hear a baby giggling in a house, I am, funnily enough, not going to say “Wow, that’s creepy.” I’m going to say “Ah, yes, the giggling baby cry, stock in trade of someone who wants to put me off balance and hasn’t set this up in any way, shape or form.”

Well, no. What I’m actually going to say is “…Huh. [Moves on without further comment]”

However, if I am aware that there was indeed a dead child… Say… A particularly sadistic dead child, who is now a particularly sadistic ghost, then every time I hear them giggle, even if nothing happens, I am instantly in “Primed for bad shit” mode. A jumpscare, or even a cat-scare (so named because very often, a fake scare involved a startled cat in horror movies) works best when you’re already prepped for it by the atmosphere.

Inmates, a recent game I reviewed, decided that it was a good idea to do several things at once. None of them are awful on their own, but together, they added up to unpleasantness enough that I just got annoyed. Firstly, control was taken away so a monster could get me. Okay, this isn’t always a bad thing. Many’s the time a game has ambushed me in an end-of-level segment or cutscene, and mostly, I’m alright with this. It also decided to give the monster in question the most minimal prep-time (a droning infodump from a few minutes ago), so, when the protagonist yelled “OH NO, IT’S ROY”, my eyebrow raise knocked some plaster from the ceiling. The monster in question did that “I suddenly run really fast” thing, screamed in my face, and then… Almost a minute of a high pitched, tinnitus like sound. Also a slow cutscene of being dragged.

On their own, pretty much everything except the high pitched noise (Which just annoys and hurts the ears, rather than signalling a return to consciousness/dizziness) could have worked. If Roy had been prepped better, if I’d had a reason to care about Roy (Sir No Longer Appearing In This Production), if, for example, he was round the corner rather than doing the lightspeed jog the moment the door opened, then it probably would have worked better. As it is… Well, that was it for me, and not because it was too spooky. Mainly because I was just annoyed at how arbitrary it was.

An example of good sound usage comes from Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma, where being showered in acid is left to the imagination… And some particularly gruesome soundwork.

Done well, sound is your best friend. The character’s footsteps echoing in a haunted castle, for example, really drive home how alone you are. But they, like everything else, require context, even if that context isn’t yet known to the player. Why is that wall… Scratching? Why do I hear… Whispering in this library? Like… Not even normal whispering… Bass whispering. Wait, is that gribbley saying things a human would have been saying in their position? Is it… Was it human?!?

Oh nooooooooooo!

A Curated Experience

When you get right down to it, horror seems to work best when it’s a linear, curated experience. In an open world, you have to work so much harder, so much tighter, to keep scaring people. Look at a lot of zombie games like Dead Island or the like. Most of the time, apart from maaaaybe their introductions, the zombies aren’t scary. They’re obstacles.

Pictured: An entire block, in the first of its three flavours, in which you will hunt for the thing you actually need to see.

And yeah, despite what marketing may have you believe, there’s room for linear, curated experiences. They’re fine. Heck, some of the best fun I’ve had in recent years haven’t been sandboxes, or open world RPG extravaganzas. But trying to have your cake and eat it is probably going to cause pain. For example, Joana’s World, another horror game I reviewed, had an entire block of houses and a park. Wiiiith the small problem that the game’s events only involved two of those houses. It also wouldn’t allow you to do things until the plot mandated you do them, such as not being able to pick up your front door keys or flashlight until… Well, you needed them, even knowing that you needed them beforehand. The first because who doesn’t pick up their front door keys before they prepare to go out (unless they’ve forgotten), and secondly because this is a first person horror game, and it is a flashlight.

Equally, though, we tie back to Because Reasons, with the note that when you block something off, there has to be a reasonable, in context explanation for it. My personal favourite for slightly nonsensical obstacles is one that you see time and time and time again… The hospital bed/curtain. Sometimes they’re in piles (You Are Empty, some Silent Hill games), and this is pretty reasonable. But more often, they’re just… There. You can’t climb them, even though they’re short. You can’t move them, even though they’re wheeled.

“But Jamie, not everything can be moved in a videogame, or chaos will ensue! Rains of frogs, cats and dogs living together!” True. But if you’re reduced to “A hospital bed” rather than… I don’t know, a barricade, a big hole in the floor, barbed wire (don’t laugh, I’m sure you could find a context for that!) … Something that isn’t easily moved, but makes sense for what’s going on or where you are, then you’re mostly going to have to rely on that other aspect of subtle game design… Making the bit blocked off with a single trolley and a hospital curtain less interesting.

Remember, you can just block players off from somewhere. It’s fine. Really it is.

Some Final Caveats

Yes, you can turn off weapons. It isn't always recommended.

Example of happily being proven wrong: If you’d told me, pre Screwfly, that this would get my nerves racing, I would have laughed and laughed.

Okay, so I’m picturing some folks getting a little purple in the face while reading this, and others may well have peaced out already, so let’s finish this up with some simple, final points. First up, if you actively enjoy any of the games I’ve mentioned as having unfun elements for me, good for you, keep on doing that! I’m a reviewer, not the fun police.

Secondly, everything I’ve described here are guidelines, not rules. You see a way you think you can make a relatively open game genuinely creepy, cool, work at that, lemme know how it goes. These are, however, guidelines based on both common sense, study, and experience. But, again, I am not the fun police, you want to make a game with a contextless spoop, walking very slowly around an entire block of flats, while hunting for the Eight Random Items We’re Not Telling You About Beyond “Find Eight Thingumajigs” and babies are giggling in a creepy fashion almost constantly, then cool. Just don’t expect me to touch the damn thing.

I hope these have helped. I hope these have illuminated, and I’ll leave you with one final piece of advice: Play horror games. Even some of the ones lambasted. Examine how they make you feel, ask why they make you feel that way, and how they’ve made you feel that way. And if you decide to make a horror game, ask whether or not you can apply something as is (You don’t, for example, need your game to be in a dark place), and see what your players feel.

Happy Halloween!

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Cogmind (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam, Official Site
Version: Beta 3

It’s one heck of a thing, to see a robotic hive in action. A wall gets blown up, along with some hostile bots, and a small army of utility robots arrives on the scene quite quickly, to pick up parts and rubble for recycling, to rebuild the walls, and, before you know it, everything’s pristine again.

The mines, where I found a wonderful sensor that I thought would keep me safe. Oh boy, was I wrong.

Not that you’ll be spending too much time watching this, since hostile robots are also quite quick to the scene, repair is hard to come by, and, being a sentient robot that is quite fragile once all the bits it’s accumulated have blown off, you generally don’t want to be hanging around. But it is interesting to see. Such is Cogmind, the Roguelike by GridSage Games.

Now, one thing to definitely get out of the way first is that Cogmind is hard. Thankfully, there are two factors that make this game more accessible (Beyond being turn-based.) Firstly, there’s two flavours of “Easier Mode” in the options (Yes and EXTRA YES) , and secondly, the controls are fairly simple. Left clicking on things interacts with them (and is fairly context sensitive: Left clicking an enemy fires at it, for example), right clicking examines them (Useful information wise, and the ASCII art for various items is kind of cool), numpad keys moves, G gets things, and escape opens up the menu.

Core to the game is the fact that you are reliant on parts to become less vulnerable… But those parts come from other robots, and the longer you stay in one area, the more you fight or blow shit up or hack things, the bigger the response is. Leaving for another area lowers the alert a little, but you’re always a patrol or two away from death, even with high powered machinery. So… Do you try to find sensors, so you can see them before they see you? Bigger bangtubes so you can kill them before they have much of a chance to react? Smarter weaponry that lets you murder from afar? Maybe hacking tools, so you can make all these lovely, deadly creations your best friends in the whole world? All of these require different strategies, and, of course, finding the right parts. Which, generally speaking, will not be parted so easily from the robots that are currently using them. Everything else, from finding materials forges to murdering scavenger droids for anything they’ve picked up, is pretty much a gamble. And, since the parts double as your armour, getting into fights means you have to replace parts, changing your strategy on the fly.

On the one hand, I got tantalising information, and hints as to how get more. On the other, the alert level just got raised, and they know roughly where I am. Crap.

As such, the main killler of my runs so far aren’t the rare boss encounters, or the melee only Bruiser Bots… No, it’s the humble S-10 “Pest.” They’re not armed with much… They’re not tough… But they’re fast, and come in groups, outpacing even your speedily rolling exposed core. And if something can keep up with, and keep firing on, your core… Well, it’s game over, and back to the trash-heap you go.

If you can get into it, however, and get somewhere, there’s an interesting world out there. A world of robots, some sentient, some not-so-sentient, and clues as to the true nature of your core. It helps that, once you’ve got the hang of things, you can do some serious damage, and get around a fair bit. But, most often, you’ll end your runs a small, desperately rolling ball, chased and reduced to scrap, seemingly for the crime of being just that little bit different.

If you’re okay with that, then give Cogmind a go. Perhaps you’ll find more about the world than I have.

I’d managed to blow quite a few up before they got me, but, as you can see… There were a lot more coming, and I had no options left. Time to die…

The Mad Welshman sympathises with the plight of his robot overlo- er, friends. Yes, definitely friends.

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BattleChasers: Nightwar (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £24.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Ahhh, Battlechasers. An interesting comic about a young girl called Gully, who inherited her late father’s magical gauntlets, and now… An interesting RPG mixing turn based combat with real-time exploration. So, with the foreknowledge that I mostly like this game, let’s get the “Your mileage may vary” bit out of the way, shall we?

Er… No, Monika. Although you’re one of the few I *don’t* miss in this game.

Nightwar is, as I stated, based on a comic called Battlechasers from Image back in the late 90s. It was written by Joe Madureira and Muneir Sharrief, with a variety of artists, although the pencils were all done by Joe Madureira (Who, not coincidentally, was the art lead on Nightwar.) Even though it ran for only 9 issues, it’s had a cult following, and the art style is very distinctive. Also distinctive are the sometimes implausible costumes that mainly seem to affect the women (His work can be male gazey. Like… Juuuuust a tadge.) This is a good segue into the visuals.

So yeah, while I’m not the biggest fan of the more implausible lady costumes (Which isn’t a huge pool to choose from, and mostly consists of Red Monika, the heavily Red Sonja inspired and largely unsupported rogue of the group… And yes, I was talking about the boob cup), I cannot argue that I like most of the character and monster designs of the game. Gully is perhaps the best example of a teen punchwitch I know of, Calibretto is an interesting and cool design, and there’s a lot of dynamic, colourful, and well crafted art on display here, and not just in the characters and creatures. The overworld map gives the impression of an actual map, with little crosshatches, designs, and other nifty little elements, and the world is both colourful and clear. The battle animations are meaty as heck, and quite a few hours in, I’ve yet to tire of even some of the more basic ones. Soundwise, the game’s a little less impressive, but only a touch, and so, aesthetically, it’s been quite the pleasing experience.

Example of the charm: I genuinely appreciate a Lich who has the brass to try something like this.

Writing wise, well, it’s high fantasy where Mana, the source of magic, is a mineable resource, and technologies both ancient and new have arisen as a result. Our heroes go to a forgotten island, get shot down by unexpected pirates, and get embroiled in deeds that threaten the wooooorld. So, on the surface, the writing isn’t exactly going to win awards. But, with the exception of Knolan, who is presented in barks as quite the unlikable asshole of a wizard (and not much better outside), again, it seems to work. Quest steps are mostly well explained and reasonable, there’s at least a little bit of character in everyone (From the snobbish, jaded alchemist to the Lycelot who believes his tribes have lost their way in following… [DRAMATIC THUNDER] The Dark Lady) , and everything has a sense of place, fantastic as it is. Mana mines that have been abandoned due to some unforeseen taint (Not to mention the fact that they’d almost run dry)? Reasonable. A shanty-town with industrial elements as a bandit stronghold? Reasonable. Heck, not even all the bandits are willing to fight. It’s one of those things where I’d feel silly trying to explain its charm to someone who’s never seen high fantasy of any sort, but it is, nonetheless, pretty well put together.

So… We’ve established that, narratively, there’s charm… What about the damn game, Jamie, what about the gaaaame? Hold your horses, because that, also, is reasonable and with a charm of its own. First up, this is fairly friendly for an RPG. You don’t die, you get knocked out if you screw up, lose some money, and end up back in town. And the difficulty curve is reasonable enough that the only times that’s ever happened are either when I’ve unwittingly disturbed something way above my pay grade (For example, an Elder Elemental Deity. Ohhhh, they’ll get theirs, the rocky, fiery asshole…) or during trap-heavy dungeons (Traps, being in the real-time exploration, are somewhat harder to deal with than, say, a magic/coal powered mechanical device built for ramming people with spiky, speedy violence.) Heck, I haven’t even been grinding that much, and I’ve been Doing Okay. Part of this is that stats are mainly linked to your level, with some boosts from equipment, some from perks that let you mix and match two paths of each character, and some from the Bestiary, which improves your stats the more goals you fulfil… Most of which you’ll be doing organically through play. Kill 50 beasts? Yeah, no prob, thanks for the 1% increase in health! Similarly, each character has abilities that either affect the world (See stealthed enemies, smash secret walls), an impending fight (Inflict bleeding if you hit with Calibretto’s cannon, for example), or both (that smashing secret walls? Also stuns enemies at the start of a fight if you get it off.)

This was 0.1 seconds before EVERYTHING DIED (Also two XP bonuses, possibly three)

What I guess I’m getting at is that Battlechasers: Nightwar, for all its niggles, is a solid, charming, and, for an RPG, a friendly experience overall. I quite like it, and I definitely see myself aiming for finishing New Game+ .

The Mad Welshman would like to know where one can get these self-propelling tanks. Answers at the tradesman’s entrance, please.

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Inmates (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £7.19
Where (Not) To Get It: Steam

I am, at this point in time, really starting to lose my patience with first person horror games, and Inmates, a “Psychological Horror” game (The reason for the quote marks will become rapidly clear) is definitely not helping. Let’s unpack that.

Yes, you’re going to be climbing all the way to near the top before falling at walking speed, before the game begins proper. Because it’s *symbolic*

Before we do, though, a brief note about the accessibility of the game and controls. The controls are very simple. There is one movement speed and no running. The graphics options are limited to Low, Medium, High, with no option for a windowed mode, no gamma options once you start the game (You have to return to the main menu to change options), and, for reasons I’ll be going into, you’ll want to turn the volume quite, quite low… Outside of the game, because the game has no volume options. So, while keeping the controls simple is good, it generally doesn’t win brownie points for other, pretty basic reasons.

Okay. Now let’s actually talk about Inmates… Starting with how checklisty it feels, right from the get-go. Amnesiac Protagonist? Check. Light source crap? Check. Jumpscares? Cheeeeck? Honestly, a lot of what I’ve seen wasn’t so much jumpscares as “Sudden burst of imagery” , which doesn’t always count. Oh noooo, my wife’s glitchy eyeeeess-somewhat unnerving maybe? Not really? Set in a dingy, run down place? Yup. It’s even a prison, with symbology aplenty of what comforts and/or confines the cellmates (from science to superstition.)

…Do I need to declare why this, itself, is a checklist point?

I could go on, but this is the real problem here, right from the opener… It feels like the developer has gone down a checklist, even down to references to other horror properties (Oh hey, the few prisoners you see have rapidly wobbling heads, like Silent Hill! Also glowing eyes, like… Well, a lot of things, honestly, although The Fog comes to mind the most.) What the developer doesn’t appear to have done much of is given a reason to care. It’s thrown at us that he has a wife, and some other woman called Nataly and a man called Ben are involved (Ben is a doctor, by the way.) There’s a child called Anton, whose diary entries periodically give clues. There are… Puzzles.

I decided to take a break after the game had firstly taken control away from me after opening a door to get me captured by a spoooooopy security guard called Roy (I know this because the protag yells out “OH NO, IT’S ROY!” like… I’m meant to know and/or care that he was established as dangerous less than 2 minutes ago, without, as you might have guessed, any real context) , and then given me a minute, maybe two, of high pitched, tinnitus like noise. Oh, and a puzzle involving children’s bedrooms after an interminable stair climb at a single walking speed. And then…

I had some more words here, on horror, and how psychological horror needs at least some grounding, but I just discovered the infodump near the end, and I’m going to spoil the hell out of it, because hell no. A literal prison of the mind, for personalities. This is terrible mental health representation, because not only is the game presenting, as its core narrative conceit, Dissociative Identity Disorder, it’s also conflating it with, essentially, “Hollywood Schizophrenia.” Which, as you might have guessed by the quote marks, doesn’t represent the experience either.

I’m actually somewhat grateful the screenshots don’t get across how *everyone’s bloody head is wobbling at 120 miles an hour*…

I can’t recommend this game on any level. The writing is heavy handed, poorly paced, and using a core narrative conceit that not only doesn’t work as horror, it doesn’t work as representative of the thing it’s trying to represent. It’s not very accessible, relying on jitters, bloom, darkness and noise for its “scares” , it is, as you might have gathered, poorly designed, and the repeated usage of the wobbling head motif from Silent Hill is constantly reminding me of a game where “Psychological Horror” was more apt (and a better designed game to boot.)

The Mad Welshman rarely becomes truly disgusted. This is one of those times.

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