For those that never played Until Dawn, it was an interactive movie in the old-fashioned sense, not in terms of shonky FMV video but the fact that you had very little control over the action of your character and the only important decisions were made when the game literally stopped in its tracks and asked you to make a choice – like an old Chose Your Own Adventure book. It’s that element more than any other that proved surprisingly popular, and audiences didn’t seem to care that for a horror game it really wasn’t very scary at all. Until Dawn has already had one VR spin-off in Rush Of Blood – essentially an old school lightgun game that dropped any pretence of subtly but whose shlock imagery and jump scares were inarguably effective. To a degree, The Inpatient is a combination of both games, and on a technical level one of the most impressive PlayStation VR games we’ve ever played. But at the same time it’s an even more flawed experience than the first two.
The Inpatient is a prequel set 60 years before the original game, that starts with you waking up in a sanatorium – the same one from the first game – with amnesia. Since your doctor is clearly untrustworthy your goal is not just to reclaim your memories but to escape, and ideally discover the supernatural secrets behind the increasingly gory deaths of staff and inmates. You start the game sat in a virtual chair, with the doctor looming over you. And this alone is almost worth the price of admission simply because of how realistic it looks. Unlike many VR games you have a full virtual body when you look down, while the detail of the doctor and other human characters is astonishingly good – and far more detailed than any other PlayStation VR game we’ve seen. Of course, there is still a hard limit to the resolution, but you’d swear developer Supermassive Games had found a way to beat it. There’s also a clever trick where the game uses voice recognition to decide which of the two dialogue options you want to go with when talking to other characters. Combine this with some inspired use of 3D audience and The Inpatient is easily one of the most technically advanced games on the PlayStation 4. The problem is it’s nowhere close to being one of the most entertaining.
Much like Until Dawn, there are no real puzzles in The Inpatient. But unlike the original game there are no interesting or likeable characters either. The game takes itself much more seriously, eschewing the cheesy quick time events which used to punctuate each decision. Instead you just plod through the game’s plot, which lurches from scene to scene with a disappointing lack of grace. If it was a movie the complaint would be that it was poorly edited, with so many blackouts and flashbacks that it all begins to feel like a series of unconnected scenes. But on a more mundane level there’s the problem of the clumsy controls. Despite all the clever business with microphones and virtual bodies the simple act of moving around and interacting with objects is a frustratingly imprecise chore. Or at least one of them is. If you use a DualShock controller to move around then it’s using objects that’s the problem, especially as you fumble with the motion-controlled torch. Using Move controllers solves that problem, with some great use of force feedback, but then moving around becomes the difficulty instead.
The game’s most serious problem though is not the fumbled controls but the equally awkward storytelling. The atmosphere of the game is handled extremely well, with a great sense of place and some very tense moments, but the plot never really goes anywhere and is wrapped up suddenly and unsatisfyingly. And because the characters have no real depth or personality it’s very hard to care about them when they start getting bumped off. The Inpatient is a fascinating experience that we were very impressed with on a technical level, but that does not mean for a second that’d we’d recommend spending £35 on it. The whole thing barely lasts three hours, and while, like Until Dawn, you’re encouraged to replay it in order to see alternative outcomes none of the ones we’ve seen have been any better than the first time round. The Inpatient is a little scarier than the original and a lot more serious, but it’s also considerably less fun.