Horror has been an uncharacteristically popular genre in recent years because of massive hits like Five Night’s at Freddy’s. Gamers are constantly waiting for a new horror experience that sends shivers down their spine while innovating the genre. Sadly, Inmates is not that horror experience.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Inmates’ music and ambiance were completely nailed. The music and the timing of sound effects create connections in your mind between the horror and your actions. Inmates’ opening sequence is a perfect example of this correlation. As you are climbing the spiral staircase up towards the hanging bell there is an eerie and unnerving atmosphere. Every time the bell tolls the world shakes and debris comes crashing down. It makes you feel as though you’re waiting for something bad to happen and fear envelops you with an iron grip.
Inmates also has silent, tense moments as well. For example, when you first talk to Ben the sound effects are toned down. Contrast this to the overwhelming whispering and clattering that you experience beforehand and it sets you on edge.
The timing and the use of the sound effects and music were what originally set me on edge and made me believe Inmates was going to be an effective horror experience.
More Than Just Dark Environments
Inmates‘ graphics and set pieces are other aspects that set it apart from its competition while being enjoyable. The environment of the prison was incredibly well done without being over the top. The environments were beautiful in a horrific way and honestly stunned me on multiple occasions.
Considering I was playing on the medium graphical settings for this game, it was stunning and awe-inspiring when looking at some of their set-pieces. The aforementioned belltower scene bell had some of the best lighting effects I have ever seen in an indie title. The god-rays that filtered in from the grates above and the illumination of the bell created a wonderful centerpiece.
In fact, the set pieces were the real stars in Inmates. There was one that I will remember for the rest of my life. At one point, you must walk across a plank of wood with several bodies hanging down. The lighting is dim, but what light does illuminate the scene is tinged red. Nothing moved for quite some time and there was no jump scares, but my heart was pounding and that should be the goal of psychological horror games.
In addition, many parts of the game just looked aesthetically pleasing. At one point you see a crash that is frozen in time. Whether it be the rain on the ground or the headlights produced by the car, everything looked phenomenal.
A Rushed Story-Line
The story-line and progression of fear that should emanate from the player throughout this genre are what makes a frightening experience truly memorable. You want to believe there is an underlying sense of tension and complete isolation. Inmates doesn’t offer this.
Inmates biggest issue is that the story doesn’t kick in until the very end of the game. The fact that the game is so short (you can beat it in a couple hours time) means it’s even more pressing that the story is present throughout. The first three-quarters of the game has you running around from one objective to another with the stakes never truly increasing. At times, it feels less like a psychological horror game and more like a tour around a prison.
Throughout this first portion, the only intel you receive is via notes or books left around the prison. This is a tried and true method that works well when done right, but sadly a lot of the notes added nothing to the narrative’s progression. There were lots of bible quotes and philosophical debate, wherein Machiavelli and Descartes were mentioned, but the prominence of their works didn’t feed into the story. Inmates appears to have tried to set the stage but failed to follow through with the rest of the game.
The twist towards the end – which I won’t spoil – was intriguing and it is a topic not many horror mediums have explored. It’s very Stephen King-esque, but without the flair and excellence of his writings. If Inmates had integrated this in the earlier portion of the game, they could have explored a topic that has been neglected by many other creators in this genre. Inmates had the idea and the tools to forge a fantastic tale, however, the nuances and the ability to carry the story consistently were not present.
Never Fear! The Walking Mechanic is Here!
Inmates’ mechanics and pacing were other frustrating aspects. You wander aimlessly from one area to the next with virtually no interruptions; even when there are you don’t feel any sense of danger to your life. One run-in with Roy was enough to show me that for all the ambiance the game tried to set, there was no danger here. You could say that a psychological horror game should thrive off of the atmosphere it creates to instill you with fear. But since the game doesn’t follow through, in this case, you learn to ignore the atmosphere.
Originally, I believed that the lack of the running mechanic meant I was going to have to be careful about what I did, to not get caught. A quarter of the way through and I realized you can’t run because there is no threat present. At this point, the atmosphere was destroyed and I began meandering through areas as if I were at a family picnic.
Inmates had potential. Psychological horror is a great genre to ensure scares without berating players with cheap jump scares, but only if the devs first create a believable atmosphere. Thankfully, Inmates created a wonderfully intriguing environment with ambient sound that projected the horror vibe, but these aspects were not realized to their full potential. The devs merely set the pins up and then utterly failed to ever knock them down.
Ultimately, the lack of a cohesive story throughout the game and the lack of danger (aka actual horror) let it down. Add in mechanics that were neither innovative nor well executed and you have a game that is destined to be lost in obscurity with oh so many other horror titles.