By poking fun at slasher films and providing a captivating interactive horror experience, 2016’s Until Dawn was a pleasant surprise. Developer Supermassive Games’ successful storytelling made me hopeful for Until Dawn’s VR prequel, The Inpatient, but I struggled to keep interest due to mediocre scares and a forgettable cast.
The Inpatient takes us back 60 years and is set in the Blackwood Sanatorium, the dilapidated hospital you explore in Until Dawn. Playing as a patient with amnesia, you attempt to unravel a conspiracy and escape, all while savage monsters are on a killing spree. Although The Inpatient sheds more light on some of Until Dawn’s mysteries (such as the slaughter of the sanatorium staff), it fails to make this history interesting.
Like Until Dawn, your choices mold the story and have consequences. These decisions occur during dialogue with other characters, and they impact who lives and dies. Unfortunately, it never feels that tense, since the game is plagued with dull characters. Most of the hospital staff you’re grouped with seem emotionless, and are held back by stiff voice acting. Because it’s a short narrative experience, you don’t get much time to become acquainted with them.
Since the narrative changes based on your choices, you can replay The Inpatient to see its different endings. While I didn't notice any huge revelations or entirely new sections open up, I was happy to see some noteworthy changes when making different decisions on my second playthrough, depending on how much others trusted me and who I managed to save.
As for its VR component, Supermassive took another step to add a sense of presence. With voice controls, you can choose dialogue options simply by speaking into the headset’s microphone. Though it’s a small addition, I found it effective and fun, making it feel like I was directly speaking to other characters.
Good scares are few and far between, but some made me jump or shout obscenities because they were up close and personal in VR. Physically turning around to find a monster appear out of nowhere and seeing bloodied bodies appear and disappear on stretchers is terrifying. With the headset strapped to my face, I couldn’t look away and had to face these fears. I enjoyed exploring green-hued nightmares that tormented my character, where I’d walk through an otherworldly version of the sanatorium. Voices whisper unintelligible words while cell doors open and close on their own, making it a frightful experience. The Inpatient is at its best when it delves into psychological horror, but these nightmarish sections make up only a small portion of the game.
As you make your way through the hospital, often your only light source is a flashlight. This was initially spooky, but long stretches of time are spent walking through barren hallways without much happening. Lacking in interesting dialogue and effective scares, these sequences left me bored as I wandered through the sanatorium.
As you explore, you can use either the PlayStation Move controllers or the DualShock 4 to maneuver. I found it much easier and comfortable to use the standard DualShock 4 controller, as the Move controllers are more awkward. You have to click a button on the left controller to move forward while tilting the other controller in the direction you want to go. I grasped the controls better as time went on, but it never feels natural. One advantage is that one Move controller also acts as a flashlight that you can wave around to light up areas, making it feel like you really have one in your hand.
VR is great for immersion, but it can cause some unwanted side effects. Luckily, The Inpatient’s camera limits your movements to 30-degree pivots, reducing the chance of nausea. That worked for me; I never felt queasy during my time with The Inpatient, though I did experience headaches after about an hour of use.
The Inpatient is a difficult game to recommend, with inconsistent scares and a mundane cast. It still offers some frightful moments, but they aren’t wrapped up in a captivating enough narrative to keep you engaged. Even if you’re a hardcore Until Dawn fan, this watered-down horror experience is probably worth skipping.