Following its announcement during last year’s E3 PSVR sizzle reel, The Inpatient immediately leapt to the top of my most wanted list. Until Dawn was and, despite having played it to death, still is one of my favourite survival horror games of this console generation. The unique game mechanics allowed you to save a group of teens from a snowy mountain top filled with terrors, with the amount of teens saved based on decisions made earlier in the game. The Inpatient exists in the same universe, serving as a prequel and using past events hinted at throughout the back half of Until Dawn’s plot.
Before I move on, this review will be filled with spoilers for Until Dawn, as a lot of The Inpatient’s plot is linked to its predecessor. If you’re thinking of picking up The Inpatient and haven’t played Until Dawn, I suggest you stop reading now and come back once you’ve played through the game at least once (or read my review).
Like Until Dawn, The Inpatient is built around the chaos theory principle of The Butterfly Effect. For those unfamiliar with the term – a butterfly flapping its wings today may lead to a devastating hurricane, weeks from now; so even the smallest decision can dramatically change the future. Therefore, your actions will shape how the story unfolds, and your story is only one of many possibilities. The differences this time around are that the game plays more like a psychological horror rather than Until Dawn’s teen horror vibe, and that you are the central character.
The Inpatient is set in 1952, just over sixty years prior to the events that take place in Until Dawn and focusses on an incident that took place in Blackwood Sanatorium following the admission of a group of miners injured in a cave in. Before the game begins, you’re presented with a character customisation screen; there isn’t much depth here, as you can only choose your character’s gender and ethnicity. The only difference I’ve found is that your roommate will be the same gender as your character, though worth trying on a second playthrough as the male roommate react differently to members of the sanatorium’s staff than their female counterpart.
Having completed the character creation suite, the game opens with your character blinking into consciousness, strapped to a chair in a dimly lit treatment room in the midst of a treatment session with the sanatorium’s founder and head psychiatrist, Dr Jefferson Bragg (whose corpse you may have found whilst exploring the sanatorium in Until Dawn). The good doctor questions you on your current state of mind – the problem being that, try as you might, you’ve absolutely no clue who you are or how you came to be here.
Following your therapy session, you’re introduced to some of Blackwood Sanatorium’s staff as well as a few of your fellow patients. Throughout the game, you’re able to interact with NPCs by responding to their questions. The game is pre-set with the mic enabled, allowing you to verbally provide the appropriate on-screen response (using the correct inflection) or, if you’re feeling self-conscious or haven’t quite perfected you’re acting chops, you can opt to look at the response and confirming it by pressing and holding the T button.
Developer Supermassive Games have done a wonderful job of recreating the sanatorium. It’s strange to travel down pristine corridors whereas I’d previously seen it in a state of decay during Mike’s exploration of the same building in Until Dawn. There are plenty of familiar locations that anyone who’s played the original will instantly recognise, such as the gated receiving area and the sanatorium’s workshop. If the reason behind The Inpatient’s month long delay was to add some polish to the graphics, I’m satisfied that Supermassive Games made the right call as the accompanying screenshots really do not do them justice.
The first half of The Inpatient’s plot involves your interactions with your roommate whilst confined to quarters. By day you converse with your roommate, as it becomes apparent that you’ve been abandoned by the staff; at night you suffer a series of premonitions that confirm your waking thoughts that all is not well within the sanatorium’s walls. Following an attack on the sanatorium by the miners-turned-wendigoes (hinted at the documents found in Until Dawn), you’re able to leave your room and wander the rooms and hallways, where you find a group of survivors planning their escape.
Throughout the game, you’re able to regain your fragments of memories and uncover the truth surrounding your incarceration by finding objects that trigger flashbacks to prior events; The Inpatient’s equivalent to Until Dawn’s premonition inducing totem pieces. By the time the end credits roll, you’ll hopefully have established at least some of your character’s backstory, the reason you were committed and saved at least some of the supporting cast from an attack by wendigoes.
Despite being more of a psychological horror, The Inpatient has a few cheeky jump scares up its sleeve to keep you on your toes. As ever these scares are magnified in VR, as with other horror games you’re fully immersed in the environment with nothing else to distract your senses. I’m not afraid to say there were a few occasions when my heart pounded in my chest and I may have shrieked just a little.
The Inpatient can be played with either the DS4 or a pair of Move controllers, with the latter obviously providing a greater sense of immersion. This sense of immersion when using move controllers increases when you realise that running your character’s hand along a surface causes feedback from the controller, or that raising a sandwich to your mouth and lowering it again to see that a bite has been taken out of it. Touches like this really help to put you in the moment.
Certain objects can be picked up by moving your character’s hand over the object and gripping it using the T button, then manipulating it by physically turning over whichever hand is holding the object. These objects are marked with a small glint of light, so it’s easy to see what you can and can’t interact with throughout The Inpatient’s environments.
Moving within the game is achieved by using the left move button to control forward momentum, and the right button to turn left and right. Admittedly, this feels alien at first, but given some time begins to feel quite natural as the game progresses. Walking speed is a steady pace and turns are made in 30-degree increments unless you point the right-hand controller in a specific direction.
The Inpatient carries over the “Don’t Move” mechanic from Until Dawn, the difference being that you have to keep the headset still rather than the DS4 this time around. I really didn’t have an issue with these sections in the first game, but it’s much harder to keep your head still, more so when all you can see and hear is designed to terrify you.
As much as I enjoyed playing The inpatient, it does have a few issues. First and foremost is the length, which clocks in at around 3-4 hours. Although I understand that as with Until Dawn this may have been an intentional decision to encourage multiple playthroughs, I feel the climactic escape from Blackwood Sanatorium feels rushed when compared to the opening and middle of the game.
I also disliked the fact that at the beginning of the game you’re introduced to characters that have no bearing on the outcome of the game, rather it’s the cast that you meet halfway through the plot that you need to save. This is a complete contradiction to the attachment I felt for the teens in Until Dawn, as I didn’t care as much for the wellbeing of the survivors of the sanatorium.
My last gripe is down to a strange casting choice for one of the survivors, a janitor at the neighbouring Blackwood Hotel named Victor, whose name is mentioned way before meeting him. I imagined Victor to be a grumpy old white man, so imagine my surprise when he turned out to be a dreadlocked Asian.
These faults aside, The Inpatient is a decent addition to any survival horror fan’s VR library, more so if, like me, you strive to see every alternate ending or try to better your last effort in terms of how many of the group you could save. I only wish that Supermassive had taken a leaf out of Capcom’s book and made the game playable without VR so that it could reach a wider audience.