I came into The Inpatient ready for a polished, tense horror game in VR. Maybe not Resident Evil 7, but with Sony and the Until Dawn license behind it, something of a little higher quality than the janky stuff quietly popping up on PSN. This is Supermassive Games’ second Until Dawn spin-off for PlayStation VR, and it feels like a natural fit. While Rush of Blood applied the Until Dawn setting to an adrenaline rush of roller coasters, sudden spooks and twitchy shooting, The Inpatient does almost the exact opposite. This is a slow, sterile game that ends before it feels like it starts.
We assume the role of a patient in a mental asylum in the ’50s. Blackwood Sanatorium, in particular, as visited in Until Dawn. This is an excellent idea for a VR game, and the implications on the history of the sanatorium in Until Dawn present so many cool opportunities. Somehow, the story of The Inpatient tells the story suggested by Until Dawn, elaborates on a few supporting elements, and still feels like it hasn’t said anything. About half of the game is spent in a cell, getting to know a roommate. I was impressed by how hard the game committed to this as it was happening, but once it concluded, had no obvious bearing on the rest of the game, and the remainder of the story came and went just as quickly, I just felt like my time had been wasted. Most of The Inpatient feels like an introduction, and the rest feels rushed.
Like Until Dawn, the game revolves around decision making. Unlike Until Dawn, choices feel inconsequential. The game changes based on your choices, sure, but the correlations aren’t apparent. Rather than being faced with rewards and consequences for your actions, it feels more like a lucky dip. It’s more like choosing a path to go down without a label than trying to do your best and living with what happens. An interesting component of these choices, and my chief praise of The Inpatient, is that each of them can be made vocally. Characters will ask you a question, leaving you two options, and you can either press X on what you’d like to say, or simply say it aloud. It might feel super dumb to be talking to a game strapped to your face, but if you can get past the silliness, it’s actually a pretty successful means of player involvement and immersion.
Outside of these decisions, the game is solely about walking around. I love exploring and taking in a well-built setting, but The Inpatient falters here in almost all regards. Most importantly, it controls poorly. For some weird reason, you can only move in one direction until letting the stick sit back in neutral. So, if you’re moving forward and want to start moving right, moving the stick from up to the right will cease the forward movement, and not respond with any movement to the right. This is insane. Pair this with an infuriatingly slow walk speed and just moving around in The Inpatient feels bad. Motion controls throughout is a nice idea – having control of a torch is pretty cool – but it’s usually pointless and finicky, and pulled me out of any level of immersion I’d managed to reach.
The only thing left to mention are the lifeless, inanimate characters. They’re not poorly written (though they’re certainly not worth praising), but the way they move is distractingly mechanical. At one point in the game, one character was shouting “Stay calm!”, while standing perfectly upright, expressionless, to a room of people doing the same. The only goal this game seems to have is immersing the player in its story, yet moments like these fundamentally undermine any chance of that happening. There’s an established sense of place at times, certainly, but never to the degree that it could withstand the damage of these janky edges.
The Inpatient is a slow, unengaging walk through hallways with mechanical characters and irrelevant choices. It’s an incredibly disappointing execution of a nice idea that could have become so much more. When we have full games that operate successfully in VR, games that utilise the headset to inform mechanics, and games that present believable, engaging worlds, I can’t recommend The Inpatient.