Here comes The Inpatient in VR. Am I excited? Well Virtual Reality for video-games is a concept that has been around for a long time. The first VR headset was the Forte VFX1 that debuted at CES in 1994. Sony was a pioneer and produced the Glasstron in 1997. You fast forward almost 20 years and we have Playstation VR. I’ve never been much into VR as a concept; in fact I had almost resigned myself to never play nor purchase it. The other concept I’ve never been into is the idea of an “interactive movie”. In the 90’s when CD games began to appear, there were a lot of full motion videogames; the video would stop you would make your choice, the next video would load. Full of bad acting, bad sound and bad effects.
With PS VR now I sat myself down on a 40 degree Melbourne day to give The Inpatient a play (several as it turned out). I must say my expectations were low. The cover art has a syringe, the description is psychological horror and the setting is 1953 in a mental hospital. The game can be played either with the PS4 controller or the Move controllers. I expected cheap horror, a humdrum story and if I’m honest I didn’t think I would enjoy it. But the strange thing about this game is that despite my thoughts going in, I believe it’s genuinely great. I have never played anything like it and if you have PS VR and you can handle immersive horror, you need to play it too.
Without giving away the story, The Inpatient is set in a mental hospital in the 50’s. The game starts with you receiving electro shock therapy to recall your memories. You get a glimpse to check out your surroundings as the memories flash back, mere seconds to pick up any detail you can. You get wheeled back to your room, talk with the orderly on your way. What follows is being locked in your room with a roommate. Then things get weird.
I found myself checking out the calendar on the wall to try and figure out if time had passed or if it was a memory. The story evolves via both surreal dream-like sequences or via conversation. To be honest the plot is fairly unintelligible, there are a lot of conclusions you will need to make for yourself and join the dots so to speak. It is clear fairly early on that this game isn’t so much about narrative as it is about the experience
The Inpatient is highly immersive, especially in the surreal sequences.. If you have the move controllers, your left hand will hold a flash light which you can shine wherever you like. You can walk up to a cell and shine your light through the bars and see what’s inside, for example. Your right hand will pick up items and you will need the flashlight to check them out. Pretty much all of these scenes are extremely well done and I am tempted to tell you about some of them but I don’t want to spoil it for you.
What I will say is that The Inpatient (for the most part) avoids cheap thrills and scares, which I think is an achievement. What I would compare the experience to is being inside a J-Horror film. We all know genre conventions and with this game the things you expect to happen may actually not and despite the fact that the narrative may never be fully explained, the experience is on point.
As far as gameplay goes you can make choices that affect the outcome but it is essentially a “make this decision turn to page 28” type of game. I tested the voice recognition as well; when speaking with a character your options are displayed on either side. I tested saying the left option whilst looking at the right etc and I tried using different sentence structures and saying the sentence in my own way and it works fine. It should be stated here that there are no weapons in this game.
I tried opening windows and doors but not everything you can interact with. I do recommend playing with the Move controllers if you can, particularly for the control you have over the flashlight. However one drawback about using them is you can either turn 90 degrees or 30 degrees at a time, so its not a smooth movement. Also, the movement is walking pace. You can’t run, no matter how much you want too. Exploring was both disturbing and interesting at the same time.
As far as graphics go, the character models are fairly standard. They are not bad but they are not standout either, with faces having zero emotion. I grew to like some of the characters but ultimately they take second place to the setting. The environments are very well done, really interesting lighting and design. I have never been in a mental hospital on top of a mountain in the 50’s but it really does have a great sense of brutality and old school medicine.
Overall, The Inpatient is a unique experience. I was expecting a budget Resident Evil or a Texas Chainsaw Massacre type scream fest, but what I got was actually a deeply psychological and immersive experience. The type of which is unsettling at times but as long as you remind yourself it is just a game (I guarantee you will) and that nothing can actually hurt you, you can relax somewhat and enjoy the experience. I certainly would not want to go through anything like this in real life, this is as close to exploring an abandoned spooky medical facility as I dare go.
The Bottom Line
When I sat down to play this game I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy it or not. It started off a little slow but soon picked up pace. The first of the surreal sequences caught me off guard but soon I was looking forward to the next one and they did not disappoint. The Inpatient provides a refreshing psychological horror experience in a world full of survival horror. Certainly worth a try if you aren’t too afraid of the dark. If you have PS VR, no deep psychological fear of abandoned buildings or the dark and can handle a horror flick, I highly recommend giving this one a go.