Inmates – A prisoner to mediocrity – Review

Gare – Wednesday, October 4, 2017 3:57 PM
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The basic premise of Inmates – a psychological horror game set in a gloomy prison, with „intense and mind-bending puzzles” – seemed promising enough, and although the title’s short length gave some cause for concern, I still began playing with much anticipation. After all, just because a game is short doesn’t mean it can’t tell a relatively intriguing story. So, this is more or less how we begin: after a fairly bizarre opening sequence, our protagonist awakens within the aging walls of a prison, eager to find out how he got here and what’s even going on. The beginning, I must admit, turned out quite atmospheric, with skulls, inverted crosses, and the occasional book on demonology all contributing to a fairly creepy opening. Sadly, this didn’t last particularly long, as the game then felt the inexplicable need to take a metaphorical baseball bat and smash all my hopes into smithereens, dishing out jump scares like they were candy on Halloween night.

A startling start

In light of this, let me briefly talk about horror in general. Horror is not the game kindly screaming into my face in the first 10-15 minutes, hoping this would suddenly make me shiver in fear. I may find myself startled for a split second, sure, but then life goes on. Make no mistake: I am not attempting to make a blanket statement about jump scares in general – in fact, there are plenty of occasions when a jump scare can indeed be done the right way. Take only Resident Evil 2 as a prime example, with sudden scares that felt both unexpected and creatively designed to instill terror in the player; additionally, Capcom’s classic created an unforgettable atmosphere and a truly haunting location in the form of the Raccoon City police station, a place that even now manages to send chills down the collective spine of veteran horror fans. A good horror game builds an oppressive atmosphere that paralyzes players, making them dread the very thought of opening that door or going down that empty hallway, fearing what might happen if they do. Instead, what does Inmates opt for? Throwing a fast boogeyman in my face in the first fifteen or so minutes of the game, accompanied by the same old loud orchestra string that seems like an ever-present element of horror games with cheap jump scares. And this game tries to present itself as an “atmospheric psychological horror game”? Come on.

A puzzling lack of puzzles

But that’s still not even my biggest gripe with the title. Gameplay itself is almost non-existent – Inmates is a walking simulator through and through, which tries to mask the critical banality of its gameplay through match collecting and brief “puzzle” segments. Even if we were to take the phrase “walking simulator” very seriously, the game would still fail to live up to the moniker, as the protagonist’s movement speed is tremendously slow. Getting from point A to point B is often a chore, making the main character’s sluggishness the only reason Inmates even manages to stretch out its storyline to 4 hours. Had the developers given us an option to run or even walk faster, I very much doubt the game would’ve lasted longer than 2 hours at most. It doesn’t help matters much that the protagonist constantly pants like an exhausted marathon runner during walking, but at this point, that’s a minor grievance at best. Collecting the matches scattered about the prison felt quite pointless: they burn only for a few seconds and provide very little light, which meant that in most cases, I felt them to be a little redundant and not very helpful at all. As for “puzzles” (and I did intentionally put the word in quotation marks), well… the “intense and mind-bending puzzles” advertised by the game itself are nowhere to be found, frankly put. Inmates’ so-called puzzle segments require little to no thought, with the game outright spelling out the solution for you in pretty much every instance – and this is coming from me, a person who generally tends to be awful at puzzles and has a tendency of getting stuck all the time. In short, these segments seemed to only exist to pad out the game and give the illusion that Inmates is more than just a plain old walking simulator, when it’s really not.

Narrative hurdles

If there’s one thing that can redeem a game with weak gameplay, though, it’s a solid, memorable storyline – alas, Inmates offers no such thing. Aside from the staggeringly poor presentation (more on this in a second), the storyline in general elicited not much more than a shrug from me. So, here’s how things go: for the first 90% of the adventure, you won’t have a full picture of exactly what’s going on inside the prison. Then, in the last thirty minutes or so, you have a conversation with a certain character who bluntly and dryly lays everything out for you, like a literature professor summing up the contents of a novel. “Yes, this is what happened, this is why it happened, that’s what this symbolizes and this is what that meant.” I genuinely felt like the game had just read out its own abridged Wikipedia plot summary to me. As for the slow and painful cat-and-mouse chase that constitutes the storyline’s “endgame” of sorts, well… I’d rather not even think about it.

Final thoughts

In summary, Inmates is a game with minimal gameplay, banal puzzles, and a clumsily put together narrative. The game gave me an unremarkable – and ultimately pointless – four hours; not only did it fail to live up to my initial expectations, it managed to go way below them. It is underwhelming as a video game, as a psychological horror, and as a piece of interactive “entertainment”. For gamers craving a solid horror experience, there exist countless superior alternatives both on PC and consoles – Inmates, sadly enough, does nothing that hasn’t already been done far more skillfully by other games in the genre.

Inmates releases on the 5th of October on Steam.

First look gameplay (with hungarian commentary)

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