Waking inside a prison cell can never be a good feeling, even more so when you’ve absolutely no recollection of how you came to be there in the first place. This is the unfathomable position Jonathan Bradley, the protagonist and focal point of short psychological horror Inmates finds himself in after he comes too inside a rundown prison cell following a short strange dream-like sequence. The sole work of developer Davit Andreasyan, Inmates is a short horror adventure that looks to push the player into madness through lonely exploration and mind-bending puzzles.
Inmates: PC [Reviewed]
Developer: Davit Andreasyan
Publisher: Iceberg Interactive
Release Date: 5 October 2017
Price: £7.19 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
The premise of a psychological horror game set inside the desperate, desolate and unforgiving confines of a prison promises so much and yet Inmates gameplay sadly offers very little by the way of any real substance. In its early moments, Inmates successfully welcomes players into its arms with a creepy setting, exploration, inverted crosses and other horrors tropes; ultimately though, the early excitement quickly fades away and rarely reappears in the remaining hours.
At best, Inmates can be summed up as a 4-hour long walking simulator with a horror theme as you probe the dank, colourless prison searching for hints or answers to Jonathan’s many questions using collected matches to light up the darkness, though matches burn out unbelievably quickly. A colourful child’s diary, religious notes, scattered books and markings scribbled on the walls of random prison cells do their level best to clue the player in on the story, though it’s hard to keep up with and Jonathan doesn’t keep hold of any item he reads other than the child’s diary as a point of reference. Seemingly abandoned, the shortage of fellow inmates or NPC’s leaves Inmates a very intimate affair. With little to no sound other than the heavy breathing of the protagonist or environmental effects from inside the prison, Inmates distinct lack of noise lends weight to the overriding feeling of loneliness, but at the same time, it also makes delivering the games scariest segments that much harder to pull off.
Jump scares are an overly problematic presence in the horror genre and continuously prove to be very detrimental to sections of Inmates gameplay. When constructed correctly, a successful jump scare has the ability to elicit true fear, leaving the player in a terrified or panicked state for lengthy periods where even the simplest of tasks such as turning a corner becomes a horrific ordeal. It’s a form of scare tactic that either works or it doesn’t, and when it doesn’t achieve its goal or feels overused, it becomes a meaningless action and damaging to the overall perspective and direction of the game. Though it doesn’t massively overuse jump scares, Inmates fails to properly execute what scares it does have. Scripted instances of Inmates antagonist Roy will fail to unsettle even the uneasiest of players due to the nature of his appearance from way off in the distance, it just isn’t as scary as it should be.
Furthermore, by removing the ability to run away from the oncoming prison security guard, you ultimately wind up with an incredibly slow-moving character who struggles to evade any predator for too long, essentially making the player character a sitting duck with concrete filled shoes. The slowness of Jonathan’s movement not only negatively impacts the protagonist’s chances of escaping the clutches of Roy but also hinders overall story progression too as Jonathan meanders about from one place to the next at a dreadfully painful pace. The Chinese Room’s used similar movement speed with Dear Esther but with an abundance of stories to listen to and gorgeous scenery to soak up; the speed of movement never truly mattered. Unfortunately, in Inmate‘s case, it affects the game considerably.
Nestled between Inmates storyline which concludes in a somewhat questionable fashion are its puzzles. One of the shining beacons in a very short experience, the collection of well thought out puzzles presented to the player help to break up the monotony of the story well as the player finds himself trapped inside various cells or face to face with a locked door, needing to solve a riddle to escape and move on.
Upon hearing the buzzing of an alarm clock I rush (slowly walk) to the cell the noise had emulated from. Interacting with the noisy clock on a table prompts the cell door to close shut behind me, trapping me inside a narrow, constricted cell with little but a bunk bed, sink and toilet for company. Just above and to the right of the clock on the wall is a large numbered circle with another smaller circle inside. After many attempts to tamper with the clock or alter the dials on the wall, I finally notice an object directly beside the clock. Looking at the clock from an entirely different angle gave me a mirrored reflection of the time, which I then replicated within the numbered circles on the wall and unlocked the cell door. Mind-bending they are not, yet Inmates puzzles do a grand job of padding out the game surprisingly well while serving as interesting blockades to progression.
A largely missed opportunity, Inmates fails to capitalise on its initial and exciting premise. What ought to have been a frightening jaunt through a rundown prison quickly descends into a slow-moving walking simulator with little in the way of scares to paralyse the player with fear. Comfortably completed in less than 4 hours, Inmates story fails to make a significant impact and its environmental design struggles to fully immerse. At its current asking price, it’s debatable whether or not Inmates represents value for money, especially when you compare it to more well-rounded games from the genre.