Published on January 29th, 2018 | by Sean Warhurst
The Inpatient PSVR Review
Summary: Your mileage may vary if you come into the game expecting another blast-em-up like Rush of Blood but, if you take The Inpatient on its own merits, it’s an intriguing peek into what the future may hold for the quality of VR titles and stands as one of the most immersive experiences I’ve had with the technology yet.
Not for the Impatient...
Despite a nearly non-existent promotional push, Supermassive Games’ Until Dawn was one of the biggest sleeper hits of 2015, with tangible weight given to your decisions, an intentionally schlocky script penned by horror maestro Larry Fessenden (with more than a few similarities to his 2001 film Wendigo) that married slasher tropes with good old fashioned monster movie hijinks and a solid cast including former it girl Hayden Panettiere.
Until Dawn: Rush of Blood followed shortly after, touted as a VR descent into the twisted mind of one of the game’s primary antagonists; although initially doubts were raised when the game was revealed to be an on-rails rollercoaster shooter, upon release Rush of Blood garnered decent reviews and, for my money, became one of the first must own titles for Sony’s fledgling PSVR format.
Supermassive Games then dived headfirst into the virtual reality realm, developing both upcoming shooter Bravo Team and this, The Inpatient, a prequel of sorts to what has become a fully fledged franchise with the Until Dawn series.
Although The Inpatient is technically a prequel to the events of the first game, players aren’t required to have played through either of the previous games in the series in order to keep track of what’s going on; sure, there are slight nods to the overarching mythology of the series and some nice little easter eggs for fans to pick up upon but, as an experience in of itself, The Inpatient is relatively stand alone.
The Inpatient takes place 60 years before the first game and gives players an insight into the events that led to the closure of Blackwood Sanatorium – A major location in the first game – and the tragic fate that befell a group of miners who resorted to the unspeakable in order to survive following a cave in.
Of course, when the game starts up, you have no real knowledge of any of these events or how they will inevitably become inextricably linked; you take control of the titular inpatient, an amnesiac who has found themselves confined within the walls of the sanatorium and must contend with a barrage of questions from doctors, nurse and fellow patients.
Much like with Until Dawn, the narrative is directly influenced by your decisions throughout the game and you’ll be spending much of your time conversing and examining shiny objects around the environment in order to unlock your memories and piece together just what the hell is going on.
Scenes play out in vignettes, with some allowing you to explore your immediate environment and others confining you to a chair or keeping you seated. There’s a sort of disconnect with how much the game jumps about but this kind of feeds nicely into the mental state of your character. Prone to blackouts and intense nightmares, having amnesia is honestly the least of our protagonist’s problems and the disjointed narrative generally works in the game’s favour.
When interacting with other characters you’re given the choice between manually selecting your responses or actually speaking them out loud, the latter of which greatly enhances the immersion level, at least when you don’t have to repeat the same phrase three times over in order for the game to register what you’ve said; I feel like this is more a personal issue rather than one directly related to the tech, however, as the general consensus is that verbalising your responses works a delight and I DO have a slight speech impediment which may have caused any issues I encountered.
In terms of the narrative, depending on your choices it can either be a fairly satisfying experience or, conversely, a confusing and anticlimactic one. Characters can change drastically depending on your decisions, even their gender, and multiple playthroughs reveal how much work has been done with the branching narratives.
Unfortunately, I found much of the third act in every playthrough to be lacking when compared to the slow burn of the earlier sections, but, again, with different paths taken come different outcomes and changing how I approached things in repeat playthroughs eventually led to a climax that, whilst not mind blowing, felt like it fit comfortably within the mythology of the series.
Graphics and Audio
One of the biggest complaints about VR games is that they’re often not the most visually stunning experiences, primarily down to the limitations of the burgeoning technology. Some developers manage to step around this issue by using a highly stylised art style but Supermassive Games have basically said “Sod it’ and have strived to give gamers some of the best looking and naturalistic games available on the medium.
In keeping with this, The Inpatient is absolutely gorgeous; sure, you can kind of see where the seams are at times, especially if you poke around the environment in the later stages, but, from a graphical standpoint, I’d go so far as to say that The Inpatient is the best looking title currently available on PSVR; The level of detail present on character models and your surroundings is astounding considering there’s really nothing else that compares visually… Much like Naughty Dog, Supermassive Games have seemingly figured out how to wring every last drop of power from Sony’s little black parallelogram.
The audio is also a step above most other titles available on the format, with suitably creepy 50’s music piping down the empty corridors of the asylum and the myriad shrieks, wails and catcalls of your fellow patients and unwelcome visitors. The binaural audio works a treat and really helps to sell the sensation of actually being present within the environment of the game.
For my first playthrough I’d had a few tall glasses of water and the experience of stepping into the sanatorium was akin to actually visiting a real place rather than simply strapping on a headset; I felt like I was an actual presence within this world and, coupled with the voice commands, I found myself fully inhabiting my character. Subsequent playthroughs inevitably lost that sense of wonder but, in terms of narrative resolution, I found that my decisions led to a far more satisfying outcome than my first time through.
Like with most VR games that offer the option, I elected to go with the Move controllers and found them to be fairly responsive, although the snap turning would sometimes put me at awkward angles and there were times where the entire screen would go dark as I accidentally inserted myself into some object or character – My very first playthrough I went to peer out of my room when there was a commotion going on just outside my door and, for the life of me, couldn’t step out of being inside the door and had to finish the scene in complete darkness.
Aside from those minor gripes, I had no real issues using the Moves and, going off of other impressions, they’re much more preferable to using the DS4, which has been described as clunky at best.
The Inpatient is a forceful step in the right direction in terms of having more narrative heavy VR experiences and, despite its shortcomings, I found myself really enjoying my time spent incarcerated in Blackwood Pines Sanatorium.
Your mileage may vary if you come into the game expecting another blast-em-up like Rush of Blood but, if you take The Inpatient on its own merits, it’s an intriguing peek into what the future may hold for the quality of VR titles and stands as one of the most immersive experiences I’ve had with the technology yet.
Primary Format – PlayStation 4 (PSVR Required)
Game Genre – Horror
Rating – MA15+
Consumer Advice – Strong themes and violence
Game Developer – Supermassive Games
Game Publisher – Sony Interactive Entertainment
Reviewer – Sean Warhurst