These days, if Russia appears in the media, you'll hear nothing but stereotypes about their frightening political culture, their dangerously frigid weather, or how much vodka they drink as a nation. Backtrack thirty years, and we can add the KGB, the global fear of communism and the USSR into the mix. All this makes 1980's Soviet Russia an inherently curious setting for a game such as In Fear I Trust.
Developed by Black Wing Foundation and published by 1C Company, In Fear I Trust puts you into the role of Nikolay, loving husband and test subject, as he attempts to uncover the truth behind the mysterious experiments to which he and many others have been subjected. Along the way, you will find puzzles to solve, ghosts and tape recordings to interpret, and clues in the form of diaries to help you piece together the peculiar past of each location.
You can buy episodes on Steam for $6.99 per episode.
From the first cutscene in part one throughout, the developers did a decent job creating intrigue, enticing their audience with a variety of questions – "Where am I?", "Who's this guy in the mask?", "Why does no one in photographs have eyes?" – but mystery seems to be the only card they have to play. We're never given answers, and although there is yet a fifth chapter to be released, I don't get the impression they're leading us towards a decisive conclusion, only more and more questions. The lack of continuity between chapters is also slightly jarring. Each takes place in a different location, with totally different narrative themes, and there is no explanation as to how Nikolay is getting there, particularly as the game starts in what is irrevocably a prison, and by chapter four is in a cinema. It's a little disconcerting.
Most of the narrative aspects are more subtle, however. The plot mostly has to be inferred from conversations overheard from ghosts, who seem to be apparitions from the location's shady past. There are also tapes to find and listen to, although you can only see and acquire them in 'Retrospective mode' (we'll cover this more later on) – I made a little game, whenever I spotted one, of guessing where it was without retro-vision – and letters and diaries, all of which help you piece together the facts of whatever tragedy is unique to that location. Once you've examined something, it's added to your scrapbook, and Nikolay will offer his own brief insight into its significance, although his additions almost unanimously boil down to "That looks familiar."
Beyond the puzzles, there isn't much else to it. Most of them are essentially a more complicated version of 'put key in door', but this simplicity avoids frustration without taking away the satisfaction of completing one. Unfortunately, the game isn't very good at explaining what the goal of each puzzle is, or how different elements relate and react to each other, and while it's usually easy to figure out the aim with some trial and error, there were one or two of which I couldn't make head or tail. However, that's is where Retrospective mode comes into play.
Pressing 'R' (by default) activates 'Retrospective mode', allowing you to see the writing on surfaces otherwise invisible to Nikolay's naked eye. Some of this writing seems purely contextual, such as quotes from poetry scrawled on the walls, but there are also often clues to the completion of puzzles hidden behind the retro-veil. "But isn't that just cheating?" I hear you ask. Well, it depends on how much you enjoy solving puzzles. Personally, I would recommend restraining yourself unless you are truly stumped, but having the clues there does help to avoid that controller-through-the-screen frustration to which many gamers, including myself, are inclined, and the clues can often save the day from game-breaking bugs. There was one moment where the information required for me to solve the game was contained on a slide on an overhead projector, and I had to move sliders to move the slide into focus. Upon leaving and re-entering the room, however, the projector had reset. The slide was no longer in focus, but I couldn't do anything about it because the game had registered me finishing the puzzle, and had locked me out of the projector's controls. Believe me, I was very grateful for the clues then. I did notice one or two other bugs – not least the main menu text failing to appear, leaving me to guess where the 'play game' option was – but nothing that prevented me finishing any of the chapters.
Sound, visuals and atmosphere
In Fear I Trust sells itself as a thriller, and it does earn that title. Despite some dodgy narrative aspects, it has one of the most unnerving and chilling atmospheres I have experienced in a game. Black Wing Foundation understand the key to atmosphere is subtlety. Jump scares are nowhere to be found. Instead, unseen doors creak or close; bloodstains mysteriously vanish the second time you enter a room. It sounds simple because it is, but too many games rely on shoving a deformed monster into your vision and shouting "Look at this! Isn't it scary?! Are you scared now?!" It's always nice to see a developer giving their audience some credit.
The graphics are about what you would expect from an independent title: decent texture quality and passable character models, even if they do look a bit like Thunderbirds puppets. Some characters' eyes look very strange, but the game seems to have a bit of a thing about eyes – scratched out of photographs and the like – so I couldn't tell if this was deliberate. As for the sound engineering, the voice acting is very believable, although it does sound as though every character was voiced by two actors, but if that's the case then it's all the more impressive. Some of the audio logs are a little unclear, and subtitles only appear in cutscenes, which could and should be fixed in an update, but in their current state, many of those tapes will be forever unheard by me. Overall, however, the graphics and sound are adequately functional.
If you like to be able to spend time mulling over the solution to a puzzle, and the phrase "dark government conspiracy" wets your lips, then In Fear I Trust might bring you a lot of joy. The tumult of unending questions, however, makes it difficult to remain engaged by the story, and the puzzles become much less intuitive in chapters two and three. Fortunately, it comes chopped up into cheap little bits, so if this game does interest you, I would recommend trying the first part, and if you find yourself firmly gripped by the plot, continue with the subsequent chapters one at a time. For me, an unnerving atmosphere isn't enough on its own to keep me playing. I mean, meeting a partner's parents has an unnerving atmosphere, but it's not a situation I'd ever seek.
|+ Superb atmosphere||– Nothing special about the gameplay|
|+ Divided into 4 episodes||– Narrative lacks structure and continuity|
|– Puzzles become less intuitive with chapter progression|