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Inmates Review

Experience a unique psychological horror game where the truth will be revealed as you solve puzzles and read notes left by others. Dodge a few jump scares and what is left is a superb story about the prison you awake in, no memory of how you got there, and the fight to find out what is really going on.

Intro

Inmates is the story of a man's journey to find the truth about where he is and what happened that led him to be imprisoned. Davit Andreasyan has done a wonderful job restoring faith in the horror genre that has seen too many copycats in recent years. As with any game, nothing is perfect, but this is a solid introductory game for this indie developer.

You can find Inmates on Steam for $9.99.

Story

Going into this, I honestly hadn't heard anything about what the game was supposed to be, just that it was a psychological horror game. Oh boy, did it live up to that promise. Typically I would not do any spoilers in a game like this, but it was such a good story, I have to talk about it. So here is your obligatory warning.

Spoiler Alert!! – If you don't want the story ruined, please skip this section.

Inmates Review - Sir, your head is creepin' me out!

Ok, now that we have gotten that out of the way, you start the game at the bottom of a giant pit with stairs winding up along the outside walls. Vision blurred and cages hanging from the grate high above, you make your way to the top interrupted often by earthquakes. After ascending, you jump off a plank and fall to the bottom again.

Like many games before, perhaps even overly used, you awake in a prison cell with no memory of where you are or how you got there. Once you get your bearings, the exploration stage begins and you will find many other prison cells along the way. Most are useless, but there are some that contain lore items such as notes or books, while even fewer have other inmates locked inside. Once you find out you are not alone in this strange place, you immediately know something is amiss due to the insane amount of shaking the other prisoner's heads do.

Continuing past these disturbing sights, you will come upon some puzzles that you need to solve to progress the story, unlocking the secrets of the prison. Soon after the first area, you come across a young child's book that begins to hint at what is going on. A woman, known as the Director, is in charge and has asked the child to call her mother, with you, Jonathan, being called father. You learn that the child is to become a Director very soon, ascending to adulthood. Confused? Good, because it gets even crazier.

Picking up some more notes and seeing more deranged prisoners, Roy is introduced with a few jump scares that admittedly scared the bejesus out of me. He is the prison's guard who is tasked with keeping everyone where they belong. Nobody likes him and it is easy to see why. His eyes are socketed deep in his skull but a dim white glow emanates as he knocks you unconscious and into the basement, where the "others" are.

Inmates Review - Why is there a rocking horse in a prison!?

Roy appears several times to take you back to the basement once you find a way to escape. It is here you will find a strange radio that allows you to talk to someone called Ben,  who you find out later is your doctor. He has a very flat and unconcerned tone, which both adds to the creepiness and ruins the immersion. After the second or third conversation, Ben basically is telling you where to go and what to do and you learn that together you have built this prison.

Sadly, I did not put two and two together myself at this point, but one of my viewers on stream did and everything quickly started making more sense. You are Jonathan, trapped in a prison that you have created in your own mind. With a sense of familiarity of the place, but not being able to put your finger on it, you push on with Ben urging you along. The Directors office is the one place that is off limits, but to find out the truth, you have to find a way in and that is when things take a turn down crazy lane. Also for the worse.

With the Directors office within reach, Ben finally tells you that you are too late and that you need to stop, to just give up. A few nudges from the protagonist and Ben caves like a toilet paper house. He spills his guts that he is actually your first imaginary friend and alternate personality, brought on by the horrific trauma of a car accident that killed your parents at the age of six. More personalities were created in the years after and that's when you both decided to create a prison for all the personalities so you could try to have a normal life. During this time, you were free to be Jonathan, but your subconscious kept creating more personalities that lay dormant.

This worked to an extent as you were able to grow up, meet a woman who you married, and become a functioning adult. However, with all that came stress and marital problems, causing these dormant personalities to bubble to the surface. The Director that you have been looking for became the dominant personality and over the years, she fell in love with your real personality. Jealousy drove her to a devious plan; take over your body, kill your wife, be arrested for murder, plead insanity and be sent to an insane asylum. Here, she would be able to give up her Director role in order to live the rest of he life with you.

Inmates Review - You're only contact with someone helpful.

All along, you were finding clues to reach the office before the Director went through with her plan, but you are too late. Ben doesn't want you to proceed because you will take over your body once again and have to deal with the pain of what was done. Being stubborn, your character doesn't believe all this so he pushes forward and once he opens the door to the Directors office, he is met with all the memories of what has happened throughout his life. The car accident, the funeral, the creation of Ben, and a final door.

Opening this door, you are snapped back to your real life, where you are in a cell in a courtroom, where a jury announces they have found you guilty of murder. You are deemed criminally insane and sent to a maximum security mental hospital. Here, the young child whose book you found earlier, has taken control of your body, leaving you to awake back in the prison cell to live with the personality that loves you, for the remainder of your days.

Phew, that was intense. Summing up four hours of story, you are basically a recreation of the main character from the movie Identity. While the location of the two stories is different, the basis of the two stories are very similar and once everything clicked, it was all I could think of. I for one loved that movie so it made the game that much better. While not entirely unique, the atmosphere and anticipation of something jumping out at you was superb and is one of the best-told stories in a game I have ever played. Having said that, there were a few things that kept this from getting a better score and ultimately left me a little upset at the end after some reflection.

Gameplay

Puzzles

This is a horror game with puzzle elements, so there is absolutely nothing groundbreaking here. In fact, I would say this was perhaps the Achilles heel of the game. Having played great puzzle games in the past that required deep thought and maybe a little hair pulling, Inmates was incredibly devoid of this.

Inmates Review - M.C. Escher would be proud of this puzzle design.

The puzzles you encounter were some of the easiest I have ever seen. Not only was there a lack of any difficulty, the solutions were often found within a few feet. This made it feel like exploring all the cells, picking up the notes, or deciphering messages on the wall (which used the easiest encryption of turning letters into numbers) was just an afterthought, added to increase the length of the game by a few minutes.

Don't get me wrong, puzzles in other horror games such as The Initiate were at times infuriating and I needed help on many of them, but there needs to be a challenge. Otherwise, there is no sense of accomplishment when you do solve it and get to move onto the next section, especially in a game with such a strong story. Even going as far as putting the solutions in the next room over would have done wonders to make it seem like there was some effort put into the puzzles. Instead, I was left with a very bad taste in my mouth after the last "puzzle" which took all of two seconds to complete.

Storytelling

While the story itself was phenomenal, the way the game held your hand and told the most crucial points through the radio was very heavy-handed. Having a confusing story needs some element of explaining things at a simpler level. But when a player is supposed to figure out how everything is connected just to literally have the entire story told to you by an uninvested voice at the end, it brings down the quality of the game. For me, it was the difference from rating this game as one of the best horror games, psychological or otherwise, to it just being a great story that could have been so much more.

Inmates Review - Sadly these had no bearing on the game.

The one thing I was incredibly glad to see was not to rely on jump scares. While there were a couple at the beginning, this only led to the wonderful, or horrible depending on your preferences, feeling of anticipation. There were quite a few times where I was expecting a jump scare and most games would have put them there. Instead of a cheap gimmick that is perhaps overused these days, leaving them out did more for the overall story and feel of the game. More horror games need to use this method in my opinion.

Presentation

Inmates is a great looking game, using Unreal Engine 4, and does a great job of creating an engaging and believable world where you are stuck in a prison that has no escape. Unfortunately, there were a couple sections of the game that made me downright nauseated due to the blurred vision effect used. The very beginning and during one of the puzzles, you spend extended periods of time trying to make out objects or figure out a solution and it almost made me stop. Done right, this can have a great effect, but you have to give breaks to the player's eyes. It's a horror game and most people take their time, wanting to see the environment the dev spent time working on. In these parts though, I just wanted to get through them as quickly as possible, damned be the cool looking level design.

Inmates Review - The visuals are dark and engaging.

Lastly, the sound design; so close to being perfect, yet so far away. While the environmental sounds like the storm outside and the atmospheric sounds including the other inmates were top notch, the voice acting was god awful. Being immersed into the game trying to figure things out was great, but once Jonathan opened his mouth to comment on something or Ben chimed in over the radio, all that vanished. I don't want to rip into this point too bad because I understand quality voice actors can be expensive. Being an indie game, I understand this might have been the reason, but personally, I would have been embarrassed to give those performances as a final draft. Jonathan sounded like he was completely stoned out of his mind and Ben was incredibly monotonous and devoid of any emotions. I get it, it was a fictional setting inside someone's mind, but it is such a crucial part of telling the story and didn't do it any favors.

Conclusion

All things considered though, I loved Inmates and the story, despite the simple puzzles and bad voice acting. If you made it this far without having the story spoiled, I would definitely recommend this game. It is just outside my list of top horror games but it tried doing something different than the typical monster horror we see so often. For this, I applaud Davit Andreasyan and I hope he has the urge or want to do another game in this genre. At the price point for a new game, I think it is well worth the money and is one of the rare exceptions to my "time spent vs money spent" ratio of $1/hr.

PROS CONS
+ Great story that makes you think – Horrible voice acting
+ Atmosphere pulls you in immediately – Lack of difficulty in the puzzles
+ Exactly what a psychological horror game should be – Blurred vision areas were nauseating
+ Price
8.8
Great

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This game did a great job of making you worry what was around the corner to get you next. It had a great atmosphere and a good story.

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