There’s nothing like a good horror videogame to showcase the immersive qualities of virtual reality (VR), and Supermassive Games knows this with its upcoming psychological experience The Inpatient for PlayStation VR. Making its debut at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) 2017 last week, the title showcased a direction for the studio that enables players to choose an emotional response to the gameplay narrative.
After choosing whether your character is male of female, the demo begins with you sat strapped to a chair with little to no information of who you are or why you’re there. As you you look around the room it becomes clear that you’re in some sort of hospital – as it turns out you’re in The Blackwood Pines Sanatorium – and out of the darkness comes Jefferson Bragg the owner of the institution. He begins to question you, asking you to try and remember your past. As he does so you’re presented with a couple of response options which generally pertain to being co-operative or being hostile.
The way The Inpatient mixes things up is through emotion. Behind each response is an emotional reaction that can change Bragg’s reaction to your answers, so you can act confused, angry or defensive for example. Having played through the demo a couple of times, his response might be different but the end result at this stage always remains the same, with the doctor making you regress back into a memory. The memories are of the same event, but each time you might notice something slightly different – there’s a calendar on the wall indicating the date, or the fact that a man appears with no face is slightly creepy.
It’s during this questioning session that you get to see the level of detail Supermassive Games has put into the experience. At certain points Bragg leans in with the dramatic overhead lighting capturing every line and wrinkle on his face. These little sequences are very impressive to look at, showcasing the level of detail that’s gone into the experience, but it also serves another purpose. That of being being defenseless and powerless to do anything. For the most part videogame developers will give you ways of escaping, defending or attacking for that interactive element. Being a psychological horror experience that’s taken away, creating a far more uneasy feeling for the player.
This interrogation does end however and you’re returned to your barred room where you start to learn the mechanics of The Inpatient with an orderly. Keeping with the realistic theme and feel of the title the studio has opted not to use teleportation, instead going for a walking mechanic with staggered turning so to reduce any nausea that might be felt. It works perfectly well although those used to VR might feel a little restricted as the forward movement is locked to these individual turning points. Once you’ve got the hang of walking around you can explore the room where you’ll find a clue to the wider story, but not a lot else.
So far there’s been no real horror/scary element to the whole experience. Supermassive decided to save that to last. You’re treated to a surreal, dreamlike segment that flicks into black and white with slight flutters of colour. You start to see the male orderly again, he’s talking to you asking you to follow, and then in comes the flash of something horrific, a shadowy glimpse of a towering monster. Is it real or is it just something from your imagination?
The Inpatient looks set to offer an experience completely different to its predecessor Until Dawn – they’re both set in the same universe – a far more tactile tale, where exploring the story is much more key. It might be because of the hospital theme but playing the demo instantly feels very reminiscent of Wilson’s Heart for Oculus Rift and that’s no bad thing. If Supermassive Games can create an engaging storyline and gameplay to go with the impressive visuals then PlayStation VR might have another hit on its hands.