When I was a kid, maybe 9-10 years old, I remember sneaking out of bed to creep to my living room and check out a film my Father had told me was too old for me. “You’ll have to wait until your older” he said. The film in question was The Exorcist. Don’t get me wrong I regretted my decision to stay up until late to watch this horror great. But ever since then, horror as a genre is one that I’ve been fascinated with.
Horror is probably the most difficult genre to get right. The reason for this is pretty straightforward. We all watch, play, listen or read different forms of entertainment and art to get some kind of emotional response. At the most basic level, we’re all just emotion junkies trying to catch a fix. The strongest of these emotions invoke physical reactions, such as crying, laughing, screaming, feeling a bit concupiscent…… yeah, etc.
If a Horror game/film doesn’t invoke any kind of physical response, then it’s just something on the screen that is generally quite unpleasant to experience and usually boring.
Now there’s also quite a complicated spectrum in Horror as a genre. On one side of the spectrum we have the disturbing and macabre, often referred to as torture porn when it goes too far. On the other side, we have the suspenseful and subtle. A piece of Horror always falls somewhere in this spectrum but the point I’m trying to make here is that each opposite end provides a different emotion. One is terror and fear, the other is disturbed and nauseated.
The reason for my short rant about Horror is to hopefully lay out the ground work in which I use to actually review whether a horror game is a good horror game.
Inner Chains is slated as an FPS Horror that attempts to place the player into a completely surreal universe in order to scare them. But instead what I found was a slow paced adventure and puzzle game based in a Horror themed universe. At no point did I feel disturbed or terrified. I felt moderately uncomfortable by the general theme itself but at no point did something push the limits enough to cause me to feel that distressed emotion that these worlds are supposed to create. Nor did anything actually try to cause me to jump out of my chair in fright either.
So is this a good Horror game? No, not really. So we’ll leave that one there. You won’t get anything out of this game if you go in looking for that thrill we usually associate with the likes of Silent Hill and Outlast. Or even looking for something as gross as Evil Within.
Leading from this we establish that I can’t purely base my rating on the Horror of this title. So instead we’ll be looking at whether or not it is still a good game.
Look, the game itself is actually extremely impressive to look at. The texture detail in the environments and weapons are some of the best to have been rendered in Unreal Engine 4. I give huge kudos to Telepathic Trees here. Each environment develops it’s own biological and organic nature in a way that when light and god rays bounce off the walls they almost appear alive. The particle effects in fire are also exceptional. Fire is no easy to feat to cause a player to stop and glare at. Fire is beautiful in its essence and to capture that essence in a video game so well, it blows me away.
The massive structures in some of the levels also took me aback. I’m pretty sure they were actual rendered objects in the game world. I spent a good 20 minutes trying to decipher whether or not they were backdrops. But they had three dimensions to them, they had reflections and texture detail. Let me tell you, these two particular structures I’m talking about were huge.
However, all this gets stunted by the lack of variation in the areas. Everything looks the same. The levels are interesting but involve no meaningful differences apart from each other.
I enjoyed most of the level design although found myself backtracking and getting confused a little too much. I’m a big fan of intricate areas in games that wind back on themselves. Much like the zones we see in the souls-borne franchise. But those games nailed it in their precision. Inner Chains, although containing some good ideas in the department of level design, often becomes convoluted and frustrating to navigate.
It makes it even more frustrating to trek through at the protagonist’s snail pace when the game is packed full of more traps then enemies. The traps themselves are great. Varying from big vines that slice you as you walk past to giant tentacles attached to the ceiling that rope you in Half-Life style. Avoiding them becomes a puzzle in itself with each possessing their own unique mechanics that are cryptically explained to you through notes found in the world.
I mentioned the player’s slow movement and I want to clarify this is one of the positives about the title. The choice for the character to move this slow is appropriate for the world and would feel odd if you could sprint around like DOOM guy.
The weapons are pretty varied and keeping to the macabre artstyle of Inner Chains. However, none felt particularly enjoyable to use and I often found myself missing headshot with guns like the nail gun. The enemies seem to sway a lot and trying to hit them in the head with this gun is hard work. Too often I found the shot weirdly inconsistent in its alignment with the cross hair. Another frustration I couldn’t get past. Most of the other weapons are beam-like weapons like the flame thrower and lightning gun that require no aim and consist of just holding down M1.
I was, however, a big fan of the refill stations around the map. These spiked tentacle creatures not only refill your gun but also your HP. Inner Chains opts for an HUDless system that I’m a big fan of. Instead the game displays HP and ammo through interact-able models inside the game. The bracer on the forearm with a red gauge is a subtle touch that adds layers of immersion for me. More games need features like this. It adds character to a game world that would other wise be blocked off by a cluttered HUD.
To be perfectly honest with you, I couldn’t tell you what this game is about story wise. In my 8 hours with the campaign, I’m sure it tried to explain along the way but other than set pieces placed around the environment, I saw very little indication past the opening introduction and prologue level. From what I can tell humanity is slaved by some kind of hellish cult, you are one of those slaves fighting back. Or fighting for survival. I’m not really sure.
With no NPC’s to interact and apart from a few groans and mostly audio silence from most characters within the game, including the player, the level of immersion and interest in the world gets cut short pretty quickly. Inner Chains probably takes heavy inspiration from those nightmares where you can’t scream or hear anything when you try to talk. It’s a scary concept but delivered in the wrong way.
Now, when it comes to the games audio it is straight down the middle. The music is fantastic, but lacks variation. The small subtle sound effects from the environment and player are also pretty good, but there’s not enough in the game to hold it together with any kind of substance. I enjoyed the music that’s one thing I’ll definitely rate well here. Idle times are subtle and effecting but are often crescendoed really well into combat music once you enter fights. Effectively becoming part of the game rather than a separate factor and never elevating past the visuals of the game. It fits, it’s effective and it’s efficient.
So the final verdict? I’m completely straight down the middle on this one. Giving a huge amount of points for the artwork, visuals, and audio. But taking a huge amount away for it’s general design. A disappointment really as I can see the massive potential the studio possesses in their craft. The world is great to look at and an absolute PC killer. The skin of the game is a solid 8/10. But the meat falls short so hard that the whole game feels more like a tech demo for UE4 rather than a fully fledged title. Although extremely interesting and holding impressive amounts of detail and unique artwork, Inner Chains never pushes past that boundary into the realms of a fun game to experience.