- Developer: Playmind
- Publisher: Playmind
- Release date: 28th April 2020
- Genre: Psychologial Horror/Puzzle
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
- Reviewed on: PS4
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
As a long time fan of all things macabre, I was excited to get hands-on with Inner Friend, which was presented to me as a dark and unsettling horror. As far as first impressions go, Inner Friend opened as one might expect, but in its own special way: a dark and dingy bedroom, poor lighting casting ominous shadows, and of course, a naked eunuch with a glowing face lying spreadeagle on a bed. Standard stuff, of course.
Needless to say, the creepy as hell checkbox was ticked right off the bat. So far, so good. Before long, you take the reins as a fragmented child avatar; a metaphor for the fragile and incomplete memories that serve as the basis for the ensuing gameplay. As you exit the bedroom through a cracked wall and make your way down an ominous corridor, you find yourself all of a sudden in freefall through a myriad of Minecraft-esque blocky structures, the aim being to fall through a portal of light and into one of several tortured memories.
The memories in which you find yourself present a variety of challenges and dilemmas. It’s fair to say that insofar as a linear trajectory is pursued, the memories become gradually more perilous, not to mention creepier and more unsettling. From eerily suspended furniture and peculiar light-emitting (deadly light) contraptions; to scissor wielding-naked-headless hags and irradiated nazi doctors, there are more than enough twisted apparitions to unhinge even the most grounded psyche. You confront these horrors as you mount your search for repressed memories, manifested in tangible objects that you return to your bedroom at the end of each level, gradually making it somewhat more habitable, not to mention welcoming.
In terms of gameplay, the thing that first struck me was the extremely limited controls, which perhaps explains why the game does not include any form of initial tutorial. Even as you progress, it transpires that your controls are limited to movement (left analogue stick), jumping (X), and interacting (R2; R1). The controls are not the sharpest, and whilst certainly not terrible, I would’ve hoped for better orientation, particularly given how basic movement is.
This was particularly apparent during stages where the slightest movement in the wrong direction could mean the difference between life and death. Never was this more apparent than when slapping piles of books into the path of deadly beams of light strewn across a classroom. Trying to navigate to the next pile was frequently a sticky affair, and all too often the tilting of the analogue stick resulted in an unwieldy stagger in the opposite direction, deadly beams be damned!
The second thing that occurred to me was that there was a complete dearth of dialogue, and a resultant need to pay particularly close attention to the physical gestures and visual representations throughout the game. In fairness, this is done fairly well, and there is no mistaking the emotional state of both the Inner Friend and NPCs, whether by virtue of them being doubled over in pain, writhing in discomfort, or embracing prior selves in a comforting hug. Ultimately, this results in a somewhat poetic metaphor of a game, notwithstanding the deafening silence.
Regrettably, the aforementioned lack of dialogue – a symptom of a lack of character interactions – is thrown into ever-sharper relief by a veritable lack of music and tone variation, with a gentle and insufficiently eerie audio offering permeating the majority of the gameplay. This may have been intended to inject a low-key and sombre tone into the game, though it instead left me feeling unmoved by the whole experience, or at least less so than could have been the case with a peppering of ominous drums and screeching violins.
In fairness, there were moments of triumph, and whilst the overall audio-visual offering was lacking, there was one encounter, in particular, that was right on point. This involves a freakish, naked humanoid with an assortment of blue dots/balls for a face, who chases you with a pair of scissors. It’s bad (or good, for review purposes) enough that she relentlessly pursues you through tight corridors and from around concealed entrances; it’s worse (better) that she is fractionally faster than the Inner Friend, that her crazed run is creepy as hell, and that the ominous drumming music – the drumbeat is akin to a racing heartbeat – culminating in a truly intense scene. You need to interact with windows in order to smash them and jump through. Many of these are false windows with walls behind them, which are of course entirely useless, and only by interacting with the lit-up windows can you avoid her charge.
Safe at last… time to – oh hell, she’s back! That’s right – she chases you for an entire level, complete with the aforementioned fast-paced, creepy music. The game would have benefitted from more of these encounters, particularly in the early stages, in which threat to life came from inanimate objects, as opposed to moving, flesh and blood harbingers of death.
So, the gameplay is far from fantastic, but also far from terrible; the occasional gameplay gems also serve as atonement of sorts, albeit not total.
Graphically, The Inner Friend is more than adequate. Whilst by no means worthy of critical acclaim in this regard, the appearance of the Inner Friend himself is a visual triumph, and the graphics of the myriad environments and settings is impressive, to say the least. Light and shadow are exquisitely rendered, be it light spilling from windows or reflected in puddles; architecture has depth and contrast, adding substance to the settings; and the beasties encountered, be they hobbling irradiated nazi doctors (or patients?), or murderous naked hags, move and appear in a manner that makes them genuinely threatful.
Even the more inanimate scenes, some involving NPCs frozen in time, are skillfully presented. One in particular that sticks in my memory is that depicting a school shooting, with children frozen in the process of scrambling for cover or hiding. The poses and body positioning is organic and truly unsettling, and a job very well done.
Overall, The Inner Friend is a solid horror contender, if not a shining example of how to build suspense and tension. The controls are far from perfect, but adequate for you to get by, and whilst the audio offering is somewhat sub-par, the visuals go a long way towards making up for this, enhancing the immersive experience.