Supermassive Games, the makers of VR titles Until Dawn: Rush of Blood (2016) and Tumble VR (2016), are coming out with a new psychological horror game for PSVR called The Inpatient that seems to offer a level of realism thanks to some very well-tuned facial motion capture. We went hands on at the Sony booth at this year’s E3 to find out just what Supermassive had in store.
Set in the Blackwood Sanatorium, the very same seen in Until Dawn (2015), I awake to find myself strapped to a chair in a dark room. Facing Jefferson Bragg, the owner of the Sanatorium, I’m told I have amnesia and that I desperately need to remember what happened ‘that night’. Bragg comes close, nearly touching my nose and motions to a shadowy figure in the corner, “The Doctor.”
Telling from Bragg’s Father Knows Best (1954) vibe and the weirdly antique devices and decor, I’m guessing we’re in the ’50s, some 60 years before Until Dawn took place.
From what I gather during the demo, the game makes heavy use of dialogue trees. Supermassive says these will eventually react via audio input, meaning you’ll be able to answer NPCs in real-time with your voice. For the purposes of the demo I answered the binary questions (“Yes, I remember.” – “No, I don’t remember”) with a simple button press of the dualshock 4 controller as the audio input option wasn’t available.
In effort to remember that fateful night, I jump into a memory sequence and find myself standing in a supply closet looking through wooden slats. A man is searching for me and shouting. Peering through the slats, I see that where his face should be is a blurry, unrecognizable mess. The faceless man is brandishing a strange flashlight in his hand, shouting frantically. I can’t move. He flings the door open and blinds me with the light, and suddenly I’m back in the strange chair with the fatherly Bragg.
Talking some more with the remarkably human-looking Bragg, I jump back and forth between the same memory sequence in search of more relevant details before he sedates me with a syringe and I’m carted off to my room by an orderly. I think I was wearing a doctor’s coat in the memory.
Now I’m in my room, seemingly ripped straight from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). I chat with the orderly a bit, a man with a kind face and an easygoing attitude. He suggests I take a nap and I oblige. And that’s when things get weird – well, weirder. I appear in a rotting corridor, not unlike the Sanatorium. A ghostly version of the orderly beckons me down the corridor, disappearing and reappearing within inches of my face (read: jump scare). Concluding the demo, I was faced with a fork in the nightmarish hall: follow the orderly from hell, or a strange deer-human chimera. Flipping a mental coin, I chase the deer-person and am immediately captured in a cage. Demo over. Fade to black.
Visually the game’s characters are extremely lifelike, showing a close attention to detail that was no doubt the result of belabored facial motion capture. Looking into each of their faces, I was left waiting for the uncanny valley to rear its ugly head, for the condescending smiles and eyebrow raises to lag or somehow tell my brain I was seeing clever, albeit imperfect digital puppets. The expectation never quite manifested during my brief time with The Inpatient demo.
Despite the intensely human-like character animations and excellent voice acting, I felt there were some slight issues with scale during the demo. I’m not a giant person, but looking down at myself and at the characters in front of me, I felt a twinge of regret that the game was fumbling somewhat on the immersion factor by making everyone a little bigger than real life would have them, something I found apparent when Bragg got up good and close to me.
Since it was only a 10-15 minute demo, I can’t say for sure how robust the dialogue system really is and how much affect you have on the world. Supermassive maintains that the full game will allow you to navigate different branches of the narrative and even experience different endings, something I’ll be looking forward to in the full review hopefully sometime soon.
No release date has been established for The Inpatient, but we’ll be keeping our eyes peeled in the meantime.