Hands-On: The Inpatient is the most visually impressive PSVR game yet

Among all of the games in the PlayStation press conference this year, a spooky looking VR title immediately caught my attention. It looked to me like the perfect combination of psychological horror and jump scares, so I went out of my way to make sure I got a hands on with it at the Sony booth at E3 2017.

The Inpatient is from Supermassive Games, who previously created PS4 horror game Until Dawn. It’s set in the same universe, sixty years before the events of that game, and takes place in Blackwood Sanatorium. You play the amnesiac protagonist, struggling to understand frightening memories that resurface as you’re being “treated” by the head doctor.

A Cryptic Tale

I’m not sure at what point in the narrative I jumped in for my hands-on experience, but the roughly fifteen minute demo was certainly cryptic. I’m alright with mystery; that’s how I like my horror. There were faceless guards, jump scares, and a very Hannibal-esque (the show, not the movie) reindeer demon that left me wanting to know more. I also left the booth with an elevated heart rate, so that’s gotta be a good sign.

Gameplay (or what I experienced of it) consisted of dialogue choices, some light interactive elements, and some movement around your cell. It was not very gameplay heavy, which is unsurprising considering the developer, but what is there is engaging.

From what I could tell, the focus was in enveloping the player in the atmosphere of the creepy old hospital. And The Inpatient absolutely achieves that goal.

Beautiful Atmosphere

The first thing I thought when I saw the trailer was, “Is this really a PSVR game?” PSVR can be a great experience, but it’s no secret that's it's the least powerful of the big three VR headsets. When I saw how good The Inpatient looked in person, I was truly impressed. The visuals are phenomenal. The hospital is filled with interesting details, from the dirty floors and dust floating through the air to the raging snowstorm outside my barred window. It's rare a location is so lovingly realized, even in the VR space.

The character models (the old doctor especially) are exceptionally good. When he leans forward as he’s talking to you while you’re strapped down, I could almost feel his breath on me. If that sounds creepy, yes. Yes, it was. It’s rare to see a game that looks this good in VR, and to see it on the relatively underpowered PSVR was a delightful surprise. The game was running on a PS4 Pro rather than a normal system, but The Inpatient still stands head and shoulders above what we've seen from other PSVR titles running on the same console. 

Even if this game wasn’t intriguing (it is) I’d still recommend checking it out simply as a tech demo. If the rest of the game looks as good as what I saw, I’m really looking forward to exploring Blackwood Sanatorium in its entirety.

Movement and motion sickness

Not everyone will be so eager to explore The Inpatient, however, because movement might spark motion sickness issues for some. I played The Inpatient with a PS4 controller, which was totally fine for the most part because the character is sitting for the majority of the demo.

At first, you’re really only using the controller to select dialogue options, I had no issues with that. There is a clever scene where you’re in a wheelchair going down a hallway, which was especially engaging because I played the demo while seated. Just when I thought my character simply never moved (which would be fine,) I was given control of the inpatient to explore the cell.

Unfortunately, as is often the issue when using a controller in VR, the disconnect between your character’s movement and your actual stationary position can cause problems. You use the right stick to turn, and the left stick to move forward, and my brain was super not into it. I have a pretty nausea-proof stomach, and I was getting a little woozy. Someone who is very sensitive might have more serious problems.

Again, this was only a brief demo, so I don’t know how much of the game will consist of this sort of movement, or if some kind of teleporation mechanic will be implemented. I also don’t know if this is the finalized way you’ll be exploring, but it’s something to be aware of if you’re susceptible to motion sickness.

Movement issues aside (which are not unique to The Inpatient,) I’m really looking forward to playing the finished game. The enigmatic narrative, flat-out beautiful visuals, and unconventional gameplay left me impressed, and I’m looking forward to checking myself back in when The Inpatient is released on PSVR exclusively this year.

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