by Johnathan Irwin
reviewed on PC
While prison quality-of-life varies throughout the world, there's a universal consistent among every citizen from every corner of the globe; NO ONE WANTS TO GO TO PRISON. It's just a simple matter of fact, whether innocent or guilty, no one wants the life behind bars. Caged like an animal. Prisons are becoming popular in gaming again, slowly but surely, with games like Prison Architect and the Escapists series focusing on aspects of prison life that make a good game. Then along comes Inmates, a game that uses the prison setpiece in a far different way.
Rather than a focus on life behind bars, Inmates takes a turn down a path that has clear cut inspirations from the horror-based prison media. Through my playtime the environment, the puzzles, and the initially ambiguous narrative brought back memories of everything from The Suffering and Silent Hill 2 to more recent adventures such as Daylight. There is some classy content in Inmates, but getting to it is a bit of a jarring mess. We have the key readers, let's leave the cell and discover the mysteries and horrors of the dilapidated prison we inhabit.
Waking up behind bars, players step into the role of Jonathan; an inmate with no clue how he came to be imprisoned, where the prison is at, or why he is incarcerated in the first place. Seeing the words "Home Sweet Home" scrawled upon the wall of the well worn cell, it's clear that he was not the first to be in this particular cell. And yet, there's no sound to be heard other than the storm outside, and the creaking of the aging catwalks through the prison. Jonathan is alone.
Determined not only to escape, but to find the answers he's looking for about his incarceration, players will find themselves dealing with very simple puzzles, slow walking speeds, and a severe lack of scares. The prison itself really nails the look I'd expect from a prison-based horror game, but the rest of it is severely lacking. Inmates is a relatively short package that can be wrapped up in 3 to 4 hours, with little difficulty unless it's brought on by a glitch. Towards the end of the game, I encountered a glitch that dragged out my playtime because it wasn't readily apparent to me that it was in fact a glitch until my attempt to go through a door I needed to progress just took me inside of a set of walls (the slower walking speed during this time added on an additional 20 minutes to my playtime).
Despite my harsh criticism, I didn't outright hate Inmates. There's actually one important piece to the overall package that I think made the trip through the game worth it, and that's the overall story.
Think About It
The story the players will experience throughout is sparse at first, but the little trickles you receive as you progress kept me asking more questions. The mystery surrounding not only Jonathan, but other people within the prison who go mostly unseen, kept tugging at my curiosity and pushed me onward through the game where my actual entertainment had given up at the beginning of hour two. I wanted to know why Jonathan was here, and why this prison was a paranormal site rather than a normal prison. Towards the end of the game, in the last half hour or so, the answers began pouring out. Quickly. You may put the pieces together more rapidly than they spill out once they start falling into place, but it not only brought reason to the story but an ending that felt like a bittersweet closure, rather than a gut wrenching open-end so many of my favorite (and least favorite) horror titles insist upon.
The voice acting may not be award winning, and the writing may be too little to justify an award in the long run, but where so much of the game came up short I can definitely say I was satisfied with the story. I didn't like how long it took to get the ball rolling on the narrative, but given the outcome I understand why it is mostly contained until the ending minutes.
Is Inmates one of the better horror games I've played? No. Is it one of the worst I've played? Far from it. Inmates has two things going for it, absolutely nailing it on the aesthetic of the setting and pulling me in with a desire to know the outcome of the story. It's a short chore to work through, but one that I can say that I'm glad I did.
Very well done rundown prison environment, desire to know the outcome of the story drives the player to the finish
Slow walking, simple puzzles, lack of actual horror