by Johnathan Irwin
reviewed on PC
A Good Idea On Paper
I love horror games. If you're one of our frequent readers over the last few years, you'll have seen me reviewing anywhere from a couple to a trove of horror games in any given time frame. Some scare the daylights out of me, some put me to sleep, and some... some probably look better on paper than the final product. That's the fate of Inner Voices, a Lovecraftian adventure with an atmosphere of darkness, jumpscares, and voice acting ranging from awful to mediocre. Some of my favorite horror titles have had abysmal voice acting such as the original Silent Hill, and the love-it-or-hate-it game Siren. However, even forgiving the voice acting woes this is still a prime example of an idea perhaps lost in translation from the mind of the creator, to the game itself.
Making something Lovecraftian is rather ambiguous. H.P. Lovecraft's brand of horror was equal parts mystery and madness with a cohesive narrative. It's that last part that is often lacking in games and movies that attempt it, as without constant internal monologues or text reference, it goes from a madness that Lovecraft intended to a dark M.C. Escher affair.
Inner Voices drops the player into the role of John Blake. In a world of darkness, he doesn't know how he came to be there, or why, and finds himself to be suffering from a horrible case of amnesia. Approached by an ominous figure, he learns that to escape this madness he must also learn the truth of his past. By doing so, he will earn runes that hold the key to his exit from this dark void.
Essentially, the game is boiled down to traversing randomized corridors and after a certain amount of time in them, you'll inevitably stumble into one of John's memories (you can also find some runes outside of memories should you look carefully, I found two but I felt more pressured onward towards the next memory segment.) It's your time in the corridors where the game's filler content becomes glaringly apparent, as well as when it feels more like a work of M.C. Escher's artwork taking a dark turn rather than the mystique of the void Lovecraft provides.
There's no feeling of being lost to worry about either, as after a number of doors it's guaranteed you'll progress to another memory. Thankfully, the more you play the more there are some scares to be had, but I wouldn't exactly say it was the visual presentations that made me jump, more it was the sudden audio queues but it worked, however briefly. Again, not Lovecraftian as in that sense there's supposed to be overwhelming dread and gloom, not boredom with a sudden jump now and then.
The story itself is more of a void than the world you'll play in. While the individual memories themselves are interesting (minus the voice acting), it's what transpires in the world John traverses that feels severely lacking. Interactions with the cryptic David are often short lived, as are interactions with others, and where some claim to be answers to questions it often just left me scratching my head. Where I start making sense of one thing, the character starts coming to entirely different conclusions. When I make a decision that seems obvious, the main character laments as though another (much more horrible) option would've been the route to take.
It could be that John is simply going mad and I'm not experiencing his anguish because the presentation leaves me detached. It could be I'm seeing the story more as an observer, like David, a subtle guide with no real emotion to the plight of the lead role. Whatever aim was there, completely missed the mark as the delivery ultimately feels lost on me. That's how I feel, even after conceding that I'd have to try to ignore the voice acting to get any seriousness from the plot.
It's always ambitious to take this route, and for that much I have to at least congratulate the developer on daring to tread this difficult subgenre. I can see what was supposed to be, and how if it was able to be pulled off, could've become one of the greats of indie horror games. Luckily the memories themselves are interesting enough that I kept pushing forward, even if the 'here and now' aspect of the game left me feeling wanting. It's perhaps those alone that keep Inner Voices from falling out of my favor. Those moments are what save the day and bring the game out on the other side as a decent journey for a low price.
Memories offer intriguing glances at the main character's past, it did offer a few scares
Much of the game outside of memories is boring, narrative doesn't quite sync up, voice acting is rather poor