Playmind’s The Inner Friend is a game that will not make you feel good. Indeed, it is a game that will leave a strange feeling upon finishing the demo Playmind has available at Pax.
The Inner Friend is an experience to push you, to lay a feeling of dread and building tension on you and then while your preoccupied by what is right around the corner it poses questions of depth and intensity little seen in most major titles let alone an indie studio crafting a game about childish nightmares.
The Inner Friend is billed as a psychological horror game by the team behind it, yet that can perhaps give you the wrong impression of what this game truly is. Bloodshed and gory are noticeably absent from this title and this is a game that is less Outlast and more Inside and Pans Labyrinth in terms of tension and managing an ever building sense of creeping dread.
Indeed a word I would probably use over horror is atmospheric, intensely and intimately so. The way it handles the drifting shadows and flashes of light tell a tale and convey some sort of purpose, nothing is in this game by accident, nothing is here without contributing further to the games heady story.
The Inner Friend’s handling of its environments and usage of storytelling via its settings and background details is inspired and harkens to titles such as Limbo but in a manner that breaks out of the side scrolling constraints of those games and expands it to a fully 3D world of childhood nightmares and dark shadows.
This is an experience that breathes and finds itself happy in darkness and a suffocating claustrophobia, an always present sense of being watched, a shadowy figure somewhere just off screen always reaching out just behind you to plunge you into terror and the turmoil of your past and the nightmares that define it.
The Inner Friend seeks to blend together a troubled and darkly brilliant cocktail of Dante’s Inferno and the theories of Carl Jung and classical philosophy. It is a surrealist tale of fungi covered monsters pretending to be classroom teachers, and a rampaging murderous haircutter coated in a layer of fur with a giant pair of scissors. Guillermo del Toro would be proud of the surreal and horror aesthetic of it all mixed with its quietly rich sketch of trauma, childhood fears, and minimalistic musings on the inner subconscious and gruesome truths embedded within ourselves.
This is a game that soars when its horror elements are wedded to it’s quiet, contemplative moments. Walking through an old bedroom at the end of each level, slowly restoring it back to its proper state, returning it to sanity is a wordless, near music free experience of beauty and emotion that can steal your heart right away if you’re not careful.
That minimalism extends to the UI and gameplay of The Inner Friend, the game only uses two buttons and the analog sticks. All players can do is walk around, jump, and interact with the rare, and I do mean rare object. The screen is devoid of any icons or indicators, nothing clutters your view of the beautiful design and environments of the game, a clean, cold, almost lonely view greets you, further instilling in you the sense of isolation and fear that forms a crucial foundation for the title.
Over the two levels I played The Inner Friend demonstrated differing ways of telling its story. In the first I was tasked with navigating an old, desolate school, a ravenous monster slowly stalking you throughout, only shadows lit by shattered lights and battered lamps cast the glow to give you insight of its whereabouts. A building, earthshaking rumble slowly crescendoing toward you as plunge further into the school and its dark secrets.
Light based puzzles stop your progress at various points throughout, yet these puzzles instead of breaking up the tension and cutting into the games strong and eerie ambience lend it a distinctly special air, with a palpable shake and hum coming from the various lights and lasers as you seek to piece together the correct way to divert and shift the various beams in order to find a way out.
The second level operates very differently, presently itself as a more traditional and classically based horror level, with the level finding the player racing away from the terror of every little kid who ever feared going to get a haircut, a villian who surely must have come from Pans Labyrinth mangerie of creatures. Tense, brimming with dread and a white knuckle thrist to survive by smashing through the next mirror into a new disfigured area of the hair saloon, it was a series of moments playing far more into the horror side of The Inner Friend then most. Indeed, the developer I spoke to mentioned that it was probably the most traditionally horror based level in the game. Yet, the way it served to complement the level I played before it was wonderfully done and showed the potential capacity of the game to subvert your expectations of what is going to come next and of what The Inner Friend is really all about.
The Inner Friend is a nightmarish experience brimming with potential and promise, one that leaves you in a cold sweat and riveted to every single fleeting image racing across the screen. This is a game that leaves you with a feeling of dread, of a terror just beyond the edges of the screen. It seeks to let itself fall deeply into the philosophical musings of 20th century thinkers and the founders of modern day psychological thought. A cold and isolating inquiry into the thoughts and questions of childhood trauma and a hellish, darkly beautiful, nightmare quest to see if the shadows and terrors of your past can be released, allowing room for you to recover and to finish the job of rebuilding your life from your darkest fears. From what I’ve played so far, I think it’s fair to so it’s on the right track.
The Inner Friend is developed by Playmind and is currently scheduled for a September 2018 release.