The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker Review
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Nintendo Switch, PC and Microsoft Xbox One
There's something inherently B-movie and schlocky about FMV games, a sub-genre that's been around for around 25 years. The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker may feature crisp HD video and delve into some profound concepts such as truth or loss, but it still manages to conjure the same Friday night video nasty feel, just with a more sophisticated atheistic.
The story is relatively simply. Therapist Dr Dekker has been found murdered and you must take over care of his patients. You’ll need to speak to them, both in an attempt to heal them but also to get to the bottom of the mystery of who killed your predecessor. Created by Tim and Lynda Cowles, developed by D'Avekki Studios and brought to the PlayStation 4 courtesy of Wales Interactive, The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker is an experimental narrative and character driven game initially released on PC before receiving the home console treatment.
At first I felt there wasn't much in the way of story regarding the untimely death of Dr Dekker, but then a patient happened to mention seeing another during the time window for the murder. That's when things really started getting interesting. The characters are well conceived, their psychoses which may or may not be actual manifestations of supernatural abilities, intricately woven into this Lovecraftian horror story lending to an existential dread constantly creeping up on you at all times.
The problem with The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker comes from its interface and by extension, its core game mechanic. You're required to ask questions of your patients to advance your sessions and thus the story. Sometimes the questions are obvious, sometimes not so much. Your character does keep notes which act at hints but I found that the games attempt to capture the essence of an actual conversational exchange lacking. The game itself gives you the best tip of all, to work around the mechanic at the heart of the game by only typing key words. That way you won't get stuck because you weren't writing the exact question the game was waiting for. Once embraced, it leads to a quick and easy back & forth ironically making the conversations flow more naturally even if you are technically only giving one word responses.
Then there’s the traffic light system. Every patient starts with a red light with the goal to get them to open up and go green. The game only needs you to get them to amber to proceed through the game however, the hints screen again letting you know that to get them to really open up, you'll need to think outside the box and start typing your own questions – or indeed keywords. And this is where the problem lay. On PC, I imagine this process is smooth. Typing in your questions and responses via the PS4's text input is laborious at best. Even with a skilled hand it's cumbersome and time consuming. You can utilise the PS4's second screen app to type instead but oddly this option still requires you to use the gamepad to bring up the text input box in the first place. The app itself was also barely stable when I used it and I found going back to the clunky typing on the game pad was actually preferable. As I played I pondered if the PS4 had a working keyboard peripheral I could be using instead, when I realised that a working touch screen interface that didn't depend on a secondary app might be a decent compromise. I then realised I was probably describing the Nintendo Switch version.
Leaving the technical aspects of the port, I'd like to focus on the positives. The characters are compelling, each with a distinct personality and as hitherto mentioned in a bizarrely brilliant twist, a different type of “madness”. As you explore these characters, eking out information from your patients over the day to day sessions I found myself drawn into the plot and the mystery to Dr Dekker's death. The fact that you can jump in and out of sessions with patients at nearly any time, the game putting this down to your day simply “blurring together” was a nice touch that meant you could move on to a different character with a different line of questioning if you ever got stuck. And you will get stuck, often I reckon. At first it will be funny as you're met with a series of charmingly shot responses letting you know they don't have an answer for you. Or perhaps you asked something inappropriate and they want to steer you back on course, a figurative wink to the player as if to let you know the writers already knew you’d ask that. But after a number repetitions it can get frustrating and you may find yourself having to make bigger and bigger deductive leaps to figure out what the game wants you to ask next.
If you truly get stuck, hitting up on the D-pad will simply list the series of questions you need to get the patient to that amber light, but I found the inclusion of this option questionable as because of its inclusion, it’s possible to simply play the game by asking every question the game offers up with almost no creative input from the player. Perhaps if the questions were hidden behind the hints? I appreciate however it’s a delicate balance with this sort of thing because if the game is too difficult, too inaccessible, then people won’t enjoy it as much.
In a nice touch, The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker picks a different killer each playthrough, to keep you guessing and ad re-playability. This though has its own issues, in so much that if a different killer can be revealed at the end of each play through maybe the journey to get there isn't as consequential as the creators of this story would have liked? Like so many other branching narrative games, I believe it does warrant multiple playthroughs but whether or not you want to do it for every single possible ending is down to you reader.