The Inner Friend Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One and PC
Horror, more than perhaps any other genre, is subject to the very specific whims of the audience. What can terrify one person might inspire nothing more than a yawn or a derisive laugh from someone else. Hereditary clawed it’s way deep into my bones but the people surrounding me at the cinema screening I attended laughed at everything. Was I wrong for having that reaction? Were they? No. Every person has a unique threshold of what scares them, accumulated from their own life experiences.
This came to mind as I played The Inner Friend, the latest horror title from PLAYMIND. The game has potent ideas, as it explores the nightmarish labyrinth of repressed memories of childhood trauma, but the style in which it communicates those ideas may prove to be a barrier for some.
The game adopts an abstract visual style, with characters appearing like partially deconstructed mannequins and a mix of environments that range from surrealist reinterpretations of childhood locations like schools and homes, and more minimalist spaces. You travel between zones by falling through an abyss full of fractal structures, gliding into one will launch the next phase of the game. Here you must explore your shattered psyche, getting from one end to the other through puzzle-solving, haunted by some mysterious creature that is regularly seen only as shadows.
The game is undeniably stunning and the puzzles are inventive, among the stronger that I have played in recent memory. The designs are often peculiar but the puzzle structures are very intuitive, usually only taking one failed attempt to grasp, they either rely on sequencing or good timing but they are always challenging and rewarding to finish.
The issue comes from the horror element. Perhaps The Inner Friend will get under someone’s skin but it was simply too abstract for me. I like an element of reality to my horror, from the pervading sense of physical danger in the Outlast or Alien: Isolation games, to the twisted perversions of familiar safe spaces like Silent Hill and PT, there needs to be something tangible for me to connect to or I will feel nothing. The Inner Friend relies too much on surrealism to feel real, it is more like a graphical showcase than an engrossing narrative experience.
Some players may find this distinct approach operating on their specific frequency, there will certainly be people who are susceptible to The Inner Friend’s disjointed aesthetic. As a puzzle game, this has just the right level of challenge. As a visual experience, the design is certainly eye-catching. As a horror game, unfortunately, there are more effective titles out there.