Survival horror borrows the game systems of the Capcom masterpiece, but will it be enough to hit the mark?
Despite the name, it is easy to stumble upon; Phobia – St. Dinfna Hotel had already caught our attention from the first demo released on Steam. After trying it, we were quite surprised by the work Pulsatrix had done so far while noting some obvious weaknesses – inherent in the game’s skeleton – that would hardly have been corrected before the release.
The Brazilian development studio is made up of big fans of survival horror, and not just for the setting it wanted to give to its creature. It is a title that recalls the past, works with a distinctly old-school structure, and has all the strengths and weaknesses of the games of a few generations ago.
Yet, those similarities are evident with Resident Evil 7 (with many elements that appear to be copied from scratch), managing to raise it above the average quality level of the genre productions.
Phobia – St. Dinfna Hotel, the story
The story takes hold with a prologue that puts us in the shoes of a mysterious man who tries to escape from prison before prematurely meeting death at the hands of a huge and shady mutated figure who unequivocally resembles a Tyrant. We will meet him at specific moments in the game, but he will never be a constant threat that will hunt you down or suddenly surprise you like the Nemesis.
Immediately after the crime, we discover that the real protagonist of Phobia – St. Dinfna Hotel finds himself in one of the hotel rooms to investigate alleged paranormal phenomena and inexplicable disappearances. After a close correspondence via e-mail with a local woman to organise the trip to Treze Trilhas, the journalist Roberto Leite Lopes finds himself alone, without receiving a reply and with a strange camera that reveals the presence of different timelines that intertwine with the real world.
Say there shortly, and after solving the first puzzles to get out of the room (which immediately make clear the non-linear nature of the game), the hotel turns out to be dilapidated, abandoned by men and women but manned by terrible creatures that roam along the corridors. Some text files, along with other clues, point in the direction of a strange religious cult with inscrutable aims; simultaneously, the apparitions of a little girl wearing a gas mask begin.
The narrative elements will then find an intertwining along the course of the adventure, which does not differ much from the total ten-hour count (additional backtracking and the possibility of blocking separately). Phobia – St. Dinfna Hotel, unlike many independent and non-independent titles, has subtitles in our language so that you can enjoy the story without too many worries.
After the first part, however, pure gameplay reigns supreme, with a successful blend of survival horror and puzzle game. We say this because the puzzles in question, in addition to being very stimulating, challenging and never unjust, make up a non-negligible part of the progression, marked by the ability to find solutions to all the numerous obstacles you will encounter.
Consider that Phobia – St. Dinfna Hotel mainly stages (in addition to some external sortie that we do not reveal to you) the hotel, completely disastrous, with badly collapsed floors, unreachable areas, several wide laps to make and many doors and gates barred by padlocks, magnetic cards, numerical combinations to find and even chains.
It will be up to you to find the right key or the object you will need at any time to have any chance of getting out of the hotel safe and sound. It will not be easy because the game tends to make you carefully analyse the surrounding scenarios by forcing you to rummage through the drawers and the furniture and using the camera that allows you to see beyond human possibilities.
The object should not be recalled at random (although, in some cases, it is convenient, given the possibility of finding ammunition and medkits in another place). Still, every time there will be the imprint of a hand to signal the presence of a key place that changes and gives you free access to parts of the hotel that you previously saw only as a normal wall. The same happens with some particular puzzles, which we appreciated, for example, r inventiveness and the diversity of approach and interaction required of the player.
All this mass of roads to open, secrets to find, and solutions not exactly in front of the eyes forces the player to continuous backtracking between one floor and another of the building, which initially even lacks the buttons in the elevator (yes, you’ll have to find those too). The constant coming and going is more intense than the average survival horror. If you add to this the impossibility of being able to consult the map at any time, those who have great ease in getting lost could lengthen the average time to get to the credits.
The maps are posted on the walls of each floor, and you will therefore have to make a mental image to remember well all the routes and what you will have left behind to retrieve later.
To assist you in these operations are the famous trunks that function as communicating vessels just like Resident Evil, the rescues at the clocks that replace the typewriters, the inventory and the management of identical weapons and objects (such as even sounds) to those of Resident Evil 7 (you can find the games of the series on Amazon), from which Fobia – St. Dinfna Hotel also borrows the combat system.
However, borrowing it does not mean doing it as Resident Evil 7 because it is precise during the fighting that the first flaws come out in Phobia – St. Dinfna Hotel. Despite a very good overall impact, with specific moments in which you will almost feel like you are playing an apocryphal chapter of the seventh episode of the Capcom saga, from the moment in which the first monster appears in front of you, you will realise some important limitations related to the Enemy AI.
Although the management of the impact points has improved compared to the demo, making the weapons more precise, the opponents’ behaviour did not convince us at all. The main creatures, which can be killed more quickly if you aim for the open heart, do nothing but dangle undisturbed along the game environments, suddenly snapping with lightning speed only when you get too close. Therefore, the possibility emerges of managing them peacefully by staying a few meters behind, without them taking much interest in your presence.
The most obvious problems are enemies that can be described as a middle ground between the spiders and the headcrabs of Half-Life, which, if not seen in time (and it happens often), are impossible to avoid. If two or three units man the area, and you run into an attack from them, you will be forced to suffer them all in a row without the possibility of freeing yourself or running away in time before the script with the next animation starts. If the combat system is therefore perfectible, the rest of Phobia – St. Dinfna Hotel is really of a good standard.
Along the game environments, in addition to the text files that deepen the story and give clues to overcome the stages of the barrage, you will find strange prisms that you will need to upgrade the paraphernalia. The pistol, the shotgun, the machine gun and more that we do not reveal to you can be equipped and associated with the directional keys (yes, exactly, this too as in Resident Evil 7), but also improved capacity, rate of fire and maximum bullets. The clashes will not be so frequent, which is why you can do without some of these upgrades, to a large extent overabundant.
The technical sector of the game also defends itself quite well, and good use is made of the Unreal Engine, with only low-resolution elements emerging with close-up shots. The care for the rooms, the furniture, and the atmosphere, is evident. Although it is not a title that uses unnecessary jumpscare, the atmosphere works and manages to spread the right anxiety without ever leading to clichés or abused gaming situations.
Suppose you love the setting of the latest Resident Evil (which you can find on Amazon). In that case, the horror atmosphere and an important dose of puzzles in an old-school context, Phobia – St. Dinfna Hotel is the title that best embodies this mix.
Version reviewed: PC