Preview

The Delights of Well-Designed Frights in Photorealistic Horror Game, The Beast Inside

The Beast Inside

The Beast Inside is an upcoming survival-horror game developed by the debut team at Illusion Ray Studios. The Kickstarter-funded title is a pleasure to the senses, from the eye-catching scenery to the ear-pleasing sounds. The various elements of the title combine to form an experience that is sure to leave it recognised as a great horror game. The Beast Inside features clever mechanics and well thought out puzzles, but it is not without a few faults. When discussing horror games, a few topics need to be addressed, including the world; the key to controlling emotions, sound; and the character who brings fans back for more, the antagonist.

Since the 1970s, many horror movie villains have been created—such as Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th, Michael Myers from Halloween, and Leatherface from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre—but most lack personality. What makes Freddy Krueger stand out from the others (except the fact that he is a pedophilic demon) is that he has character, snarky remarks, and toys with his prey, both mentally and verbally. The best part of the antagonist(s) of The Beast Inside is that it speaks and is not just a body moving in for the kill, like Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, or many horror villains. The Beast Inside begins from the perspective of the antagonist as it tries to decide on what tool is best to kill a lady (later revealed to be named Emma) who is pleading to be let go. Not until the end of this scene does the antagonist tell Emma that the person she is pleading for—Adam—is no longer present. Hearing the antagonist’s voice was a pleasant surprise, breaking The Beast Inside apart from the many other horror pieces that have a silent antagonist. The Beast Inside starts off by giving the player the knowledge that this entity has a voice and will use it. The next time the voice of the antagonist is heard is at the end of the demo, where it gives detail of what it is doing. The hints indicate a more compelling reason than to simply kill whoever lives in the house. Confidence, greed, and anger infuse the antagonist’s speech, making it feel more emotional.

The next time anything scary manifests is the appearance of a creepy bald person outside, seen from the second-storey window of a massive house. This person seems to be a minion to the voice heard in the opening, due to simply standing about stiffly and not fluidly moving as the antagonist in the opening, creating a stark contrast between them. The minion also displays more character than other video game horror enemies such as Slenderman, because it does more than pop out of the dark to scare the player, or appear to blindly stare. As with the antagonist, this minion has personality; it does not act as though it seeks to kill, but to scare. This apparition has no voice, but achieves its creepiness through acting as though it has knowledge of the house and its actions towards the main characters, which become topics the protagonists brings up in their respective journal-esque mechanics.

One mechanic that comes in handy is the voice recorder the main character of the first chapter—Adam—and notebook the protagonist of the second chapter—Nicolas— uses. The notebook and voice recorder mechanics help to keep the player from getting lost, increasing the sense of investment in the atmosphere. Both of the characters record what goes on around them, summarizing it into text form, with hints from the character’s perspective as to what to do next. In many survival-horror games, overlooking an item or not understanding where to go can be easy, especially in open hubs. The notes help the player understand what to do and keep the game flowing.

To the critical eye, The Beast Inside’s animations appear to be slightly stiff. Body movement is not as fluid as it could be, with the fingers in the opening scene being the biggest tell of this shortcoming. As the villain runs their finger over various tools, the finger stays straight, avoiding any semblance of friction. The next most prominent show of stiff animation is in the movements and swaying of Emma as she and protagonist Adam drive through the countryside. Emma’s torso feels rigid and could have used more emphasis on body mechanics. However, not all of the game’s animations are so stiff, and many people would not notice it.

The antagonist

Another problem with the animation is the lip syncing. The mouths seem to be slightly off because mouth shapes are not accentuated. When animating lips, as with bodies, emphasis needs to be added to please the human eye and avoid the uncanny valley. The Beast Inside seems to take the other direction, going subtly on lip movement, making mouths look as though they are not in the right position to make the sound, akin to older games from the PlayStation 2 era. This issue can be fixed by pushing the posing of the lips a little more, selling the shape of the mouth for the sound. Overall, most animations look great, meshing well with the lighting and the rhythms of the game’s sound, despite a few animations that stick out.

The audio design takes notes from the early Silent Hill games, using dead silence, strong ambient noises, and music to play with the player’s emotions. The silence of the environment, with only the wind as an accompaniment, feels unsettling in the night-time environments. Many people are easily spooked in the dark, and the absence of any music takes a possible source of comfort away from the player. The music—when it does play—gets the heart pumping and the adrenaline flowing and helps prepare the player for the scare. However, with the heightened sensitivity resulting from the audio, the scare will happen no matter how prepared a player is, as they are already too highly strung. The sound design does a wonderful job of making the player feel alone, secluded, and scared, and these emotions are enhanced by the visually stunning world.

The environment of The Beast Inside harkens to the scenery of Resident Evil VII, with the game taking place in a big house in the countryside. The layout helps make the player feel as though they are trapped in the middle of nowhere with a deranged beast. Outside the house is a large property that is barren, aside from a shed and another, larger structure, making the player feel vulnerable. The visuals are a treat to the eye, being well-lit with highly detailed props. Trees and plants look stellar and do not just resemble some flat cards bundled together, unlike many other games from the past, and even some modern games. The blood is bright and reflective, making it pop from the walls and shine when the player turns the lantern on it, helping with the unsettling feeling. The lighting and environment look almost photorealistic, making adventuring and interacting with the environment a joy.

The big house.

Scattered throughout the world are items and furniture with which the player can interact. Smaller items can be picked up and rotated to view them more closely. This mechanic is nothing new, but the developers have tried to make the player feel as though they are interacting with the world in a physical sense. To open drawers and doors, the player needs to click and hold on to the item, then pull the mouse back. The mechanic is novel and worth trying in a survival-horror game, but needs some refinement to make it more responsive. This level of interaction can be great for creating stressful situations, but, if not done correctly, could make the game feel unfair or break immersion. Often, to successfully open the door or drawer, players may need several tries or to completely reposition the character; these kinds of poorly executed interaction become a point of complaint, similar to the lock picking in Kingdom Come: Deliverance. This problem emerges most often when trying to move a heavy object. Such troubles cause a break in immersion, which is only mitigated by the sound design and music holding up the atmosphere and keeping nerves on high.

The scariest aspect of any game is the bugs, and The Beast Inside prototype demo has one big bug in the form of frame rate drops for players without top-notch graphics cards. I played The Beast Inside with a Nvidia Geforce GTX 780m and experienced issues, but Dom, from OnlySP’s media department, recorded the above gameplay with a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 and had no issues. That the project is stunning cannot be denied, but beauty means power, and this beast of a game needs it. In the opening cinematic, major frame rate issues emerged, with props loading in the view of the camera. After the cutscene, I chose to lower the graphics settings. Even with some of the lowest settings, The Beast Inside looks amazing. Disappointingly, for a while, the game continued to experience frame rate issues, but the problems suddenly went away after progressing further. Whether this issue was caused by background processes on the computer or unoptimized code in that section of the game is uncertain, but the game ran constantly at 30 frames-per-second once it was resolved. While these frame rate drops may be an isolated problem, the developers have plenty of time to look into and fix whatever caused them before the projected March 2019 release date on Steam.

The Beast Inside takes notes from the great horror titles of the past, making them the cornerstone off of which the game is built. Aside from the frame rate bugs, The Beast Inside is a solid and scary experience that fans of horror will need to play. The game breaks apart from critically acclaimed projects such as Outlast by incorporating the puzzles and self-defense. Just because players can defend themselves does not mean they are safe. The demo gives hope for a resurgence in the horror game scene, breaking away from the carbon copies of Amnesia and Outlast that plague digital storefronts by including challenging puzzles and a sinister, personable antagonist. The game was a joy to play through. On a couple of occasions, I needed to put the game down and distract myself due to feeling overwhelmed,which is how horror should be. Rather than stressing players out by having them chased, The Beast Inside focuses on well-designed frights.

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