It’s been a good year for horror fans. The Resident Evil 2 remake and Blair Witch showed there’s still a market within the mainstream for spooky games, while indie darlings like Devotion and Layers of Fear 2 raised the blood pressure of even the most hardened horror enthusiasts. However, it’s not going to end on a high note with The Beast Inside, the first game from Polish developer Illusion Ray Studio. Although it does contain some interesting ideas and displays some commendable ambition, The Beast Inside unfortunately lacks the polish and intelligent game design that comes from more experienced studios.
One area in which The Beast Inside definitely lives up to its ambitions is the presentation. This game is gorgeous. Drawing on its history in 3D film making, Illusion Ray Studio used photogrammetry technology to lovingly create some truly stunning photorealistic environments in the Unreal 4 engine. This level of detail also extends to some genuinely unsettling enemy designs and almost too lifelike blood and gore. The sound design is equally impressive. Ambient and environmental sounds add character to the locations, while the chilling score comprised primarily of discordant clangs and strings is appropriately unsettling. To sum it up: this game oozes atmosphere, and it looks - and sounds - damn good while doing it.
It’s a shame that same level of polish doesn’t extend to the rest of the game, which can ultimately be described as “well at least you tried.” The story takes place across two intertwined timelines, and while it does set up an interesting mystery, the payoff doesn’t feel worth the effort by the end. Plot threads remain unresolved or at times completely contradict one another, and the exposition heavy monologues of the protagonists often explain the blatantly obvious while ignoring the questions most players are likely to have. The addition of multiple endings is nice, though they seem to primarily be triggered by a final choice at the end of the game, making replaying the story feel like a slog just to reach that final decision. Ultimately, The Beast Inside’s narrative is a lot of interesting ideas thrown together without much focus.
The gameplay suffers from the same issue. The Beast Inside is part puzzler, part survival horror, part first-person shooter, part action-adventure, and part walking simulator. But instead of taking the best elements of each of these genres and combining them into a unique experience, the game instead just jumps between these wildly different genres from chapter to chapter, creating a disorientating, convoluted experience that introduces mechanics and then just as quickly takes them away. Couple this with some awful bugs (some of which are game breaking and completely prevent further progress) and patchy enemy AI, and you end up with a gameplay experience that is more frustrating than it is scary.
And the jump scares. Oh my God, the jump scares. These are such an unnecessary inclusion given how genuinely creepy the atmosphere is, how unnerving certain beats of the story are, and how tense some of the enemy encounters can become (when the AI works). The second half of the game feels like walking through one of those amusement park “haunted houses”, where every few moments something jumps out at the player accompanied by a loud noise. This isn’t scary. It’s cheap and lazy.
Although The Beast Inside is lacking when it comes to execution, one can see that at its core are some good ideas from a creative, passionate group of people. With some more experience in game development which will give its work that much needed level of polish, Illusion Ray Studio may well find itself making some of the most memorable horror experiences in gaming.
The Beast Inside (Reviewed on Windows)
The game is average, with an even mix of positives and negatives.
One can clearly see the ambition in The Beast Inside, but the developer's lack of experience means it doesn't actually reach those heights.