There’s never really a shortage of unnerving games to pick from. Whether it’s the indie scene or big budget releases there’s always something lurking that can satisfy that craving for a few jump scares and some bodily mutilation. FOBIA: St. Dinfna Hotel though comes across as being a bit different, at least in the way it presents itself as almost escape room-like. There’s no doubting the Resident Evil vibes it gives off, but it was the suggestion of more involved puzzles that got me curious about its take on survival horror. Can it push its way past the obvious comparisons to the most successful in the genre to stand out on its own bleeding stumps… or does it need to die a quick death?
FOBIA: St. Dinfna Hotel sees you playing the part of Roberto Leite Lopes – an investigative journalist who’s been asked to come to the remote town of Treze Trilhas to look in to the strange history that’s plagued the area. Using the titular hotel as a base, Roberto spends some time trying to figure out why he’s there and what has been going on, but nothing really seems to be coming to light. Cue one rainy night when he walks into his bathroom to see a mysterious figure materialise in the bath before he blacks out. Waking up with a bloody cut on the back of his head, Roberto soon discovers that something has gone badly wrong and he might have been unconscious for more than a couple of hours given the state of the world around him. With the hallways on fire, demonic looking creatures roaming the corridors, and some nightmarish lantern-clutching deformity stalking him, the only choice Roberto has to stay alive is to go deeper into the mystery.
Essentially, FOBIA: St. Dinfna Hotel is one big puzzle to be solved, with each section having smaller puzzles that unlock further access to the floors and rooms. Key to the exploration is an interesting use of a digital camera where the night vision mode reveals a different world in the same space. Looking through the lens shows an alternate reality/time period and items can be moved between the two, as well as using that view as a passage around path blockages and obstacles. It’s introduced right at the beginning of the nightmare and manages to be consistently in play without getting into over-used territory. It definitely helps that’s there’s a burnt hand print in view whenever there’s a critical reason to engage it, but it’s also hiding a few secrets for those that look more often. Other tools are acquired on the way like crowbars, pliers and keycards, and coming across these will give reason to backtrack through other areas and see what’s been stashed there. Sometimes it’s story related, sometimes it’s simply health and ammo, and occasionally you’ll find upgrade tokens. There’s a good chance it’ll contain some sort of beastie too.
The combat in FOBIA is only with firearms, which on the surface seems OK when a shambling spikey horror is heading towards you… there’s oodles of times to fire off a few shots at an exposed heart to take it down. Get within a couple of meters though and you end up wishing for a melee weapon as the creatures suddenly put on a turn of speed and you can’t track and shoot fast enough. They impart a lot of damage too! With only 2 real enemy types outside the bosses – hulking humanoids and some wall-crawling spidery things – it doesn’t take much to work out how to deal with them. Unfortunately, the combat isn’t the game’s forte and you end up thinking that it would be a whole lot nicer to just not have to engage with the beasts at all. Even if you kill them all, every now and then you experience a kind of blackout which aside from obscuring everything in the environment tends to signal there are more monsters just loaded in. Occasionally you’ll walk through an area that’s clear, then revisit a few seconds later only to find something monstrous lurking in a dark corner; or an invisible spider-thing will suddenly start munching on your arm. It’s quite unpredictable, on the first playthrough at least.
On the plus side there’s no shying away from the puzzles, and there are all sort of types to come across. Ranging from simple keycodes to intricate solutions for locked boxes, and from music scales to computer locked doors; there’s a very good variety and some are generated randomly each time too. Arguably, it was these that kept me playing more than the mystery you’re supposed to be uncovering. Most have clues nearby them to allow you to solve with ease, though every now and then you come up against a real headscratcher, which probably needs you to pay more attention to the surroundings as well as the various documents that get picked up. Quite a few are optional as well, with only the core story elements needing completing, and the number of others are logged and contribute to the overall rank at the end. In an interesting touch from the developers, they’ve not converted any text in the environments from Portuguese, so what you see in the hotel is like being there, though there are translations when you read items… there’s no need to have a phrase book on hand.
Voiceovers are in whatever native language you pick too, though they aren’t the greatest to be fair, but then this isn’t a multi-million dollar project. The audio design as a whole is there to provide atmosphere, and character voices are secondary to that. It’s the hotel that’s supposed to be the star so that’s where the immersion is. It’s not nailed on, there are plenty of spots where the ambient noises are too loud, or you start to notice that they’re on a loop and therefore they lose their sense of foreboding. Yet the volume increases that come with certain actions can break the quiet in a way that will put you on edge. Building the game in Unreal Engine 5 also means the details and lighting are covered well and lend a suitably creepy aesthetic to pretty much every room. On PS5 and Xbox Series X there’s an option for raytracing to toggle on to make the most of the reflection modelling. Strangely, there’s a problem with the controller speed at the start where movement and turning is glacially slow. It can be tuned in the options, but is a bizarre default and plays havoc with any kind of gun play. Aside from that it all runs pretty smoothly from start to finish.
I could never really shake the feeling that I was playing a budget Resident Evil – the inventory system, the interactions, combining items, documents… it was all very familiar. I wouldn’t say it was bad for it though, and it kept me entertained for the 10 hour-ish runtime. There are new game+ options for those wanting to head back in, and alternate choices can be made when it comes to the finale, so there’s an incentive to at least keeping a save slot to revisit that. However, the slightly fussy combat and bullet sponge bosses aren’t the most compelling, and detract from an interesting idea about being trapped in a building and using only your wits and the clues from other survivors to make your way to the exit. FOBIA: St. Dinfna Hotel has a relatively low entry price though, and that makes it slightly more attractive than it could have been, and the runtime is just about right too. If you’re in the mood from some mild psychological horror, claustrophobic rooms and the odd scare then it’s worth checking in.
A PS5 review copy of FOBIA: St. Dinfna Hotel was provided by Pulsatrix Studios PR team and the game is available now for around £25 on PC, Xbox and PlayStation.