Preview: A Wake Inn – Old-Timey Horror

There are a couple of exciting looking horror titles coming to virtual reality (VR) headsets this year, with VR Bros’ A Wake Inn being one of them. VRFocus has been closely following its development for a while now, thanks to its narrative which finds you embodying a mechanised doll as well as its central gameplay where you’re confined to a wheelchair for the entire experience. The studio has now released a taster of what’s to come, showcasing an experience which keenly understands VR technology and how suspense can be created without scary monsters jumping out at you.

A Wake Inn isn’t unique in placing the player inside a wheelchair but unlike Last Labyrinth, for example, you’re in direct control of the chair, providing both gameplay and narrative context. Because of this, A Wake Inn doesn’t lend itself to an action-oriented experience. There are frantic moments which can almost make you feel completely helpless against the denizens you encounter, highlighting and teaching you to be cautious at all times. In turn, this ramps up that uncertainty of what lurks around each corner.

VR Bros has crafted a world set within the mysterious Silver Inn Hotel, where you wake up as a human-sized doll with no idea who you are or why you’re there. You do have company though, as Doctor Finnegan who owns the building talks to you over shortwave radio, piecing some of the story together. The rest you have to figure out by exploring the hotel, finding notes from past occupants as well as old-timey video reels. Of course, you’re not given free run of the place as there are more dolls wandering the hallways which aren’t wheelchair-bound and mindless in their aggression towards you.

With the scene now set, VRFocus got a nice 2-hour demo out of A Wake Inn, able to test out the various movement and puzzle mechanics. Right from the off, A Wake Inn doesn’t conform to the usual videogame tropes such as tired menu systems you have to scroll through. Refreshingly, in a very steampunk style, you instantly find yourself in the wheelchair surrounded by various knobs and dials which help you switch the options on and off. It’s this type of nod to VR that VRFocus keenly looks for, mechanisms which easily ground you in the experience.

The idea behind the wheelchair is about comfort. Ensuring that most players won’t be put off trying to explore the Silver Inn. So naturally, the first thing you have to try is wheeling yourself around, operating exactly as you’d expect by grabbing the wheels and pushing. There’s even a handy handle on the left-hand side to raise or lower yourself in the chair for an optimal position. The team could easily have stopped there but you have two additional locomotion options available, a joystick which can be swapped to either side of the wheelchair or teleportation; offering up a rather cool looking metal hand you can swap to.

During the demo, VRFocus found the joystick the most accessible out of all the methods. It’s permanently there making it easy to grab and remote control yourself through the hotel, yet it is a little slow. Going straight for the wheels offers improved speed yet trying to turn proved to be a bit inconsistent, practice definitely required there. Teleporting worked as well as you’d expect, although the distance is a little short and reduces the immersion.

The wheelchair also comes with plenty of other components to play with. Upfront you’ve got a storage box to place fuses and other useful items in. It also serves as an interactive menu, with home, save and load save buttons – yes you can manually save which is always a boon! There’s a convenient hook to pop a movie reel onto for easy storage and another for a big flashlight which takes rather large batteries – essential for the dark hotel corridors. Its interactive elements like these which VRFocus loves about A Wake Inn, properly thought out additions which add up to one cohesive whole, and a decent sense of presence.

That first time coming across one of the dolls wandering the hotel was immensely fraught as they’ll instantly charge. When that happens options are few, smashing them around their sketchy looking faces with the flashlight didn’t seem to do much and the stun grenades have to be used very wisely. The only real option is to escape as fast as possible. Which is where A Wake Inn could falter as death came often due to the movement either being too slow or too erratic.

Even so, A Wake Inn still offers an exciting prospect for VR horror fans. Elements like the design of the hotel and the audio carefully craft an atmosphere rich in tension and dread, whilst teasing the sinister story just under the surface. Puzzles weren’t that complicated so hopefully, they’ll ramp up deeper into the experience, plus VR Bros has previously mentioned the enemies can be taken down with melee weapons which didn’t seem to be available in the demo. A PC launch is still slated for Q1 2021 so there shouldn’t be too long to wait and find out.

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