Date: June 27, 2022
I’m a huge wuss when it comes to scary stuff. Horror movies, spooky video games, a dark hallway in an unfamiliar house – all terrifying. So when I tell you Fobia: St. Dinfna Hotel is scary, you may need to take it with a grain of salt. However, I can still tell the difference between jump scares and proper tension building, and Fobia definitely has both in spades.
The game comes to us courtesy of Brazilian developer Pulsatrix Studios, and while it’s readily apparent that Fobia is an indie game, it’s got enough attention to detail – and engaging enough gameplay – that you’ll often forget. With an interesting (albeit generic) story hook, a well-crafted environment, and satisfying puzzles, it’s easy to overlook some of the game’s rougher edges.
Part of the game’s success no doubt comes from its complete willingness to lift its mechanics wholesale from Resident Evil – anyone who’s played the first few titles of Capcom’s influential horror series will immediately recognize its interface, complete with EKG health bar. It’s not just the UI that’s borrowed, however: you can only save at special clocks, you store unneeded objects in chests for later retrieval, and ammo and healing are both limited resources.
To be fair, it was never broke, and so I don’t blame Pulsatrix for not trying to fix it. They make good use of the familiar mechanics, and bolster them with excellent sound design and environments. At one point I got up from the game and left it running for quite a while, and was struck by how realistic and relaxing the ambient sounds of the storm were. Naturally, most of the sounds are creepy rather than soothing: everything from the sound of collecting an item to the screams and squelches of the bosses are well-crafted – even your own footsteps echo ominously.
Fobia does fall into some familiar (and silly) game design traps, like blocking progress with knee-high piles of debris. For whatever reason, the protagonist insists on using the elevator in a building that is clearly falling apart, instead of just clambering over two feet of broken tables and chairs. The game also gives you a special camera at the start of the game that you can use to progress by revealing hidden passages and items – while it’s there for lore reasons as well as for gameplay purposes, it felt more like a chore than anything else to have to pull the camera out every time I searched a room.
Generally, I made progress steadily, with just the right amount of confusion and struggling while solving puzzles or finding my way. Often the puzzles were too easy, but it kept the game moving forward, and so is arguably a worthwhile trade-off. It would have been nice to have a map, as I did occasionally find myself racking my memory to figure out what door or locked box I needed to backtrack to, but the locations are small enough that it never took too long to figure out where to go or what to do next.
The game’s setting and plot is one of its strong points. While it starts in familiar territory, it manages to come up with some interesting ideas, and the way it switches between past and present is effective. It has some genuinely disgusting environments, and most of the monsters are good ‘n nasty. The voice-acting is passable to good, and the writing is generally solid – most of the game is spent dialog-free in any case. Notes, journal entries, and audio recordings always felt worth listening to, and do a fine job rounding out the game’s plot.
For people who are tired of the formula, Fobia doesn’t offer much in the way of the new ideas, but as someone who hasn’t spent hours in Racoon City, it was a blast – and if you’re looking for more fun in the Resident Evil vein, Fobia unquestionably does a fine job carrying on the classic survival-horror tradition. There’s a demo available on steam, so there’s no reason not to check it out!