By Quentin H. / April 3rd, 2019
Platform(s): PC (Steam), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date(s): September 6, 2018 (PC), Summer 2019 (PlayStation 4 / Xbox One)
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The Inner Friend is a helluva scary game. There, I said it. I played The Inner Friend demo in the packed Marriott Marquis lobby at GDC, and I felt myself getting scared and my heart pounding out of my chest as I was running around being chased by an entity with hair shears. The basic storyline for The Inner Friend is that you are led by a mysterious Shadow through a number of levels that are comprised of memories of childhood nightmares, and you collect items that then go into your bedroom at the end of each level. Each level is also based around a childhood game such as tag, the floor is lava, etc, and that mechanic figures into the level itself.
The gameplay of The Inner Friend is simple: you can move, you can jump, and you can interact with the environment around you. Even though there are terrifically horrible enemies that will appear in the levels, you cannot do anything except try to run away from them or dodge them. This simple mechanic, of being unable to fight back, really plays into the childhood nightmares aspect of the game – as, after all, children often can’t fight back against their nightmares. This development and passive style of gameplay makes The Inner Friend into a powerful example of psychological terror that is clearly open to interpretation.
The Inner Friend level I played was set in a hair salon, presumably based upon a horrific childhood nightmare memory of getting a haircut. The atmosphere in the level was dark, with plenty of shadows and a very gloomy atmosphere and music. As I explored the level by breaking and then jumping through mirrors in order to progress, I came across a nude woman with a pair of hair shears who would run after me while opening and closing those scissors. When she would catch up to me, I would die in a quick cutscene before reappearing again at the beginning of that room. With the stakes raised, I would die repeatedly as I kept trying to figure out which mirror to break to keep going (as it was a hair studio, there were a lot of incorrect mirrors that would just shatter without opening a way through if I picked the wrong one) while trying to not get stabbed in the process.
Because you cannot fight back in The Inner Friend, I ended up dying quite a bit until I figured out how to path her running AI around different objects to slow her down long enough to get away. Even figuring out how to manipulate the AI a bit didn’t diminish the fear inside of me, as I would keep weaving around couches and chairs in an attempt to slow down the sound of cutting scissors getting closer and closer to me as I would try to find the correct way. Eventually, I was able to get to the end of the level, and I shattered the correct mirror to make the shears-wielding lady disappear and leave behind a small bird. It turns out that the player collects these small trinkets at the ends of the various levels to rebuild a bedroom. Surprisingly, the level was a lot shorter than I expected, as I was able to clear it in maybe ten or so minutes. Honestly though, I would rather have a game that is much shorter and has a more emotionally-impactful and well-paced gameplay (like The Inner Friend) instead of a bloated game that is long…for the sake of being long.
The Inner Friend is an experience that I am glad I got to play at GDC 2019, as it is a story that is told without dialogue but through scenery, emotions, and sound. If the other memory levels are as intense as this one, I may not survive if I were to play the entire game.
Are you excited about The Inner Friend coming to console platforms? Or have you already played through it on PC?
Let us know in the comments below!
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