VR horror has really taken off recently with some brilliant, and some not so brilliant attempts at placing you in worlds that try to be even scarier than the one we live in. The latest attempt on the PSVR system is Rise of Insanity, a game very much named on what happens to you as you progress. Developers Red Limb Studios have made a game that gets increasingly more intriguing but also creepier as you progress, made even more effective with the power of Virtual Reality.
You play as Stephen Dowell, a psychiatrist who has been using some very controversial new methods to ‘cure’ his patients. One of his patients is a gardener who is being accused of murdering his wife and child but he claims he did it in his dreams, not in real life. The story is not exactly groundbreaking but is interesting enough. The story is the main reason why I played the game from start to finish in one sitting (taking around two and a half hours), to see where the plot was going to take me and what twists it would arise.
As you progress, you will find newspapers, notes and drawings that will inform you on what has been going on with these various characters and their own little stories. While you don’t encounter, well, anyone really, you still care about the characters mentioned throughout, which is a testament to how well the collectables are constructed. They add so much to the game and are worth reading because they give you clues as to what is going on. Whereas the voice acting is just passable in the voice recordings and interactive cut scenes, it does the job but it isn’t particularly emotive. There are some cool creepy parts though, especially involving children’s voices, so those are impressive.
Unfortunately, the biggest problem with the story in Rise of Insanity is that while it grips you until the end, it suffers from an extremely predictable ending that just doesn’t provide the big twist I was hoping for. There is a note that you read quite early on that had me guessing the big reveal and I was sad to see that I was correct. I think this is something most players will see right through and may ruin their overall experience.
You’re probably wondering what you do in Rise of Insanity. The answer is actually not a lot. The game actually plays a bit more like a walking simulator with the occasional jumpscare thrown in. It’s not the most exciting of games to play but I think the story is gripping enough to pull you through. Some of the jumpscares are a bit overused though, even in such a short game. They tend to be sudden ghostly apparitions that don’t really fit the plot; they just sort of ‘appear’ with a loud noise then disappear with no real context or reason. I suppose you could argue that it’s a part of the descent into, or well, the ‘rise of’ insanity for your character and so you see things that aren’t there, but this isn’t really explained in any notes I came across.
The other common scare is when you complete an objective, turn around and… cue jumpscare. If you’ve played Layers of Fear you will know what I mean. It begins to get a bit stale by the end but there were a few of them that got me good, especially one part later on where this happens a few times simultaneously and I almost needed a change of underwear.
The game therefore mainly consists of wondering to your next objective, solving some puzzles in between. You will return to the same locations at various points and then solve a puzzle to progress. While not exactly complicated, the puzzles are very unique and are interesting. You will need to find a note that will give you either a visual hint or a code of some sort which you can then apply to a physical puzzle, including one where you take an eye exam which is pretty cool. I think the puzzles are overall the strongest aspect of the gameplay.
On the other hand, the weakest aspect of the gameplay is that there isn’t much horror. Horror games are supposed to have an atmosphere and tension but that is almost non-existent, especially without VR but that’s just because of how naturally immersive the device is. The lighting, environments and visuals are all okay but it doesn’t mean much because there isn’t a threat to you at any point. There are no chases, no ugly monsters to kill you and no situations where you feel under any sort of tension to stay alive.
There’s only one part of the game where I found that you could fail and that was only because I was off exploring where I shouldn’t have been. Once I worked out what I had to do, I wasn’t going to fail again. There’s even a trophy for being murdered 5 times but that’s honestly almost impossible if you’re not actively going for it. It’s a trophy that highlights how little threat there actually is, it shouldn’t feel like an achievement to die in a horror game, it should be aggressively pursuing your death as often as possible, as long as it’s done fairly and realistically to the story.
Without a doubt, VR is the best way to experience the game, as should be expected (although the game was actually primarily designed as a non-VR experience). Everything feels right in your face and adds so many layers to Rise of Insanity that you need to at least try it. Although, while the game plays absolutely fine in PSVR, it’s worth pointing out that there are a couple of drawbacks to it. Firstly, the resolution takes a bit of a beating in the headset, where environments seem to lose a lot of detail and texture. It’s not unplayable by any means and still functions perfectly and you won’t miss anything because of not seeing certain details but it’s still worth mentioning if you prefer your horror to look a bit prettier. The other problem, especially for newcomers to VR, is that there are some really uncomfortable parts in the game. Even the very beginning of the game was horrible for me and I have hundreds of hours of experience in VR.
There are some sections where things become warped or distorted and it is very uncomfortable and disturbing in the headset. In a way, I suppose it’s doing its job and making the horror and depiction of mental illness feel more real but I think it might be a bit too much for some players to play through entirely in VR. Personally, I played parts in the headset and some out, swapping because there were too many sections that used weird imagery that I found a bit unsettling in VR – but that’s probably because I have a weird phobia of things that are misshapen (glitches in games give me goosebumps) but I think if that doesn’t bother you then definitely still play in PSVR if it’s available to you.
Rise of Insanity is so confusing, I couldn’t stop playing until I finished it but I can’t say that it’s because I really enjoyed it. There are some really good scares in the game but there’s not enough tension or atmosphere. The story is gripping and the files you find are really interesting, but it eventually disappoints. The game is also a little buggy as there is a trophy that I tried to unlock 3 times for finding all the armour pieces but it wouldn’t pop at all, so I’m hoping that can be fixed as it’s a quick 100% for all you Trophy Hunters out there. There are better horror games out there but this is overall a pretty solid offering and I can see the talent the studio has.
I look forward to what else Red Limb Studios release because if they build on the highs of Rise of Insanity in the next game, we could be in for some sleepless nights.