Hotels are supposed to be friendly, welcoming places where you can put your feet up and relax, putting aside repetitive everyday duties to enjoy some much-needed downtime. They’re not supposed to have dimly lit corridors, scruffy carpets, dodgy elevators and residents that want to kill you – unless you’ve gone really cheap. Hence why they work so well as scary backdrops, whether in films such as The Shining or in virtual reality (VR) videogames like VR Bros’ A Wake Inn. So can this new experience provide the thrills and chills VRFocus comes to expect from a good VR horror?
A truly scary VR title can’t simply provide creatures that jump out the darkness – although some have tried – they need to create an unmistakably tense atmosphere that starts with a good narrative. Set in the seemingly abandoned Silver Inn Hotel, A Wake Inn throws you into a dark, twisted world where no humans exist apart from Doctor Finnegan, the owner of the estate and your only connection to the outside world. In fact, you’re not even human, waking to find yourself as a mechanised mannequin in a wheelchair.
As this robotic doll who’s unable to walk, you’re encouraged by Finnegan via shortwave radio to explore the hotel and put an end to the madness inside, hopefully finding a way out and why you’re in this state in the process. However, you’re not the only one roaming these creepy looking hallways, as the eccentric doctor just so happens to be the creator of a bunch of living dolls that occasionally have faces but always have hammers, blades and other nasty adornments as hands.
It sets the scene for what starts out as a truly intense experience simply because you don’t have the manoeuvrability, carefully exploring the hotel’s rooms and corridors for clues and useful items. It’s clear from the outset that VR Bros has carefully crafted A Wake Inn to tailor to VR gameplay mechanics, from the locomotion to the puzzles and even the storage.
Before the single-player campaign even loads you’re introduced to A Wake Inn via a steampunk array of buttons, switches and dials, all serving as the options menu. Here you can activate teleport – it doesn’t default – alter settings such as gamma and steering sensitivity. All very well constructed and the sort of system more VR titles should employ. The only problem was there didn’t seem to be a way to use a single finger and point, it might not seem like much but when trying to press a button with others nearby that process becomes trickier – this was tested on Valve Index, Oculus Rift and Oculus Quest via a Link cable.
Once inside the hotel everything is nicely hands-on. There’s no HUD of any description, you’ve got a neat little storage box on your lap to put fuses, keys and other items in, plus there are three buttons inside the lid to save, load and head back to the main menu. As mentioned, you’re sat in a wheelchair so simply grab the wheels and get pushing. You can pick up a decent pace but corners are a little more difficult. Alternatively, there’s a joystick much like an electric wheelchair (which can be swapped to the left or right) or if teleport is active, you then select the appropriate hand to utilise the movement method.
After trying each one, teleport just proved to be way too slow and annoying cycling through the three-hand options (normal, extended reach and teleport), made even worse when trying to evade the living dolls. Using the wheels should’ve been the most intuitive yet ended up feeling too erratic unless you really took it slow and steady. So that left the joystick, providing a happy medium between speed and flexibility nipping through doors and around tight corners.
At first glance A Wake Inn comes across as your classic slow horror, building tension and encouraging you to avoid altercations at all costs. The design echoes the early 20th century and its art deco era, with an intricately detailed environment and just the right amount of lighting mixed with dark corners to provide an ominous feeling. Yet what starts out as something scary to sneak through eventually descends in brawling action, losing that sense of what it’s trying to deliver.
That first encounter with one of the living dolls does provide a decent fright moment, this weird mechanical monstrosity flailing away at you. Initially, with no defence the only option is to flee and hopefully find a safe spot. Which, as it turns out, isn’t too hard as each doll sticks to a certain area and generally only becomes aware of your presence should you make a sound – the wheels can squeak so finding the cans of oil is a must. Once you find items like the pipe or hatchet then you can defend yourself should two or maybe three approach, any more and death is certain. After a couple of these encounters that horror element begins to fade, and in doing so you start to wade through them. So why not be sneakier you ask? Well, you’re given fewer and fewer chances to do so, some encounters are just unavoidable.
A shame really as this would’ve suited a more thoughtful playstyle. VR Bros has included elements that perfectly tailor to this, the clunky old-fashioned torch to peer into the dark corners and eats through batteries. The storage box can only carry so many items and won’t close if you overfill it. Or the stun grenades you can build with spare parts to knock the dolls out for a moment. There are flourishes of really great design, it just needs to be a bit scarier.
A Wake Inn does have its good parts, and then there are the glitches. These slowly start to crop up and range from a floating key that has just unlocked a door, or levers which don’t always work, to more major moments like the complete disappearance of the left wheel. No idea where it went, might have wanted to go in a different direction but it wasn’t there. Fortunately, the wheelchair stayed upright but using the wheels for motion was a no go until a save reload sorted it.
This is why A Wake Inn is such a mixed bag, like grabbing a couple of sweets out of an assortment getting one you love and one you don’t. There are points where A Wake Inn provides some superb VR design more games should have and it never felt like there was nothing to do. But clunky elements stutter the experience making it less refined. It was close to being a great VR title, instead, falling into the average horror crowd.