20 Dec Game Review: Illusion Ray Studio’s The Beast Inside
Polish indie developers Illusion Ray Studio released a Kickstarter in April 2018 for a Survival-Psychological Horror game titled ‘The Beast Inside,’ followed up with a demo in early March 2019. An immense level of hype surrounded the title, which received the support of over 2,000 backers. The title was finally released on October 17th, 2019. You can watch the trailer here and play the demo here. On its face, it appears to borrow concepts from games such as Firewatch, Resident Evil 7, Amnesia and Remothered: Tormented Fathers. If you enjoyed those games as much as I did, then ‘The Beast Inside’ could be right up your alley! After playing the new title, I wanted to share my review.
The Beast Inside is a heavily narrative-focused, survival-horror game that takes place in two parallel time periods, following two protagonists: Adam Stevenson in 1979, and Nicolas Hyde in 1864. Their lives become interconnected as they work to unravel an unsolved murder mystery. The game begins in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1979. You play Adam Stevenson, a Cold War CIA cryptanalyst, who leaves the city with his pregnant wife, Emma, and moves to a fixer-upper home he inherited from his father in the countryside. His employers send him there for his own safety as he tries to crack a complex Russian military code, which could alter the course of the Cold War. Things quickly takes a turn for the worse in the new home, as he discovers its troubled history and the beast hidden within himself.
At the beginning of the game, Adam finds a mysterious diary written by a young man named Nicolas Hyde, who grew up in Adam’s inherited home in the 1800s. Through the diary, we learn that Nicolas spent 10 years in an asylum, due to abuse from his father. The nightmares of the past come to life in the 1979 time period, putting the lives of Adam, Emma, and their unborn child in great danger. Both Nicolas and Adam have many secrets and suppressed, violent memories. Both are unaware of the danger that hides within their minds.
First, Adam must put away moving boxes and find a way into the attic of the old house. As you enter the attic you come across a lock alongside a decipher device—a little cliche since Adam is a codebreaker, but at least the puzzles were challenging throughout the game. The puzzles in ‘The Beast Inside’ were implemented cleverly and woven into the plot smoothly. While challenging, they do not feel impossible, and I never had to look up the gameplay videos on YouTube to progress throughout the game.
Both protagonists can read documents, and examine and interact with objects. They can move chairs around, pry up floorboards, open doors and windows, and even pickpocket locks. At night, you use a lantern to see through the darkness, which helped make the atmosphere even eerier. The Amnesia-style lighting mechanic wasn’t good for much, aside from navigating around. You can light candles in certain areas, but they don’t do much to light up the surroundings. Still, one of the upsides of the game in general is that it gives you quite a bit of supplies; you have plenty of kerosene to refill the lantern and matches to light it. Unfortunately, the game’s scares didn’t really leverage the admittedly eerie lighting as well as they could have. I wished there was some creature or ghost that would appear when you ran out of kerosene, but there was nothing of that sort.
The game continually switches between the two time periods. Usually, after Adam discovers a clue from the past, it switches back to the world of Nicholas Hyde. The user plays as Adam during the day and Nicholas during the night. The actual horror segments are relegated to the past, while the present is used for puzzles and exploration. Honestly, I loved that. The horror segments of the game do not give you a break when it comes to jumpscares, and I was constantly excited to learn more about the story and find out what was going to happen next. Admittedly, I mainly looked forward to the horror aspect of the game; after all, it is a horror game. Overall, I felt like you learn a lot more about Nicholas’s upbringing, torment and abuse, than anything about Adam. That said, Adams’s life was still essential to the story—especially at the end, in which he must make a gut-wrenching decision between the lesser of two evils (which I won’t give away).
With these somewhat positive points out of the way, I have to dive into the negative territory. The game’s Kickstarter page mentioned that the developers took inspiration from other horror games, including Amnesia, Firewatch and Resident Evil 7. While The Beast Inside feels like its own unique game in many ways, it relies on those games for much of its direction. At times it felt like I was playing a compilation of its inspirations, giving it a bit of an identity crisis.
Another thing The Beast Inside gets wrong (unlike, say, a game like Outlast) is the fact that as you get further into the game, if you take the wrong path, you die. If you have read my other reviews, you know that I do not like trial and error mechanics in games. I should not have to die 2 or 20 times to finally figure out how to progress, especially if I am respawned in the middle of a chase scene again, especially when the enemy can insta-kill you, such as in ‘The Beast Inside.’ In-game, the chase sequence allows the user to have checkpoints, instead of playing it from the beginning; this discourages you from playing it correctly. Being spawned mid-run isn’t ideal for me or anyone for that matter. Enemies during the chase scenes route you in the direction you need to go, and you don’t have the ability to hide. I usually like being able to start at a checkpoint prior to a cinematic or boss battle, but, in this case it doesn’t really seem to matter. I can just respawn literally one room prior to my death spot and retry until I complete the sequence. I wish there were more places to hide from enemies—the moment the enemy sees you in the corner of their eye, you cannot run away and hide in a cabinet. You are insta-killed and have to start over.
My next point revolves around platforming. Like in Amnesia, you can drag and drop items, but it could have been used more effectively in ‘The Beast Inside.’ I ran into multiple bugs, as in, getting stuck in the actual object. In the first 20 minutes of the game, I went to go check out the tool shed. I saw a bloody handprint on the gate, which naturally piqued my curiosity—I assumed it might be a bit of a free roam and solving side quest. I jumped and became stuck in the fence with no way to escape. I had to restart from the beginning. There were a few other incidents, but one that stuck out was when I brought the ladder upstairs, just for giggles, and ended up stuck inside the it. I had to restart again. Additionally, I when I threw objects outside and inside, they would float in midair. Overall, the drag and drop function was a bit odd, and sometimes you had to reposition yourself in different angles to make actions go through. This was rather inconvenient when enemies were chasing you with their insta-kill abilities.
Also, Adam and Nicholas were both the lanky unsporting type and couldn’t jump to save their lives unless it magically had to do with a QTE. Every gap was a potential death. On that note, QTEs in the game were another issue. I couldn’t figure out if the QTE wanted me to press the right or left side of the mouse once or continuously click it. It’s annoying when Adam or Nicholas is jumping off a bridge, and the QTEs cue up for you to grab onto the ledge. The controls change from the left side of the mouse to the right with only a small window of time to click the correct button to avoid death, and no way to know if it needs to be clicked once or continuously.
Last but not least, I had some issues with the protagonists, Adam Stevenson and Nicholas Hyde. It seemed as though Adam used the F-word in every sentence. It came off as poor writing and made him sound like a big baby. Additionally, Adam frequently seemed dishonest, manipulative and a bit out of touch with reality. He believes that his calls are being tapped and that he is being followed by a Russian spy. So naturally, he decides to chase after the supposed spy without any weapons to defend himself—no knife, sharpened stick, or anything. I don’t understand what he planned to do if he caught the spy—would he take them with his bare fists and hope for the best? At least he has a nifty futuristic quantum resonator gun that allows him to detect energy traces of those in the area (after all, nothing screams 1970s like a quantum resonator). But no actual gun? It just didn’t make any sense to me. Also, the quantum resonator gun caught me off guard because this technology must have been worth a fortune. I feel like the Russians would care more about that than finding some code-breaker. Maybe they wanted to kill two birds with one stone.
Nicholas was hands down the character I cared the most about, even though he was schizophrenic and predictably the more violent of the two. His name was Nicholas Hyde, after all. In addition to its video game inspirations, the entire story seemed to borrow some from the classic book The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde written by Robert Louis Stevenson. Adam’s last name is Stevenson. Coincidence? I think not. I hope that there will be future DLC that follows the plot of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde more closely. The game still needs to find an identity for itself, so perhaps that could help steer it in the right direction.
No beasts in the Beast Inside
‘The Beast Inside’ features breathtaking immersive environments created with Unreal Engine’s photogrammetry technology. I enjoyed the photo-realism the game designers achieved through the inclusion of 3D-scanned objects—from phenomenal ray tracing, to dust particles floating around the lanterns, to gloss on the porcelain items. The landscape sounds were spot on, both day and night. You could hear the wind blowing, plants moving, water flowing, and doors and stairs creaking. I wanted to explore everything I could and take in all of the sights. That said, I was struck by the fact that, aside from a few bird jumpscares, I didn’t see one animal. This was especially noticeable since the majority of the gameplay takes place in the woods. With so much realism, the developers could have at least added a doe here and there, or a squirrel eating a nut. It would have made the world even more believable and majestic. Additionally, the limited area you have to roam makes the forest feel somewhat artificial despite all the detailed vegetation. All in all, it just felt like a romp through a dark forest filled with puzzles and (at times) awkward QTE mechanics. Still, the game assets were gorgeous, especially on ultra settings, and clearly done with high precision and dedication.
Some interiors were vibrant and delightful, cluttered with many small rustic items—painted pottery, for example, and various 3D scanned paintings. The texture of the stone, wood and furniture upholstery looked good enough to sit on. Details like the sun shining through rustling tree leaves and the clouds along the mountain tops made you wish you could paint like Bob Ross. There’s also a lot of moving parts, such as drawers and doors that you can tinker with. Although the model physics in the game engine were impressive, not many items were actually in the drawers, and you couldn’t set objects down—only drop or throw them. The game’s setup is excellent but the execution could use much improvement. This game had some free roam or sandbox potential but unfortunately failed to deliver.
I feel that The Beast Inside was generally successful, even if it relied on its influences too much. The jumpscares were well-placed, although the suspenseful sound design allowed you to see many of them coming from a mile away. At least I did not become desensitized to them.
If I had one big recommendation to give to the developers, it would be to implement the ability to choose a chapter to replay. There are multiple endings in the final chapter of the game. Once you see the credits, your progress is erased, and you have to start over to play. It’s not ideal to have to replay an entire game to hunt for additional achievements, especially when certain cinematics cannot be skipped. All of this diminishes the replay value of the title. There is no reason why a game like this doesn’t have a chapter select to allow players to see all possible endings. Without this ability, I would rather watch a free play to learn what I’m missing out on. I would also recommend rebinding keys. With so many PC users, who all play differently, you need other options. For now, you’d better be content with WASD/Q/E/Tab/C.
One thing is for sure: the developers clearly put in a lot of effort into the game’s content and environments. My grandmother was an antique dealer in Texas and collected furniture from the late 1700s throughout the 1800s. From the beeswax candles in their tinderbox candle holders, to the old-fashioned shutters, to the old furniture, the developers did a great job of recreating my grandmother’s creepy home. This was probably one reason I found this game so frightening (just kidding—I love you, Nana).
All in all, unlike many of the horror games I’ve played, ‘The Beast Inside’ made my heart skip a beat multiple times. There were times when I considered waiting to play until the following morning when I saw a ghost lurking under the floorboards or waiting for me where I needed to go next. Even with a few cliche jumpscares and some unexplained developer choices, I was still left impressed by the overall experience. I would recommend this game to any of my horror-crazed fans out there. The ‘The Beast Inside’ is available for download for $24.99 on the Steam Store. I look forward to finding out more information on any future installments of ‘The Beast Inside’—I hope this is not the end of Adam Stevenson and Nicholas Hyde.
Platform: PC (Reviewed)
Publisher: Movie Games S.A. PlayWay S.A.
Developers: Illusion Ray Studio
Story – 3/5
Gameplay – 3/5
Aesthetics & Design –5/5
Sound Effects & Soundtrack – 5/5
Performance – 4.0/5. I am currently using the AMD Radeon VII
Game length – 3.5/5
I completed the game in about 11 hours.