Is The Inner Friend a puzzle game, survival horror, surrealist art or a postmodern, existential enigma? Described by developer PLAYMIND as an opportunity to ‘face fears and nightmares’ and ‘journey always deeper through the subconscious’, this game is an abstract and fascinating unreality in which the player (a celestial and childlike entity known as the ‘Shadow’) collects artefacts that piece together a surreptitious, illusory narrative of repressed childhood memories. Perhaps the best way to define this disquieting and compelling experience is a psychological puzzle game in the horror or sci-fi genre.
The Inner Friend utilises a number of backdrops synonymous with the horror genre (the abandoned school, the derelict insane asylum, the ghostly, unending forest), but these devices are transformed into something much more abstract and unsettling, reminiscent of the disturbing, interdimensional dreamscapes of Hellbound: Hellraiser II or games like Silent Hill 4: The Room, Dishonoured and Clive Barker’s Undying. What distinguishes The Inner Friend, though, is its surreal and swampy gameplay.
The gameplay itself is quite finite. The player only has the ability to jump, collect artefacts and interact with a small selection of objects, but this is arguably intentional, making the player feel oddly helpless, like we feel in our nightmares and, perhaps, our waking realities. You don’t have conventional weapons (much like P.T. or Project Zero). And you can’t run. You just have to keep pushing forwards, pursued by nefarious forces that are often psychological rather than physical enemies, conjured by the game’s unnerving sound effects and ambience. You feel isolated but perpetually stalked, as if something sinister is always lurking around the next corner.
The Inner Friend is bold, bizarre, ethereal and captivatingly ambiguous. Much like the work of Don DeLillo or David Lynch, the narrative summons more questions and mysteries than conclusions or answers. I find myself perpetually hauled back inside the disturbing beauty of this world, revisiting its strange, carefully-crafted levels, hunting for artefacts, searching for cryptic clues and meaning.
STEAM, PS4, XBOX ONE