Too many indie horror games are clumsy, featuring the player getting chased by some crummy, annoying monster. When games are more focused on the old Resident Evil style of gameplay and design, I rejoice. Fobia – St Dinfna Hotel is a Brazilian game (with a Portuguese dub, I might add) that’s clearly influenced by the venerable horror series. On the topic of environmental and puzzle design, the game does a surprisingly great job at providing a satisfying experience. But it also falters bizarrely in other avenues. It’s good for people who like exploring and puzzle solving, but worse for anyone looking for actual survival horror.
Roberto Lopes is a rookie journalist looking for his first big scoop. When he gets recruited by a woman named Stefanie to come to Treze Trilhas and look into a series of strange disappearances tied to a mysterious cult, he jumps at the chance. He arrives at the titular hotel, only to find her impossible to contact. His investigations come up empty. Preparing to head home empty-handed, strange events occur. Roberto finds that a year has passed, and something horrible has happened to the hotel.
The story is decently presented, although much of it follows your horror clichés. But that’s far from a deal-breaker. Occasionally, your perspective will switch from Roberto to flashbacks of someone else. There are two endings, but only because there’s a binary choice where you do the good or evil thing at the end. If you want to see the other ending, you’ll need to beat the final boss and watch all of the other cutscenes again, which you can’t skip. In the end, the story didn’t completely make sense to me.
Needles in a haystack
Easily the best thing about Fobia – St Dinfna Hotel is the hotel itself. It’s a ruined mess, but has a memorable layout. Most of the game has you run around its halls while finding ways to access the other floors. The main way this is accomplished is via finding elevator buttons, which you can place in the main elevator and use to get around. But an unkillable monster chases you in scripted sequences that drastically alter the routes you can take. The hotel isn’t big, but learning its intricacies is worth the effort.
The game has the typical Resident Evil- or Silent Hill-type of design. You look around areas, find key items, and use those items to open up new ways forward and solve puzzles. Unfortunately, there’s no map, but it’s easy enough to find your way around without one, so this isn’t a huge deal. There are locked objects that require keys and combinations to open and find goodies scattered all around too, which makes it a good idea to pay attention or take notes. Or at least, it would be a good idea if Fobia – St Dinfna Hotel had more to be afraid of.
The survival horror aspects here definitely feel like they took a pretty large backseat to the above elements. You’ll find a pistol, shotgun, and machine gun while searching the hotel. Naturally, you’ll also come across plenty of ammo and healing items (you’ll need three to get a full heal item). Fobia – St Dinfna Hotel is played in the first person, and the shooting works just fine. But there’s a big problem: there’s only really one kind of enemy. This isn’t a super short game either; it takes around 10 hours, depending on how thorough you are. It was certainly a curious choice.
Not you again
The enemy in question is a standard mutated creature with a glowing weak spot on its chest. It shambles towards you , charging or swiping with its claws when close. It’s very easy to deal with, and fighting it gets old fast. Again, it’s the only normal enemy in the game. I don’t understand why a few different enemy types couldn’t be introduced, but the creature is all we get. It doesn’t change at all, either. You find yourself with stronger weapons and piles of ammo with hardly anything to use any of it on save for the same enemy you’ve been easily managing with the pistol the entire game.
There is technically another basic enemy, but it’s more of a trap than anything else. Mutated bugs crawl on the walls and ceilings and they’ll jump on you if you get too close. You need to shoot them (they die in one hit from everything) before making your way through. But they’re pretty hard to see, and it’s difficult to know they’re around if you don’t have the volume up. They mostly seem like a penalty for forging ahead too quickly. What’s worse is that you can get hit by one and then find yourself immediately getting attacked by another before you’re able to move. I repeatedly got chain attacked two or three times; they just feel cheap and annoying.
As such, Fobia – St Dinfna Hotel isn’t scary. You get so much ammo that you could kill all of the enemies in the game several times over without running out. Healing items are also mostly plentiful, which isn’t all that necessary since you won’t find yourself taking too much damage. There’s also that monster that chases you sometimes, but you just shoot at it until it’s stunned and then run past it.
There are three boss battles. The first two are actually pretty decent and require you to think on your toes. The final boss is just the chase monster again, although it gets an attack combo instead of just grabbing you. Fobia – St Dinfna Hotel simply needed better enemy variety. It really isn’t too much to ask for a couple of extra foes beyond the bog-standard. Which tears me a bit. I very much enjoyed the exploration and puzzles in Fobia. And I think that fans of the genre will too, especially with how elaborate and scavenger-hunty some of the optional ones are. It’s just a shame, as the game could have been something special with more horror to survive.
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