Inner Chains Review: Great Potential Shackled by Poor Gameplay
Inner Chains, the latest work from Telepaths Tree, is a sci-fi horror, first-person shooter meant to be revolutionary in its design and function. Boasting "unprecedented ways of interaction between weapons, their users, and the environment," the game was announced on Kickstarter in March 2016, where it accumulated 906 backers who donated a total of $18,708 -- nearly double Telepaths Tree's $10,000 goal.
And it's a fact that makes me all the more confused by the game's lackluster mechanics and boring story.
Inner Chains' Gameplay is Sometimes Frustrating
With first-person shooters, you can typically expect an identical control scheme from the last one you played. Clicking left shoots, WASD moves, and spacebar jumps. Inner Chains is no exception, but it makes a few errors along the way that make things complicated.
Controls cannot be remapped, something I think every game should feature, especially given the number of disabled and handicapped players in the world. This also means players are forced to hold CTRL to crouch instead of being able to reset it to another combination or keystroke.
The F-key is also the designated melee button, which is fine, but it does feel weird to use in the game's opening half hour when you have no weapons and all fights are with your fists. Spamming the F-key instead of left-clicking just felt wrong when my hands were literally the only weapons I had. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that enemies near the beginning of the game require upwards of 5 to 6 punches to kill. On top of that, sometimes swings don't even register, so it takes even longer.
And that brings me to my next issue: the lack of a HUD.
Don't get me wrong, I love immersion in my games, particularly with first-person shooters. But it has to be done properly. Inner Chains, unfortunately, does not implement the system in a logical way.
For example, player health is indicated by an illuminated shackle embedded in your right wrist. This is a great way of avoiding an obstructing HUD that takes you out of the experience, but it is also a great way for you to die. You see, the lights will dim on your wrist, but nowhere else will you carry any indicator of low health. No red edges, no heavy breathing, no fading colors. Nothing. The player character reacts exact same way at full health as he does on the precipice of death.
And when you combine this with achingly slow movement speeds and three-pack-a-day-asthmatic sprint duration, the game simply isn't enjoyable to play.
A Shivering Setting Wasted by a Nearly Hidden Story
In a dark, dilapidated world left to ruin after humans vanished, technology and nature evolved and fused until everything became some form of biomechanical monstrosity. Now returned, humans are at the bottom of the food chain in a world where everything wants them dead. How did it become like this? Where did humanity go?
These questions linger and drive you forward as you play. The intrigue and mystery really captivated my imagination and left me genuinely curious where the game would take me.
Unfortunately, Inner Chains tells virtually none of that story. Dialogue is non-existent, with the few speaking characters talking in unintelligible groans and whispers. The written word is in an in-game language that requires players decipher it by finding stone tablets containing individual letters. This means players are forced to not only find every single tablet, many of which are off the beaten path but also replay the game with this knowledge -- just to get the gist of what's going on.
This lack of story left me progressing through the game blind and deaf, just following along without understanding.
No Can Hear You Scream ... or Walk ... or Breath ... or ...
When I first jumped into Inner Chains, I immediately noticed the world was silent. Ghastly pale and sickly travelers covered in wounds and filth passed by without a sound. I thought it was poignant and eerie at first -- a striking design choice. Then I came across a gathering cheering at a decoratively dressed speaker, their fists punching the sky.
And still, there was no sound.
That's when I realized this wasn't some artistic decision, but a failing on the developer's part. NPCs, aside from very specific scripted events, make absolutely no sound. No speaking. No breathing. No footsteps. Nothing. In fact, a majority of the world is completely devoid of sound.
Ambiance and music are both fleeting. Sometimes you enter a new area and a creepy drone will echo to remind you this place isn't safe. But other times it doesn't. Sometimes music will climb as you come across a group of enemies bent on killing you. But other times it doesn't. This inconsistency is a grave error given the game's traveling, horror-centric theme -- as wall as its lack of conventional storytelling.
Inner Chains is a Gorgeous Game
For all the bad things that make up Inner Chains, this is where the game truly shines. Created in Unreal Engine 4, the game is a sight to behold. Textures are sharp, character models are detailed, and the environments are breathtaking. Multiple times I found myself stopping to look around and take in the amazing backdrops and wonder how they came up with such fantastic designs.
Architecture, in particular, was amazing and expressed the evolution of the world without a single word. Buildings are both ancient and high-tech, many with organic matter clinging to them and drooping from them. Flames leap off the screen against the dreary darkness of the world and particle effects such as firing the lightning gun send sparks scattering and light up the grim tombs you find yourself in.
Now, there are a few areas and objects with muddy textures that look out of place, but these were few and far between. More important were the numerous graphical glitches in the opening level. Several times I watched the distant background flash and distort into an endless plane of stretched polygons. And while I never encountered this past the opening, this is a fatal flaw to have in the oh, so important opening hour of the game when developers really need to grab the player's attention.
Despite this, I'm amazed an indie developer was able to make such a beautiful game without the use of a cartoony, stylized art style. If there was ever a game to faithfully capture the concept art, no matter how intricate and detailed, this is it.
At the end of the day, Inner Chains is a beautiful game with a promising setting. If you want a short 4- to 5-hour experience with amazing graphics, then look no further. But if you want something deeper and more meaningful to take you on a story-filled adventure, look elsewhere. With a lack of both character development and story progression -- despite its vast potential -- Inner Chains is all flash and no substance.