Inherent Evil Chapter 1: The Hotel

Developer:  Eclipse
Publisher:  Head Games/Activision
Year Released:  1999

Review by Gordon Aplin (March, 2000)
ievil.jpgLong before I was able to get my hands on this game I was aware that it contained sudden death episodes and lacked a means of saving your progress. However, being 'aware' didn't totally prepare me for the harsh reality of what this entailed. Ultimately these 'features' (or lack thereof) plus a number of other annoyances, meant that a potentially scary or exciting game turned into a mostly frustrating experience.

Welcome to your nightmare
Inherent Evil is a first-person perspective, solitary exploration adventure in which you must uncover what really happened to your parents at the Reed Hotel many years ago. You play the part of Kyle Reed and your involvement is immediate and personal as your older brother, Frank, calls you early one morning to tell you that he has returned to the hotel where your family once lived. You rush over there to be welcomed by a distant scream ....

A stark and promising beginning, well suited to this type of horror/mystery game. The graphics are not 'flashy' but they succeed very well in conjuring up an eerie, electric atmosphere and the music helps a lot too although it gets insistent after a while and drowns out the voices and other sound effects. Despite this I rather enjoyed exploring the deserted hotel and experienced some genuinely scary moments as the past and present coalesced to haunt me. Early on there are restrictions on where you can go, but more areas open up as you progress through the story and, of course, when you find keys to various rooms. Fortunately the gameworld never grows too large because the episodic nature of the game means that you will need to explore areas time and again as certain objects will not highlight or be accessible until the time is right for you to use or learn about them. So if you are stuck it will be necessary to wander around checking everything again.

Humour and horror
Haunting though it is, at times Inherent Evil is not completely devoid of humour. It is quite clear that the developers had some fun playing with the clichés of the horror genre, in particular the scary music and the sudden shock effects. The flashing lights, slamming doors and floating furniture worked well and my run in with the Hound of the Baskervilles scared the living daylights out of me. In contrast to this, I particularly appreciated the parody of the 7th Guest-style chess puzzle and I knew just what to expect when I peered closer at the food tray.

The point and click interface is very easy to use and navigation is a breeze with quite speedy transitions between locations and an inventory that is simple to access. There is no real character interaction, but occasionally a video sequence will pop up where your mother or father will talk to you. Neither these nor your own comments are subtitled making it difficult for hearing-impaired players to follow the story. Maze fans, however, are in for a treat as one whole section comprises a quite novel and complex maze where you are required to chase around in search of coloured doors.

Stopping and starting
The real problems with this game are immediately apparent in the structure. Inherent Evil is made up of eight episodes and when you successfully negotiate your way to the end of each one you are simply thrown out to your desktop. Each time you must re-enter the game and watch the opening credits before you can move into the next episode. Each time your trip back to Windows breaks the flow of the game and tends to lessen the impact of the story.

As if this were not bad enough you cannot save your game at all during play so if you fail to complete an episode for any reason this means another trip to the Windows desktop and you must replay that section from the beginning. And you surely will be facing repeats because failure is inevitable due to sudden death scenarios or even as a result of missing an item during play. At least two of the instant demise sequences have an arcade component so one wrong move leaves you contemplating tombstones. I should point out here that you do get one chance to redeem yourself in the closing scene by selecting the 'correct' tombstone out of a dozen or so. Choose incorrectly and you are thrown out of the game to restart that episode. I 'died' about five or six times and only fluked the correct tombstone once so repeating sections was a serious problem for me. The constant expectation that I might be in for yet another repeat almost prevented me from completing the game.

These frustrations aside, Inherent Evil also managed to irritate me during the gameplay. A design inconsistency means that sometimes you are allowed to pick up items before you know why they are needed whilst at other times you are prevented from taking items until you have a reason to pick them up. Also, one particular puzzle seemed to lack explanation, or maybe I missed a clue. On this occasion you are required to turn around in a particular direction in order to progress. I, of course, turned around because there was nothing else to do, but as I turned in the 'wrong' direction nothing happened and I left that location completely baffled. After much fruitless searching I was beginning to suspect it was a bug in the game when a friend who had recently completed it clued me in. I needed to turn the other way! I still don't know why.

Improvements please
Now I am aware that for various reasons Inherent Evil as released is a compromise at best and possibly not what the developers hoped for, but, whilst I can sympathise with their plight I must also review the product for what it is, not for what it might have been. In this respect I found my enjoyment of the game utterly spoiled by the lethal combination of problems mentioned above. Really, the chance to explore a spooky, abandoned hotel and uncover a mystery should have been an immersive and atmospheric experience, but the structure of the game effectively prevented this.

As this is Chapter 1 of what is intended as a series I sincerely hope that subsequent chapters are presented in a more conventional adventure format that permits saving and doesn't break the suspense by flinging you out to the desktop at every opportunity. rating:  

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2000. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
P100 Mhz, Win 95/98, 16 MB RAM, 4X CD ROM, 150 MB Hard Disk Space Soundblaster compatible card, mouse.