Inner voices, developed by Sigma Games, demonstrates that fear often lies in absence of something rather than in the form of nightmarish monsters or ghoulish protagonists. There is certainly a fair share of scares, but the most frightening aspect of Inner Voices is what you don’t know. You are placed in the unfortunate shoes of a man named John Blake who finds himself lost in a maze of his darkest memories, which he must maneuver through in order to discover his identity and, hopefully, find a way out. More frightening still, perhaps, is that you have no way of knowing for certain which memories are yours, and which are false.
John awakens in a disheveled though relatively normal looking hallway, but as he travels onward things soon take a turn toward the bizarre. Floating furniture, ominous rooms, bloodstained walls, and dark pathways await him. A masked and cloaked apparition soon appears, informing John that he must locate runes collected after reconstructing each of his memories. Once he has collected all of them, he can use the runes to escape. John is a bit reluctant since he has no recollection of who he is and fears he will not be able to recognize his own memories. The figure tells him, however, this is his only way out. Whether John can trust his new guide, or even his own emerging sense of identity, sets the stage for a chilling experience that is only enhanced by the game’s unnerving atmosphere.
The game’s pathways are procedurally generated, a mechanic that is rarely used to positive effect in horror titles. But, what might have lead to redundant rooms and a frustrating succession of hallways actually lends to the mysterious atmosphere and the feeling of being lost in a maze of one’s own mind. The period between memory sections is short enough to keep boredom or annoyance from creeping in, and each feels different and, most of the time, connected well with the memory section you eventually encounter. A sense of foreboding and dread haunts even the more “normal” looking sections of hallways and rooms.Something is always just a little off, a subtle sense that something sinister is afoot and you won’t know fully until the end exactly what that is and whether it is connected to John’s memories . . . or something else.
I noticed that every time I arrived at a new memory, I was overcome with a sense of dread on John’s behalf. What if I was a bad person? What if this sinister feeling is a clue to my true self? Even what should otherwise be sweet memories are inundated with a disturbing sense of fear regarding what they might mean about who I am and what I might have done to find myself in this maze. The memory that stuck out most for me was one connected to a wedding. I entered a dark church with a woman standing motionless at the front draped in white linen like an old mannequin, her arm outstretched in a posture that both resembled the taking of a ring and an accusatory gesture. There was nothing comforting about the scene; no sense of peace in the hallowed halls and even the woman was without the glory and beauty and loving expectation of a bride. Whatever happiness had been present here was overshadowed by a future darkness and it is that unknown darkness that remained the most haunting aspect of the game.
But, the chilling atmosphere and disturbing memories are not the only accomplishment Sigma Games made with Inner Voices. Managing to use procedurally generated pathways in a way that actually contributes to the game is quite the feat. However, the game also features jump scares that manage not to feel cheap or overused. Some were actually rather clever. At one point I was staring through a locked screened door into an empty hallway only to notice bloody handprints appearing on the ceiling as if something invisible were crawling toward me. The sequence ended with a large singular handprint appearing on the screen in front of my face, complete with a loud bang for finality. For those who might like their horror/adventure titles with a little less adrenaline, the game does have an option now to turn the jump scares off.
Of course, Inner Voices is not without its flaws. As might be expected from an indie title, the voice acting isn’t exactly high-end. However, it was never poorly executed enough to cause a major distraction. The non-linear storyline and procedurally generated paths are effective for what Inner Voices is trying to accomplish, but both set limits on the story’s connectivity, so do not expect a finely-tuned narrative that one might anticipate from a more structured plot. Finally, as effective as the jump scares are they don’t necessarily add to the story. Some even left me a bit puzzled. For example, after hearing a loud crashing sound behind me, I turned to see a large board flung against the wall. To it’s opposite an opening was revealed. I approached the opening to see a painting of what appeared to be Vlad the Impaler with candles in front like an alter. I heard the sound of deep male laughter resounding around me and I couldn’t help but laugh a little, too. I am still uncertain of how Vlad fit in to the story, but overall I found the jump scares effective as they added a little extra edge to the already foreboding experience.
Inner Voices boasts multiple endings, so players who enjoyed the experience can replay the game and encounter memories in a varying order, making sure the play-through feels different enough. Some memories allow you to make choices, so changing these choices will slightly alter the experience and lead to a different resolution to the story. The game is short as well and can be completed in around an hour or so, making a replay more viable even if much of the gameplay itself will remain the same.
Despite a few flaws and the natural tendency of non-linear progression leading to a less polished and connected storyline, the experience will outlast your short time with this game. Inner Voices claims to take inspiration from horror writers such as H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe, and it does manage to capture well the particular type of psychological horror that runs deep within the works of both authors. Ethereal beings and the things that go bump in the night never quite hold a candle to the deeper and more disturbing terror of being lost in one’s own mind without a sense of self, and presented with the very real possibility that when you find yourself, you might be the monster.
Inner Voices is developed by Sigma Games, published by Fat Dog Games, and is currently available on Steam.