Developed by Telepaths Tree
Published by IMGN.PRO
Available on PC through Steam
Suitable for ages 16+
We get it, indie developers, you think religion is bad. Has there ever been a videogame faith that didn’t eventually boil down to evil murder zealots? Hell, even the Chantry of Dragon Age couldn’t go more than a game before it started lobotomizing mages and resurrecting ancient corrupted Darkspawn lords. Can’t we just have a game where someone joins the local temple, finds a general sense of purpose and community, and is overall a little bit better off for it?
Yeah I know, it’s a lame start. A lame start to a lame review about a lame game. I considered prefacing this all on a sympathetic note, expressing understanding for how hard it is to make a good indie game. And a FPS nonetheless! Those are like, some of the hardest games to make. What with all the modeling and AI and making sure your characters don’t get stuck in walls and walk like they are sliding along an invisible conveyor belt. Missing just one of those things can make the whole game suck! In the case of Inner Chains, it is missing several.
Taking the time to bash on everything that Inner Chains does wrong would take infinitely longer than to list what it does right, so I’ll start with the good. First off, the world of Inner Chains is visually striking. It’s a discordant mash of colliding worlds that has grown into a single entity. Straight out of the notebooks of Giger, the gnarled and twisting hallways are a mix of manufactured logic and organic mayhem. The biomechanical machinery and weapons always skirt a fine line between horror and logic, making just enough sense be that much more grotesque.
And that is the limit of the empirically good. Every other positive element is so heavily interwoven with the bad that it’s impossible to talk about them without a huge asterisk. So with a big asterisk over this whole paragraph, I actually kind of dug the storytelling. Aside from a robust opening cutscene, the game has no spoken dialogue. It’s all told visually, through a combination of spectated events and captioned paintings. Now this is different from the typical text log collection, as you initially don’t speak the language. Over the course of the game you have the option to hunt down a number of tablets that translate specific letters, teaching you to spell like a “Sesame Street” episode from Silent Hill’s dark world. As it all comes together, the gibberish becomes a progressively more gruesome tale of religion gone mad. The text isn’t readable for a majority of the game, meaning there is a purpose to a second playthrough that the gameplay would otherwise not demand.
It would all be super cool if the story itself were sensical/any good. Having gone through and read all of the text for funzies, I can safely say that most of it is your standard anti-religious counterculture triviality. I get it, many religions throughout most of history have disenfranchised women. What does this have to do with the doom spires in the distance ripping apart the earth? I don’t know. The most interesting elements of the world are never explained. I’m sure that they were going for a Dark Souls minimalist vibe, telling a story through slight clues that I’m supposed to glue together. What Dark Souls did right was draw me in enough to pull it all together. Inner Chains does not.
I mentioned briefly that Inner Chains is an FPS, but only because it is a first person game where you shoot. With three guns and little tactical decision making, it’s the bare minimum to pass. Of the three flavors of firearms, you get blue, red, and green corresponding to a predictable element: blue for lightning, red for fire, and green for… bullets? I guess they are more of spikes, so maybe bio-bullets? In theory, each gun serves a purpose beyond just dealing damage. The lightning gun can momentarily stun enemies and environmental hazards, the fire gun consumes a lot of ammo but clears obstacles permanently, and the bullets are bullets.
It’s supposed to all come together in a way that makes you utilize the environment to gain a combat advantage. There are a number of non-sapient “creatures” littered about, that function as traps you can either spend ammo to eliminate or carefully avoid. It boils down to either things you can shoot to hurt stuff around it, or things you can lure enemies into. There isn’t a great variety—as I write this the stationary tentacle and the ceiling mounted “barnacle” are the only ones that immediately come to mind—and I rarely found using them to be any more effective than just shooting things.
The game tries to up the difficulty with a limited ammo supply that can only be refilled at specific tentacle molestation stations. Each station only has a certain amount of juice, which is split between reloading your gun and your health. The stations also correspond to a certain color of gun, so red stations will give you more fire and green give you more bullets. However, the big flaw with this is that your fire gun both deals the most damage and will use health instead of ammo if it runs out. As soon as I figured this out, every station became a fire station, and combat a joke.
So why can’t they just use normal reloading and ammo boxes? Because this is horror, dammit! Everything has to be gross! Weird troglodyte midgets with lamps for balls are your checkpoints, glowing plants that fart a cloud of black dust are your waypoints, and a facehugger plant shows you different secrets. It’s all pretty cool in concept, but the insipid combat and rudimentary level design make it all pointless. So I interact with the makeout plant, and it shows me a distant alcove with a new letter and ammo station in it. Do the fart-flowers now lead me to that location? Nope! Not to worry, though. None of the level is complicated enough that you won’t be able to find everything without a little legwork. That is, assuming you don’t mistakenly go left instead of right and block yourself off from the rest of the level. Oops, guess you have to start over!
This is all just an insane amount of nitpicking when compared to the massive glaring issues. The game is only about two and a half hours long over four levels, each of which I could point out one of several game ruining flaws. As I said before, the game has no dialogue, but aside from a few whispers here and there in cutscenes, the people are completely silent. There was a part early on where a horde of writhing wretches was kneeling before a figure preaching from a pedestal, and not a sound was made by any of them. It was horribly awkward. I’m watching these battered souls squirm on the floor, and they are all completely silent. Jesus, I never thought I’d be begging for anguished cries.
The combat also suffers from the nonexistent AI. I expect zombies to shamble towards me, but the human enemies with guns do the exact same thing. They run into range, shoot their gun, and occasionally try to punch me. The stun gun actually doesn’t even stun these enemies, making combat just a matter of what color you feel like spraying them with. Combined with the horribly slow walking speed and a sprint time that makes me assume my character has been a chronic smoker for the past 40 years, the game is a chore to play.
At a $20 asking price, there is no possible way I can recommend Inner Chains. There are charming things about it, but it falls below even the standards of a good Half-Life 2 mod. I appreciate that the making of the art assets probably took a long time, and they are just trying to recoup their costs. As a consumer, there’s no way that this is worth it. If it drops on sale to below $5, it’s worth checking out the more interesting elements piled beneath the crap. Otherwise, give Inner Chains a pass.