There are all sorts of ways to evoke feelings in games. Developers are becoming masters of both overt and subtle sorts of scares, building atmosphere in all sorts of ways. Inmost, from Hidden Layer Games, is a very purposefully game that offers ambiance through almost every sort of design choice. It is full of these moments where I appreciated what the team behind it was going for and how it was approached.
To begin with, Inmost’s story is very subdued. You jump between different characters at different points, with only narration from a young woman providing context about the castle, the darkness, the pain people feel, and the light. There’s an ominous tree growing out of control. There are unsettling enemies that also seem to be made out of darkness. You’ll come across some people you can talk to and even interact with, but this is often a very minimalistic adventure where what you see around you tells the story. It’s also a rather short story, however this brevity is well-served and suits the game since some characters might feel overdone or tedious in larger doses.
This is because each person plays differently, which helps set a certain mood for every chapter. For example, Inmost begins with a little girl trapped in her home. She’s short—far shorter than the man or the knight—and part of her moveset actually involves stretching upward to reach switches or finding and carrying items to help her reach higher areas. When you get to the man, you find he can do things like jump, wield certain tools he finds like a scythe, push items (or people). So his puzzles have a very different feel from the girl’s. At one point, you’re an elderly man with a walker who can really just… pet a cat and move at a slow pace to build tension. When you get to the knight, you’re too heavy to jump, but you can actually attack the enemies you meet and use a grappling hook on certain areas.
But what really struck me about Inmost were the interactions. This is a very slight spoiler, but one of the earliest chapters has the man heading to a castle infested with enemies and a few people. Before he heads in, you speak with an odd looking person in a house who is peaceful. Further in the castle, after completing an environmental puzzle, you meet someone else who looks similar. Once you approach the person, Hidden Layer Games uses a cinematic to assure you that things aren’t right. Since the man can’t attack, you then have to work out another “puzzle” to successfully survive the encounter, working with only the things around you to successfully survive.
It’s a delightful sort of horrific experience. Because you don’t realize something is very wrong until that happens. You’ve encountered enemies and hazards before that point, but this is the first one that behaved like that. And it gets you, because initially things seem like they might be normal and okay, until they’re not. Inmost is very good at that.
In fact, Inmost is generally great at making you see how, in varying and increasing degrees, not okay things are. The little things add up. The use of different characters, a muted color scheme, darkness, and forced perspectives and speeds make you deal with things in the most unsettling ways. Hidden Layer Games went for a mood here and definitely succeeded in achieving it.
Inmost is available for the Nintendo Switch and PC.