Fobia: St. Dinfna Hotel Review

Fobia: St. Dinfna Hotel by developer Pulsatrix Studios and publisher Maximum GamesMicrosoft Xbox One review written by David with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes. 

I’ve had some funky experiences with hotels, but this might be the first one I actually sit down and write about with Fobia: St Dinfna Hotel from developer Pulsatrix Studios and publisher Maximum Games, a horror homage with immaculate vibes.

When I was younger I played a fair bit of old horror games, despite not being a genre fan. Gore has always made me uncomfortable, and a lot of horror movies and recent games have landed off my radar because of it. Horror is a fantastic art medium though, crossing boundaries of genre, culture, language, and social taboo varying from the all-too-real to the entirely absurd in its execution, sometimes intending the opposite and finding gold, sometimes making exactly what was intended and flopping hard because that’s how Art goes.

The old Resident Evil games were big in my social circle, Silent Hill as well, and I remember my sister and I spending weeks staring through the camera lens in Fatal Frame. I found that Horror had more going on as time went by though. These movies explored things where we weren’t comfortable talking about or showing outright, or things social codes kept us from showing in certain ways. I got older and found I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, as an adult I questioned existence with SOMA. Today, I question the nature of Free Will with Fobia: St Dinfna Hotel.

I love the journal's aesthetic so much I'm stealing it for my real one.

Roberto Lopes is a journalist who visits Treze Trilhas, a village in the Brazilian countryside, home of the fine St. Dinfna Hotel, a bit of a tourist spot, but with a series of disappearances over the years. He’s fed the lead by a woman named Stephanie, shows up to find she’s not at the hotel like she said she would be, and finds his way to his room to be bored for a week. Roberto keeps some notes of what little he can find here, starting with the disappearance of private investigator João Luis in 1960. This is not the modern mystery he'd been led to believe, as he'd found out over that week of empty-handed digging.

After that week, he finds some sort of anomaly in his room’s bathtub, and is knocked out, only to wake up in his room sometime later, the place ransacked. There’s a cool camera still here though, and looking through it shows a different reality; past, present, parallel is unclear, of the room you’re in, and free passages that are blocked in the mundane world. Disappointingly, the camera has no picture-taking ability in-game.

Inventory management is the biggest key in Fobia, and you add slots with different bags and camera pouches stashed throughout the hotel. They add up quickly at first, and then every new slot feels necessary, especially if you keep your eyes peeled and your mind sharp. There are puzzles connected to what seems like more rooms than not, and I’ve definitely not found or solved them all. That might be underselling the need for patience with this game though. Just like many that came before it, this horror mystery includes a lot of backtracking. More if you manage your inventory tightly or keep a lot of saves, both of which become increasingly accessible as the game goes on.

The Hotel's Pianist had a very bad year.

A phone rings and you hear the voice of the reason you’re here: Stephanie. She informs you that you disappeared a year prior, and that you need to get to the first floor library. This involves a few basic but well done puzzles to get you going on the main story. Some creepo humanoid mobs appear so I highly recommend keeping the pistol on you throughout the game to deal with (and listening to the diegetic advice, it’s there for good reason).

Note that it is not just simple or obvious puzzles here, they just don’t wall you off from progressing through the game with them. Those get more interesting as the game goes too, taking your progress as acknowledgement that you’re ready to get those gears going. You need that ammo, those bandages, the key to that lock, and how do I open these stinking chains (With bolt cutters that you’ll get way later. No, the crowbar/pistol/shotgun/ThingYouWannaTry won’t do it), and these problems, including the bolt cutter, are solved primarily through world-interaction puzzles spanning both realities and in some cases, the entirety of the hotel.

Like the medium it asks its questions through, Fobia: St Dinfna Hotel stands firmly in homage to the giants whose shoulders it stands on. From the gunplay to the cheesy voice acting (in English at least), to the way you interact with the world and manage your inventory, everything about this game feels intuitive. I’ve not played those horror classics in a decade or more, nothing like them really, and I was able to slip smoothly into the operations of this one, the familiarity bringing me that much deeper into the game, and making the intent of some easter eggs that much more appreciated.

Standing in the same spot, the camera can sometimes drastically alter the landscape, and sometimes it keeps the same paths obstructed

Everything flows so smoothly together, showing you exactly what it is and how your next dozen or so hours will be going. Including trying to figure out which squelches are creepy spider things coming to snatch your precious health, which ones are something in the sound design, and which ones are how many times is something going to fall over before I stop screaming like a child at it?

There’s a Big Nasty you run into a few times early in the game, you meet him first in the prologue, where you actually play as João briefly. You can’t kill him, not yet, just run. Shoot at his arm/light and stun him if you need to, but when the game tells me to just run, I follow its advice too. His name is Aquiles, and he grew up here. He’s got a wild story, and you find out about it once you finally leave the hotel, dropping down into a basement research lab where you find plenty of half-formed monster corpses, notes, a final showdown with Aquiles, and questions with the man whose memories from 1910 you’ve walked through between sections. You’ve seen what happens. You’ll see it again. Você não tem escolha.

An homage to the mysterious survival horror history we've got with an amazing sense of creeping dread and lonely helplessness despite your victories; Fobia: St Dinfna Hotel delivers on all fronts with a slice of perfect ambience.

Score: 9 / 10



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