The Beast Inside (PC) review
"Let Him In"
The Beast Inside is a tale of paranoia, madness, and secrets. Much like the plot within, the game itself is easy to overlook and dismiss; Knowing nothing about it going in, it will most likely initially register as another dime-a-dozen, indie, “Boo haunted house”, low-effort cash grab that litters Steam at a rate of about fifty per day. To the contrary, it turns out to be a highly polished, ambitious, grand in scope horror story that stands with some of the best of the genre, using all the tools at it's disposal to keep you on edge and engaged for it's thrilling, brilliantly paced ten hour playtime. Also surprising: it has nothing to do with werewolves. Or Gabriel Knight.
Stuck on a particularly head-scratching encrypted Soviet telegram, Bostonian Adam Stevenson brings his expecting wife Emma to their new home in the remote wilderness of Blackstone, New Hampshire. The serene forest backdrop seems an ideal place to both raise a family and keep them safe from the inherent dangers of his job as a CIA cryptanalyst. Not long after bringing the first few boxes inside from the family car, Adam starts to discover his isolated family estate may have been abandoned for a reason. He unearths a journal from his great, great grandfather, and as he reads the ghastly accounts of murder and mayhem that occurred on the same grounds his world starts to turn upside down in a parallel downward spiral.
What could have been a pure, Amityville Horror-esque narrative about the couple dealing with supernatural entities in their new house becomes much more complex, mature, and interesting as you hop time periods, controlling both Adam in 1979 and his ancestor Nicolas in 1864. Adam's already small group of trusted friends and co-workers gets smaller and smaller as he tries to parse Cold War paranoia from legitimate threats stalking his family. Meanwhile, Nicolas fights for his life, taking a revolver and a kerosene lantern to track down a man in an overcoat and top hat who seems to bring death and destruction in his wake.
The house and immediate grounds are intricately dense and detailed. Most drawers and cabinets can be slid open, many objects can be picked up, examined, and comedically thrown out of open windows. Any important objects are fortunately highlighted, so you're not combing through a messy mansion aimlessly. The only consumable inventory items to worry about are matches, kerosene and the occasional bullet for Nicolas, but those are in such abundance it becomes trivial so you can focus on exploring and your immediate self-preservation. The combination of physically moving the mouse to interact with the environment and periodic quick time event add to the realistic setting of The Beast Inside and helps sell the visuals. Some smart color and lighting choices keep it playable, as well.
As impressive as the indoor areas are, the hills, trees, and waterfalls of rural New Hampshire are probably the most convincing and beautiful scenery I've seen to date. Even when the game pushes you with a sense of urgency to get back to your endangered spouse, you can't help but stop and admire the rainbow reflecting off a skyscraper-tall cascade of water inside of a cave or the ruined beauty of an old stone bridge crossing a stream. It's this grounded, natural loveliness that both provides a break from the oppressive anxiety of crawling through blood-soaked buildings in the dark, and lets the game earn its jump scares and freak outs.
The Beast Inside pulls from established genre tropes when necessary, not so much copying them as using them as tools to create it's own, unique thing. The puzzles are integrated into the story (it's Adam's job), and are just the right amount of challenge to make you grab a pen and paper for note-taking, but aren't going to halt your progress for long. The chase sequences are exhilarating; there's the real danger that if you are caught you'll be met with a “You Are Dead” screen, but they are straight-forward and scripted enough that the fail states are your own mistakes. Even the extended level where you wield a gun and are forced into constant combat is solid, and the climactic boss fight is also well done. The only sore spot is the dreaded stealth sections... Which should come as no surprise to anyone. It's almost impossible to gauge what will trigger the AI or any indication when they spot you. Besides the screams, the loading screen, and your own curses... There aren't many of these trial-and-error sections and they are mercifully short.
The Beast Inside is a sleeper hit. I'd never heard a word about it until it popped up as a recommended game along with the crap I usually skip past and never think about again. I gave it a shot because I thought it would be bad and about werewolves. It's neither.
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