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“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” While beginning my review of FOBIA with a quote from Oscar Wilde wasn’t my initial intention, this famous, full quote is far too fitting to ignore. Developed by Pulsatrix and published by Maximum Games, FOBIA – St. Dinfna Hotel pays homage to classics in the horror genre, including, most notably perhaps, Resident Evil.
You begin your journey as investigator Roberto Lopes after you’re given a tip about paranormal activity in Treze Trilhas, the region containing the St. Dinfna Hotel. Upon arriving you quickly realize things are not as they seem. You are introduced to a camera that can reveal a different timeline and begin to uncover the origins of a fantastical cult. And as you begin to explore the hotel, you realize things are far worse than you could have imagined.
If you’re a fan of survival horror games, then FOBIA should feel familiar immediately. You find yourself in a dark, mysterious room and must uncover clues and solve simple puzzles to progress. In doing so you are introduced to the inventory mechanics for managing your items, health, and, eventually, ammo. It is nearly identical to the system found in the Resident Evil games, and you will also encounter save rooms with storage boxes which are accompanied by a soothing, welcoming tune.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of FOBIA is switching between timelines using the aforementioned camera. Levels are designed in such a way that they require the use of the camera to progress while also presenting unique opportunities to search for hidden items. While not revolutionary by any respect, it does add some flavor to exploration. It also allows the player to experience more of the story through passive means as you will learn more of the hotel’s past.
However, I wish the idea behind the camera was fleshed out more. Outside of creating new paths (which are marked to begin with) and some puzzles that provide basic upgrade elements for your weapons, it rarely comes into play. It would have felt much more meaningful if there were unique enemies, encounters, or story elements that could be uncovered. Rather, it feels more akin to a tacked-on mechanic that isn’t fully realized.
Sadly, the feeling of aspects not being fully realized carries over to the combat as well. Over the course of the game, you will find the usual suspects as weapons: a handgun, machine gun, shotgun, and revolver. While this in and of itself isn’t necessarily an issue, the need for them is. There are two enemy variations in the game. One is a walking monster that moves incredibly slowly and can be killed in a handful of shots from range. The other is a bug-like creature that, when attacking, follows the exact same animation every single time. By the end of the game, I couldn’t believe there hadn’t been more variety.
There are a few actual “boss” encounters you’ll have to tackle as well, but they, too, are disappointing. The mechanics in each are very straightforward and require little to no thought. In fact, I would argue that the final boss battle is one of the most disappointing of any game in recent memory.
The journey through FOBIA explores a couple of different locations and unfolds across two timelines and main characters. Over the course of the game, you will be introduced to events in the past that tie to the present through both storytelling and experience from the characters’ viewpoints. This is one of the stronger aspects of FOBIA. Uncovering the origins of the paranormal events happening around you and how they tie to the current character’s history is generally well-conceived and implemented.
The hotel itself acts as the main portion of the game and, in general, is an excellent setting. Figuring out how to navigate between floors and rooms demonstrated well thought-out level design and created plenty of moments of tension as I slowly crept around each corner. Though, again, it would have had more impact if there were more notable threats.
My largest complaint with the game’s journey is with the character portrayal, specifically Roberto’s voice-acting. It often doesn’t match the tone of the game and feels forced or even disingenuous. For a game that relies on tension and critical moments of discovery, the poor voice-acting pulls you out of that experience very quickly.
Similarly, the soundtrack is almost non-existent. Save for a couple tracks that are extremely repetitive and play at specific moments or during boss fights, there is nothing of note to accompany you.
The game’s structure and flow is very reminiscent of a classic survival-horror title. You explore the hotel, solve puzzles, and unlock new pathways and shortcuts. Eventually you are introduced to new areas which bring the story full-circle. My playthrough took just under 9 hours, with some secrets and puzzles left unresolved. Again similar to Resident Evil, the game tracks your progress to grade you, and it offers a new game plus mode should you want to endure another run.
As I understand it, Pulsatrix is a small studio in Brazil, and FOBIA is their first game. And in that vein, it’s a valiant effort to create their mark on the survival horror genre. It takes aspects of well-known titles and adds its own flair. However, I think the scope might have been too grand, and thus aspects of the game suffer from not being fully baked. FOBIA – St. Dinfna Hotel is still worth a look if you truly enjoy survival horror titles; just don’t expect to be surprised as it’s a journey you’ve likely taken before under better circumstances.