Best played in the dark…

HORROR          |          SURVIVAL          |          SOLO          |          INDIE

Bendy and the ink machine is an episodic survival horror game developed, published, and released chapter by chapter by the Meatly Games, and now thanks to Rooster Teeth (Red vs Blue) and their games division which was announced in early 2017, a port has come to console. We were sent a copy to play on the Nintendo Switch, and given it’s a horror story, I used the Switch’s portable capability to find the darkest corner of nowhere and fire up this little beauty which has already been receiving stunning reviews across a range of platforms.

You play the character of “Henry Stein”, a retired animator at Joey Drew Studios, who has returned after receiving an invitation from his old employer. Upon returning he discovers the place has become overrun with nightmarish characters conjured up by the studio who have now come to life and have created a living hell amongst the ink.

After some initial exploration involving finding the parts to and turning on the ink machine, you trigger a thrilling escape run towards the exit, only to fall through a floor that sees you start the main adventure – making your way back up through Joey Drew Studios’ terrifying maze of levels and inky horror characters to try and find an exit.

Right off the mark Bendy and the Ink Machine is a great horror game. The areas you explore are cramped and tight, producing a claustrophobia that is supported by tight corners and deep corridors, and the vintage aesthetic was the perfect choice as that era of design runs such a fine line between cute and scary.

The tight corners and long corridors also make for great scares as you meet dead ends only to have characters break through that wall right in front of you, or turn a corner to see a stand-up prop of one of the animated characters pop its head around a corner only to disappear again. It’s a tiny thing but it goes a long way to keeping you on your toes, creating an intense anxiety that anything can happen at any time.

Further to this the game is so good at making you double question the places you visit, asking yourself “did I just see that” or “was that like that before?” There’s one moment in particular where I came across an instruments room with a stage and a band. When I first walked in there was just the stage, the instruments, and some chairs.

I revisited the area not long after but viewing that same stage from the top of a flight of stairs, only to look down on the stage and see a heap of animated stand-up props among the instruments.

I went back down and they were gone, but I looked up to where I was earlier on the stairs and there was a person standing there, covered in ink, wearing a bendy mask – it didn’t say anything, I couldn’t trigger an animation, it just stood there watching and breathing. This happens throughout the game and it makes you incredibly uneasy!

The story itself found to be enjoyable, easy to follow, and well-paced. Throughout the game you’ll find audio tapes that you can play, featuring the different employees that worked at the studio as the place slowly descended into turmoil. You’ll unravel piece by piece, the drama of an almost bold and the beautiful-esque litany of intertwining relationships, all pointing towards Joey Drew.

Bendy and the ink machine is a balance of puzzles and enemies. In some parts of the game you’re charged with exploring the studios to find things requested of you by another NPC to progress to the next stage, or items needed to turn on machines, open walls and doors, or just generally advancing.

The majority of enemies you encounter along the way are pretty standard, with ink pools throughout the studios that can produce PvE encounters. I liked the way they executed the almost annoying consistency of these characters, as it really gave the game an opportunity to hammer home the scares built around the main bosses. The best enemies are saved for further opportunities to scare the hell out of you, create anxiety ridden encounters, or to be the horrific centrepiece of another chapter to the ongoing story.

The controls I found to be a little stiff, I’m not sure if by design or not, but using joy-cons produced an artificial feeling of movement, and I imagine it would be the same on every other console using sticks. This lead to sometimes not being able to connect your weapon with the occasional enemy. Is it an issue? Not really, as most of the fights are over in a few swipes. This isn’t a game for elaborate boss fights – it’s a run and hide survival game about the story.

The soundtrack is great. That vintage inspiration runs through it from the very beginning and the voice work is spectacular. That aside, for a horror game the thing I was really looking out for was that feeling of suspense and anxiety created by a game like this knowing when to produce absolute silence, or hit you hard with ear-drum bursting instrumentals timed perfectly with moments that are meant to scare the hell out of you. I’m happy to say Bendy and the ink machine does it perfectly.

Bendy and the ink machine is a scary as hell horror game with an enthralling story. The chapters are short but punchy, the characters are well thought out and execute their roles well, and the adventure of unravelling the mystery while navigating the horrors of Joey Drew Studios delivers in spades.

To get the full impact I recommend playing it late at night in a very dark room with a set of headphones on – immerse yourself.

Bendy and the ink machine is available now on all console platforms and Steam.

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