The Beast Inside is another success story of the crowdfunding arena. Not one of such magnitude as Psychonauts 2 or Shenmue III, but its promise of eerie photo-realistic horror convinced enough people to exceed its pledge of $60,000 by $23,000 extra at the beginning of April 2019. The game was released on Steam in October – which by crowdfunding standards is relatively impressive.

The game begins with your character Adam and his wife Emma moving to an isolated house in the woods. Adam is a CIA cryptanalyst working on cracking Russian codes during the cold war (the game is set in 1979). Unfortunately for them, things aren’t as peaceful as they seem, and he starts to uncover some disturbing history and secrets about the place, and starts to fear that the Russians have figured out his location. Among the things Adam discovers in his house is a diary belonging to Nicolas – our second playable character – who lived there during the 19th Century. Through Nicolas’s eyes the horrors of the place are gradually revealed to us.

The game is similar in execution to a lot of the last decade’s first person horror titles. While not pursued as consistently as you would be in Outlast or Amnesia, the exploration and frequent spattering of puzzle solving will be very familiar to anyone who has played those sort of games. You traverse your house and the woods surrounding it, guided by the indications of your character, and discover notes and items to read and inspect, and generally end the chapter on a puzzle or chase/encounter.

As you discover more as Adam, you progress further as Nicolas, and the horror takes different turns. What the game boasted most of all during its Kickstarter campaign was this element of photo-realism – so essentially the gribblies might look more realistic and scary. In practice this is bollocks, and quite a disappointing revelation about the game is that it’s not particularly good looking – or at least not exceptionally so – but I do give credit for the game offering some very spooky scenes during its opening chapters. As you explore as Nicolas you find yourself plagued by apparitions that literally jump at you from the shadows, leading Nicolas to believe there is something terrible afoot or that he is going mad.

How you discover these revelations as Adam is by finding missing pages or items around the house and its surroundings. There’s a sub plot involved whereby Adam discovers potential Russian meddling and so trots off to find his apparent stalker, but essentially it ends up in you finding something historical and transitioning to the next Nicolas segment. Adam isn’t as horrifically haunted as Nicolas is, and his chapters are generally much slower paced, and also where the real puzzling takes place.

I’ve got to say, while the puzzles in The Beast Inside are some of the more creative and genuinely puzzling I have seen for a long time, they are also my least favourite thing about it. I think for people like me who enjoy horror titles like this, we expect a bit of puzzling to be involved – usually in the form of figuring out a code or placing items in a particular order – but The Beast Inside goes a bit too far with its obscure brain teasers. As Adam is a cryptanalyst, it only fits that his puzzles involve breaking complex codes, and some of those ‘inflicted’ on us include finding codes from strings of numbers, letters, finding the matching sequences/parts that don’t fit, and so on. As I said, they’re impressive in a way due to their complexity, but also virtually incomprehensible if you aren’t ‘puzzle minded’, and as a result can really slow the pace of the game down.

Adam also, while not experiencing hauntings or terrifying enemies, has some of the weirder features of the game. Primarily I am referring to his ‘localiser’, or anomaly scanner. Despite being set in 1979, Adam already has gear that allows him to see into the recent past. You follow a signal on your localiser and then scan the anomaly, revealing something that was recently there (usually a person). Sometimes the anomalies can’t be unlocked until you shoot floating anomalies with your localiser. The implementation of this is utterly bizarre and quite poorly explained. It doesn’t add anything to the game in my opinion, and only serves to slow it down further and make you take it less seriously. It’s quite a shame, as the concept of discovering a mystery while stalked by a potential Russian spy is one full of potential for creepy goings on, but often I found myself rushing through Adam’s chapters out of boredom just to get back into it as Nicolas.

This obviously says something for Nicolas’s chapters, and overall these are where the game flourishes and at least attempts to fulfil on its horror promises. The exploration is well paced and consistently creepy, and with the addition of dangerous encounters, The Beast Inside becomes more of a genuine horror experience. It’s still a little bit daft, and the voice acting and writing is naff throughout the entire game, but it manages to keep the player on edge at least throughout Nicolas’s sections.

The encounters that I’ve mentioned take the form of fleeing, shooting and even a couple of boss fights. The game by no means turns into a first person shooter, but for the time that you have a gun in your possession you can make pursuing apparitions disband with a well-placed shot, and also defend yourself against a particularly fiery boss enemy. Gunplay is very basic, but it’s serviceable, and in a game like this I have no complaints with it. The sections where you are forced to flee are also really good. These are ultimately quite linear, but The Beast Inside does a good job of providing some spectacle as you run – enemies smashing through doors, leading you on a winding chase through corridors and caves. This, combined with the quieter atmospheric moments is more of what I expected from the game.

Nicolas also has his own puzzling moments, however none of these are on par with the difficulty of Adam’s. One section later in the game, for example, sees you trying to figure your way out of a cave which seems to be never-ending until you figure out you have to go through exits in a particular order. It’s not as difficult as it sounds like it could be, but what makes it more challenging is having enemies patrolling the area which you also have to avoid or run from while working out where you’re going. These sections were certainly more enjoyable to play through, and allowed the work put in to the enemy character designs to come to the fore a bit more.

Having said all that, The Beast Inside was still overall a disappointment for me. Adam’s sections bring the pace and excitement down to a near halt, and though Nicolas’s chapters are more scary and enjoyable to play, it doesn’t make up for some dodgy writing and pacing. I reach the end of the game, and while there is a twist and you get a ‘proper’ conclusion, I find myself looking back on it and wondering if a lot of it made sense. At the very least, it’s a game full of ‘convenient’ occurrences, and by the end its narrative direction seems forced.

This is something I find irritating with a lot of horror games, that after openings and concepts with bags of potential, so many writers don’t seem to know how to finish it without trying to be ‘clever’, and overall the story ends up feeling weird and unsatisfying. I don’t think The Beast Inside delivered on a lot of its initial hype, and while there are some genuine scares and an interesting initial concept, it’s overall flat, silly, and a little boring.