STAFF REVIEW of FOBIA - St. Dinfna Hotel (Xbox One)

Tuesday, July 12, 2022.
by Adam Dileva

FOBIA - St. Dinfna Hotel Box art Are you a fan of Resident Evil style games, specifically the latest Resident Evil 7 or Village era of the series? Are you yearning for a creepy game with plenty of puzzles and enjoy having to constantly deal with inventory management? FOBIA – St. Dinfna Hotel (FOBIA for short) is probably exactly what you’re looking for then. First person horror with dated mechanics, there’s some serious Resident Evil vibes as you explore an old and completely abandoned hotel, yet need to try and survive. Very puzzle and backtracking heavy, FOBIA certainly has its core rooted in some classic game design, but with that comes classic issues as well.

You are Roberto Lopes, a journalist that has come to the St. Dinfna Hotel after receiving a tip to investigate some mysterious disappearances and some paranormal occurrences. After getting checked in you rest for the night, awakening later you realize you’re somehow locked in your room and things seem to look drastically different. The hotel now seems to be in ruins, on fire and completely trashed. Where is everyone, what is that black hole-like thing you just saw, who was that child in a gas mask and what are those monstrous noises you hear in the hallway? You’ll need to do everything you can to survive and escape the hotel.

Early on you find an old classic camera, but of course in a game like this, this isn’t any typical camera. Looking through this lens not only shows you things you can’t see by the naked eye, but seems to show you a different timeline, looking direct into the past. You’re going to uncover an intriguing story that revolves around a cult, paranormal activities and it won’t be easy any step of the way with how many puzzles you’ll need to solve and amount of backtracking you’ll need to do.

While the overall story is quite interesting as a whole, it’s a very slow progression broken into three core chapters. You’d expect that the game would fully take place in this hotel given the title of the game, but there’s actually two other main sections which is where the experience starts to drag on and falter, taking anywhere from 6-12 hours to complete depending on your love and skill at the genre. Due to the narrative I’ll really only delve into the Hotel part of the game, leaving the rest as a surprise for you to uncover.

Because of the first person view, FOBIA can be quite creepy at times, as you’re never quite sure what’s around every corner. While there’s not very many cheap jump scares, there’s much more “what the hell was that?” moments or stuff that was creepy as opposed to outright scary. The camera mechanic is interesting, as it changes your view much like how you used to use it in Outlast as night vision, but here it can allow you to see in the past as well. You might be at a dead-end in a hallway or room, but utilize your camera and magically there’s a pathway that’s open because in the past there wasn’t a collapsed wall or fire in that spot. I thought this camera mechanic would be utilized more but there’s only a handful of times it’s actually needed, as some puzzles will require the camera use as well to solve. The camera will also uncover hidden messages only able to be seen in this view as well, so you’ll initially be switching back and forth to figure out what to do and where to go.

As I mentioned above about FOBIA being more creepy than scary, every now and then you’ll see that small girl with a gas mask walk by, unable to ever really catch up to her. Who is she? Why does your screen go completely black and dark for a moment and then it passes? These moments weren’t scary, but more annoying than anything else.

FOBIA is actually much more puzzle heavy than I initially expected. I was preparing myself to have a very combat heavy game, and while there is some combat included, exploration and puzzles definitely weigh heavier in the gameplay. Like classics in the genre, you’ll be searching for keys, keycards, tools and other objects so that you’re able to progress within the hotel. This of course means there’s a lot of backtracking, as you’ll have to go from one floor to the next, back down to a different one, take an elevator up, run back down another path and more. Making this challenging is that there’s no map at all, so I hope you have a great memory. Sure there’s some of those floor layout plans on the walls of the hotel, but remember you’ll also be trying to find hidden pathways and solve puzzles along the way as well, so expect to have a lot of wasted time simply trying to figure out how to get back to the fifth floor or where that locked door was that you now have the keycard for.

I made the mistake of taking a break for a day or so in between playing, and while your main objective is shown in text form, forget the pathways and you’re going to be struggling to remember the floor layouts. There’s also no checkpoints at all within FOBIA. Instead, you need to use particular clocks on the wall as your save points, something that wasn’t explained very well in the beginning. So when I had my first death you can imagine how upset I was when I realized I never saved for over an hour or two.

I can’t emphasize enough how puzzle and exploration heavy FOBIA really is. If you enjoy solving puzzles and have a great memory then I’m sure you’ll quite enjoy yourself, but if you struggle in this aspect, you might not nearly as much as you would expect. While the core game is quite linear, there are side areas you can explore and puzzles to solve for extra items and secrets. Problem is there’s some puzzle pieces you might not need until much later in the game, but you aren’t to know this, so you’re carrying certain objects in your very limited inventory space hoping it’s what you’ll need soon to progress so you can clear important inventory space.

Are you a fan of having to constantly manage your limited inventory like in classic Resident Evil games? If so you’re in for a treat, as you’ll have to use special chests that can be used to store items you don’t need at the moment, able to extract them from any other chest you find in the hotel. Are you like me though and absolutely hate this inventory management? Well, you’re going to struggle then, as you’re constantly going to have to figure out what you can or can’t pick up, unsure what puzzle pieces you’ll need until you finally find that red keycard door and realize you didn’t bring the key.

Along the way you’ll find backpack upgrades if you explore enough, opening drawers, closets and safes, but even then it’s hard to carry everything you want given that your core items like the Pistol, Shotgun, Flashlight, Keys and more take up an inventory spot or two each. It was a constant struggle to have to go back to the chest, dump in items I didn’t need and swap out the ones I did. Never knowing how many enemies I’d have to face, of course one of my slots was a health kit. Remember combining items to make better health kits in Resident Evil? Yup, you’ll do that here too. I always kept my Flashlight on me in case I got to a dark area, worried I’d not be able to see and then have to come back and get it again, but this wasn't very often. I get that FOBIA is recreating that classic gameplay, but it frustrated me more than anything else.

With all the paranormal activities that’s happening in the hotel you’ll of course have to deal with some enemies in combat. This is where your Pistol, Shotgun and other weapons will come handy once you find them. Even with the sensitivity cranked all the way up, you aim quite slowly, so the shooting mechanics themselves feel quite terrible and inaccurate on a controller. There are some upgrade cubes you can find along the way as you explore the hotel, able to increase certain aspects of your weapons, but even after increasing my accuracy, hitting the exposed heart from an enemy a few feet away from me was a challenge still.

The first enemy you encounter is a lurking skeleton-like creature that will only notice you once you get close, lunging at you directly if they get in range. These are creepy at first and with their exposed hearts it should only take a direct shot or two with your pistol, but because of the controller inaccuracy mentioned above, don’t be surprised if you waste a whole clip trying to put one down. You’ll then come across these little spider-like creatures that are more meant to annoy you, taking one of your health when they bite you. And by the time you see the credits rolls, those are the only enemies you’ll encounter your whole time within FOBIA aside from a handful of unique bosses and a Mr. X-like creature that only appears in specific segments of the story and areas. That’s right, two enemy types aside from bosses. Once you realize how braindead these skeletons are, you’ll probably just have then lunge to you so you can bypass and ignore them.

You have very limited bullets, and in the later section of the game you’ll have nowhere near the ammo to take on every enemy, so get used to avoiding them whenever possible. I was quite surprised that there were multiple boss fights throughout, and while none were particularly interesting or memorable, it at least changed things up from fighting the same skeleton type over and over. Enemy design is cool at first, but without any variety you’ll simply roll your eyes every time you see one.

FOBIA falters in some areas, but one of those isn’t its atmosphere. While not particularly scary, it does ooze creepiness around every corner. Areas can be quite dark. You might see things move in the distance and the St. Dinfna Hotel surely has been better days as it looks like it’s gone through something hellish. While its visuals may not impress, its atmosphere and aesthetic does a fantastic job at setting a certain mood and tone. Audio is a mixed bag. Hotel sounds always has you wonder “what the hell was that?” when you hear a monster through a doorway or some floorboards creaking, the soundtrack is subtle but sets the tone, but sadly the poor voice acting really took me out of the immersion during the phone calls and cutscenes.

It’s clear that developers Pulsatrix Studios was heavily inspired by classic Resident Evils and maybe Resident Evil 7, but it also brought over the poor gameplay portions like inventory management and backtracking. The camera mechanic had a lot of potential but generally gets forgotten in the later half. I’ve only talked about the hotel portion, but the other sections seem almost out of place, though it does make sense when you tie it into the overall narrative.

When I finished the hotel section I was ecstatic, thinking I was done, then it opened up to a completely different section. FOBIA certainly overstays its welcome though if you have a great memory or keep track of how to get back and forth from area to area without a map you might not have as much time wasted from constant backtracking as I did. Priced at just under $40 CAD, there’s certainly a decent amount of gameplay to be had, though you’ll need to be a fan of puzzles, inventory management, backtracking and fighting the same enemy repeatedly in FOBIA - St. Dinfna Hotel.

**FOBIA - St. Dinfna Hotel was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 6.5 / 10
Gameplay: 5.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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