Bendy & The Ink Machine – Xbox One Review
My first impression of Bendy and the Ink Machine was pure scepticism. This isn’t survival horror, I thought; there’s cute cartoon characters, and I can fight them off with a plunger!
How wrong could I be? Bendy and the Ink Machine, despite its’ cute and cuddly first impression, gets dark. I soon found myself subject to that disconcerting stomach knot familiar to all fans of survival horror; that unsettled, tense state of mind that I last encountered in The Evil Within 2. The remarkable thing here is that Bendy had that impact on me without any of the lavish visuals and AAA budget of (for example) Resident Evil 7 (which also scared the bejeesus out of me).
The game begins innocently. You assume the role of Lead Animator Henry, who returns to his old workshop after a summons from the Studio Head. The studio, and its Head, are reminiscent of a parallel universe Walt Disney. Henry discovers the studio abandoned and is quickly drawn into familiar survival horror tropes such as finding key components or enabling power for elevators.
The puzzles pick up pace as you encounter an increasingly bizarre cast of characters, the majority of whom are either hell bent on killing you or using you to achieve their own nefarious purpose. Your defences are pretty weak – you’ll fight for survival using the aforementioned plunger and a length of pipe. There are tantalising glimpses of a Tommy Gun mid-game, but you need to jump through some serious hoops to get your hands on it. Combat isn’t really Bendy’s focus though. The emphasis is on exploration, puzzles and narrative, which makes it closer in spirit to genuine survival horror than gun-toting abominations like Resi 6 (for example).
Perhaps as a result, combat can be tricky. Despite the first person perspective, the game isn’t really set up for these encounters and as you face some of the studio’s more aggressive denizens, you may get a little frustrated. There’s one section where you have to give up an axe (which was pretty effective) and fight off three little monsters with a very ineffectual pipe wrench. It felt like the game was trying to make that section artificially harder, when in reality it just became a chore. I eventually succeeded by hiding just out of reach and clobbering the bad guys, which felt a bit cheap.
Puzzles are numerous, and for the most part, good. They range in difficulty between the blindingly obvious to the ‘I’ll just have a peek on YouTube’, but they generally feel like natural barriers to progression rather than the developer shoe-horning them in to break up the gameplay.
Visually, I was quite impressed. Bendy has a very distinctive look and feel – I was halfway through before the penny dropped and I realised it reminded me of A-Ha’s Take on Me video. Character models are really impressive though, and I guarantee some will stay lodged in your mind after you’re done with the game. Music is kept to a minimum. Often, the only sound will be your own footsteps which actually helped to build atmosphere and really adds to the sense of isolation as you explore the darkest depths of the studio.
The decent puzzles and passable combat are exceeded by a very well-crafted narrative which unfolds as you play. Tape recorders are placed throughout the studio; some of these provide clues, some add layers to the story, detailing the Studio Heads descent into madness. All are worth listening to (not least because listening to them all earns an achievement).
It’ll take more than one playthrough to get the full 1000 Gamer Score. There’s one binary choice in the game which splits the narrative and demands a second playthrough to unlock all the achievements and discover everything Bendy has to offer. This is no bad thing, as even the average gamer (like me!) will complete the campaign in around five hours.
In an era when survival horror titles often equip you with an Uzi and a rocket launcher, Bendy and the Ink Machine goes pure old school. You’ll need to keep your wits about you and get creative to survive. The cartoony visuals might put some gamers off, but those that dismiss the game on that basis will miss a truly creepy and memorable experience. At £21.19 on the Microsoft Store, it isn’t cheap, but does provide enough scares and enjoyment to justify the price.
Many thanks to Dead Good Media for the review code.