This title was reviewed on PS4, but is also available on Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch.
So, I feel like there’s something I should let you all know before we get into this review. I’m a bit of a scardey-cat; jump scares and spooky settings aren’t exactly things that I handle well. Add a dash of anxiety and an over-active imagination, and you can probably see why I don’t tend to play horror games or watch horror movies – which is a shame because when done well horror is one of the most interesting genres out there; Bendy and the Ink Machine is proof of that.
Developed by Joey Drew Studios Inc. this is a game that builds on its mechanics as you progress through, starting as a simple environment explorer that soon brings in the solving of puzzles and later the use of weapons and fighting. Bendy and the Ink Machine follows Henry as he returns to his old place of work, ‘Joey Drew Studios’ (very meta), where he was a lead animator. Through the first person perspective of Henry, the player must investigate the seemingly abandoned studio and piece together exactly what has happened in Henry’s absence. Voice recordings left throughout the studio give some insight into the descent of Henry’s old colleagues and can help flesh out what Henry is looking into and what exactly he might face. The actual gameplay is easy to grasp; you can walk, run, look around, interact with objects, and – upon picking up an axe – attack. The use of simplistic controls means that the focus of the player is never on what sequence of buttons they need to press but rather the environment and story they are experiencing through Henry; I found that this really heightened the tension of the game and I think it was a smart choice by the devs.
Graphics / Visuals
The style of Bendy and the Ink Machine is quite unique and utterly appropriate for the setting of the game. Bold and cartoonish, the design of the characters and the environment give off this old-school Disney vibe that somehow makes this game that much more horrifying. The level design in the first few chapters is more simplistic, but as the game goes on the levels become more complex and there’s more points of interest for the player to interact with. The colour scheme is limited to sepia tones and black lines and puddles of ink – once again the game design is done in a way that doesn’t distract from the story, but rather helps to build on the increasingly unnerving atmosphere. I’m a big fan of interesting visual styles in games, particularly when it links back to the story, and Bendy and the Ink Machine absolutely nails the visual style of the old 30s animations; Disney’s ‘Steamboat Willie’ has nothing on Bendy, Borris, and all of the other horrifying characters that Henry encounters in this hellscape of an animation studio.
Sound and Music
As with any great horror, sound, and music in this game are vital to the creation of the spooky atmosphere. The sounds of creaking wood bring to mind the old horror classic of the haunted house, without actually limiting the game to that setting. The heavy thump of your footsteps (and sometimes, maybe, someone else’s?) seem to pound in time with your heart. The hush of unintelligible whispers, the skittering of rats and so many other classically scary sounds are used to significant effect in Bendy and the Ink Machine. Playing this game with a good headset only helps to build on the soundscape as the outside world is muted, leaving you alone in the game with a soundscape that will send shivers up your spine.
The voice acting overall is very good, with Henry occasionally commenting on aspects of the studio that he comes across, or wondering what happened to his old colleagues. The voice recordings left over from said workmates, as well as the voices of the monsters that Henry faces are also done well – however I did find that some of the lines from Bendy didn’t come across perhaps as menacingly as they were meant to, and instead lingered in ‘cheesy villain’ territory, which was a bit of a shame.
Music is used sparingly for the most part in this game – often diegetic, the source a radio or film happening in game, and – as is horror tradition – often starting and stopping at random. However when non-diegetic music is used, it’s almost always for dramatic effect – such when Henry is being chased, or during a boss fight – and is incredibly emotive. The music is fast paced, dramatic, and designed to get the adrenaline pumping. It seems every aspect of sound in Bendy and the Ink Machine is designed to scare you out of your goddamn mind. And believe me – it absolutely will.
Overall Bendy and the Ink Machine is a fantastic game – if you’re a fan of the horror genre, this is definitely one you’ll want to pick up. The story holds your interest and the soundscape builds tension so perfectly that you’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat before anything has even happened. Despite my cowardice, I did enjoy this game – it’s just too well made not to enjoy. I admit however that I did resort to streaming while I was playing, simply because I couldn’t handle the ever growing tension by myself (to say nothing of the jump scares). Despite having people to distract me and talk to me as I played through the game, I still had moments where my hands quite literally shook with fear – which I’m sure the developers of Bendy and the Ink Machine would count as a win. Unfortunately, playing through this game has only confirmed for me exactly why I stay away from this particular genre, and though this game was fantastic in pretty much every way, it’s not likely that I’ll be going back for more.
(I did warn you; I’m really not great with horror.)