Review: Rise of Insanity
Review copy provided by developer via Curator Connect
“Psychological horror” is one of the most abused tags on Steam, to the point where it’s virtually unusable for its intended purpose. But that’s not just because anime and edutainment games get tagged with it. Indie developers are often woefully unprepared to craft games that actually horrify on a psychological level, or that effectively address and represent horrific mental states. Rise of Insanity makes the effort, and honestly makes a stronger effort than most of its ilk, but still falls far short of that lofty goal. In the rush to create a dreadful psychological state, the developers have instead crafted a short, stiff experience chock full of twists and details that do more to detract from the horror than anything.
Dr. Stephen Dowell is a psychologist experimenting with a bold new treatment based on recorded images. He’s hoping to cure the ailments of a troubled man named Eddie, but the questionable nature of his treatment and shadowy connections to his patient complicate matters. Now it’s all gone, your practice, your colleagues, your patients, and even your family. All you can do is sort through Stephen’s jumbled memory, assembling the pieces of the past to reveal his tragic fate.
There are innumerable directions a game with this setup can go in. It could explore the horrific consequences of his experimental treatment, or the varied perspectives of a multiple personality disorder. It doesn’t go in those or any other unique directions, instead leaving you in the shoes of Dr. Dowell as he wanders through disjointed memories collecting notes. Each area, whether it be his house or the hospital or a garden or a courthouse will have notes revealing snippets of the story, and usually a dictaphone or two with a more illuminating audio log. Of course, this all being a construct of his mind means there will be dark and disturbing events to contend with.
Just so we’re clear, here’s the basic structure of the game. You’ll find yourself in an office or hallway somewhere, with a ghostly voice directing you. Exploring the area will reveal a few notes and a task to complete, anything from finding a key to collecting children’s toys. In the process of completing your task a spooky thing will happen, maybe the lights will go out or a scary lady will scream at you. Then a phone will ring, you’ll pick it up, and during the voiceover you’ll transition to the next area. With vanishingly few exceptions this is exactly what you’ll be doing for the entire two-hour runtime of the game.
What disappoints more than anything about Rise of Insanity is that it’s got a solid foundation that’s had a shoddy lean-to of a narrative built upon it. The game looks fine, and features nicely-detailed environments. The audio design is on point, and what special effects are used seem quite effective. But the story is structured around the most obvious twist imaginable, like you’ve probably already guessed it just from “multiple personality disorder” and “twist.” There’s also layer after layer of unnecessary cruft, like the repeated bird imagery and the experimental treatment and ghostly people that like to appear and scream at you. These should not be vestigial components, they should be front-and-center in a deep, engaging story, but they’re neither developed nor utilized in any effective way.
I have a fair bit of respect for Rise of Insanity for taking the bog-standard Unity horror game and elevating it in terms of basic quality. But that doesn’t make it a good game. Good horror games are tight, focused experiences that built senses of intrigue and insecurity and pick the right times to up-end those notions. Rise of Insanity does none of those things, opting to string together brief snippets of story between bland setpieces and meandering note-searches. This would be a decent attempt by a student group or amateur mod scene, but as a full release it doesn’t do nearly enough to earn it a recommendation.