This week, Morgan decided it best to play an episodic indie game. And he was lucid at the time, astonishingly.

We’ve been through a hell of a year, as anyone and their greengrocer will tell you, so it’ll come as little surprise that everyone’s looking forward to what 2021 may bring. Me, I’ve been preparing for the continued downfall of humanity through the medium of – what else – games. Oh yes, those mounting hours on Call of Duty Zombies weren’t just for an article, you know.

But before anyone accuses me of getting overly zealous about things, let me assure you that I do still occasionally play games for fun. After all, that’s why I seek entertainment: to feel something other than the usual lingering contempt. I’m not one of those insane dark god worshippers who sees current events as divine intervention or anything, that would just be crazy.

Anyway, let’s wrap this review up quickly; my weekly doomsday cult meeting is at three and the bus over takes at least half an hour.

At time of writing, we’re approaching the end of December, and for the shit-smeared cherry on top of 2020’s polystyrene trifle, I have to live with the knowledge that I will not be able to say “Happy New Year’s” altogether truthfully.  At least the “Happy” part, anyway, owing to the fact that I’ve spent the past few days playing through Bendy and the Ink Machine. Maybe the sudden heat death of the universe at midnight on the 31st will take care of the other two words.

Here’s a quick demonstration on how to summarise an entire review in one sentence: Bendy and the Ink Machine is a game that could have worked. It’s a first-personal survival-cum-horror-cum-stain by publisher Kindly Beast that I recently purchased, whilst making the mistake of feeling vaguely optimistic about a cheap indie game. I can remember quite vividly what suckered me in in the first place: a cheerful cartoon aesthetic as a background to a bleak and depressing world. It harks back to the first days of hand-drawn animation, when things focused less on friendship and more on murder and racism.

You play as Henry, an ex-employee of Joey Drew Studios and amazing human personality vacuum, who is summoned back to the workplace by Joey Drew himself. Naturally, this being a horror game, someone somewhere has gotten the bright idea to mess with forces beyond their control and you turn up to see the place abandoned and half of the lights not working. A few audio logs (oh yes, they’re back again) say that the place was running out of money and the cartoons were only half-done, so maybe this is just how you deal with your corporate financial troubles these days. Attempt to harness the power of Satan and only if that doesn’t work do you file for chapter eleven bankruptcy.

On this particular occasion, Mister Drew has purchased a brand spanking-new ink machine which has since transformed everyone into weird ink-cartoon amalgamations that of course want to kill you. Or, failing that, jump-scare you into cardiac arrest. That’s the level of horror we’re dealing with here and thus we arrive at the crux of the matter.

I have a theory that maybe the concept artist seduced the daughter of whoever was developing the gameplay and so as revenge, they never missed an opportunity to make things slow and boring. Jump-scares do not make a scary game, mainly because they’re not scary. Yes, they give me a slight shock. Yes, I might occasionally make a noise that would no doubt garner a good few views on YouTube, or cack myself with the force of a shotgun blast. But afterwards, I’m not left with an encroaching sense of dread. I’m just annoyed. Don’t get me wrong, I know why they’re there: if they weren’t, there’d be no build-up of tension. You’d just be slowly meandering down corridors at the speed of a half-charged Roomba, using a wrench to whack enemies that only look different because they can take a different number of hits. It’s developer shorthand for “we couldn’t pace this properly and our lunch break is more important than gameplay satisfaction”.

Even the player character doesn’t seem the least bit frightened at any point. What weirded me out more than any jump-scare was how he just seems to take all of this in his stride: tiny monkey-ink hybrids charging at him with switchblades? He only has to take a slight step to the side and let them miss their attack, unleash one of his, then rinse and repeat. Just another day at the office, really.

But it certainly doesn’t help that all the voice acting is dogshit, either. With the exception of a character named Angel in chapter three, everyone, regardless of whether they’re in the room or just on a tape, sound like they’re looking towards the director halfway through delivering their lines to make sure they’re doing it right and he doesn’t beat them again.

Due to the game being published in episodes, there seems to be quite a bit of disjoint in regards to what the developers wanted this game to actually be. The first chapter focuses gives off the air of trying to be a “puzzle” game – you wander around aimlessly and search for useless junk to get the ink machine working, which is to puzzle games what Donald Trump is to televised debate – then the second and third dive into the survival side of things, i.e.  hiding in porta-potties because the one enemy who can’t be harmed for whatever reason (Bendy) has been going through some marital problems lately and wants to take it all out on you.

Maybe the gameplay style stays the same from that point on. Hell, it could have become a Tim Burton-style Cooking Mama by the end for all I know. But the third chapter decided to pull my trousers down when I least expected it with a glitch that makes me wonder whether the segment even should have even been cleared for release in the first place.

The mission was to collect five “ink hearts” (just go with it, the review will be over quicker) for Angel, the aforementioned boss monster. I collected four, but then the game glitched out and said all five had been found without giving me any way to progress. The point where I was meant to drop them off flat-out refused to acknowledge my presence and so I took to the Steam community forums to see that this was quite a common issue. One comment said only a complete restart of the game would help, marking the point where I finally threw my hands up in defeat. Whatever you want from me, Bendy and the Wank Machine, I’ve decided you can’t have it.

The game’s strong point is definitely its appearance: the dreary comic-style design of the environments makes for some lovely screenshots, but the moment it has to involve anything such as combat, or puzzle-solving (you know, like a video game), things quickly fall short. A nicely-designed environment holds no weight when it’s all you can focus on for danger of nodding off. After all, a task in the second chapter requiring the fulfilment of such specific criteria and worded so badly that you need an online guide to get past it? There’s no other explanation! It can only be daughter-seduction!