On receiving a letter from ex-colleague, Joey Drew, you head to the old animation workshop to find out what’s new. That’s all you need to get started, you play game now.

You, as Henry, arrive at the animation studio to find it seemingly deserted. The whole building is a sepia tone cartoon from the earliest days of animation. Outlines and minimal shading in black. A few off-yellow lights serve to draw attention here and there. Holes in walls are boarded up, doors too.

Standees of the studio mascot, Bendy the devil, are everywhere. Sometimes even peering out from around corners, before disappearing. Strange black pipes run through most rooms, occasionally dripping ink on the floor. The walls are plastered with artist notes near their drawing boards. Posters show some of the studio’s titles, introducing Bendy, Boris the wolf, and later, Alice Angel (of course, of course you make classic style cartoons about demons, angels and wolves. Of course it’s about going to hell in a handbasket, putting out the hell fires, and darling devils. That seems like jolly good, wholesome entertainment).

The game’s art style works really well. Bendy is about, and in, a classic cartoon. The only problem with making the whole world two colours is that it can be a bit difficult to navigate. As things move on, you will start to see a few areas over again, and this definitely helps you learn the layout, but for someone like me, who struggles with orientation in games, it’s very difficult to navigate some parts. Additionally, you can miss key items because you didn’t directly move your crosshair over them, to make them light up (I’m looking at you axe that I missed for 5 minutes in that boss area. Well, I’m clearly not, because I didn’t spot the damn thing for far too long, but you get the point).

You’ll start out by trying to get through doors, gather items to activate the titular ink machine, and solve basic puzzles to unlock the next area. All this under the watchful eyes of Bendy cutouts, Bendy plushes, Bendy character sheets on drawing boards, Bendy posters, Bendy Statues. Bendy is everywhere, always watching you. Their fixed grin more menacing than jolly or friendly.

Once the machine is active, the dripping ink becomes more prevalent and more… lively. Black creatures born of the ink rise up and swing for you. Their oily bodies somehow fitting with the rest of the art style, but their rendering making them look more realistic than Bendy’s more illustrated style.

Getting deeper into the game, you’ll start to encounter, what I refer to as, the “real” Bendy and Alice. These are inky horrors, parodies of their cartoon forms. These twisted, monstrous beings are of the ink itself, more like the oily ink monsters than their artist’s original designs.

At first the story is only fed to you through Bioshock-esque audio diaries. The various employees tell of their grievances, the story slowly being teased out. Here I will mention a problem. These audio recordings are equalized to sound like they’re being played from fairly poor quality tape recordings. This means that it can be difficult to make out what their saying. They are accompanied by transcriptions on one side of the screen, but the text is so small you’ll need to be super close to read it. On a smaller screen, it would be impossible.

As you move on you will meet Atlus Alice Angel. Should you agree to their requests, you’ll end up on a series of (maybe one too many) fetch quests around the building as they explain some of their woes. This does a lot to flesh out Alice’s story and give some hints about the nature of the ink itself, but larger mysteries remain.

Should you die at any point, you’ll find yourself in a weird swirling tunnel which reminds me of Silent Hill 4’s bathroom hole. Once you’ve crawled out of it, you’ll respawn at the nearest Bendy statue, which is very reminiscent of Bioshock (I know, everything’s been done before. I’m not criticising that, the game’s brought all these things together in its own way very nicely *pats game on head*).

Overall, the mood is really creepy, the world is interesting and keeps you wanting to know what’s happening and where it will lead, the sound design is very good and atmospheric (though sometimes you can hear radios through walls, like you’re right next to them), and the character designs are great. I’d say it’s definitely time and money well spent, if survival horror a la 1920’s animation is your thing.

Pros:

  • Good art style
  • Wonderfully creepy
  • Great character design

Cons:

  • Transcripts of audio logs are hard to read on smaller screens (especially in handheld)
  • Combat can be frustrating with certain weapons
  • Loading times are a little long

Overall Score: 7/10

Bendy and the Ink Machine is out now on Switch, Xbox One, PS4, and PC

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