FOBIA St. Dinfna Hotel Review

Three things I like about this game, and two I don't

FOBIA St. Dinfna Hotel

By Paul Hunter

2022 sure seems like year of the horror game and personally I couldn't be happier. Dying Light 2 kicked off the barrage of horror titles in early February, and it was quickly followed up by Martha is Dead, Ghostwire: Tokyo, Evil Dead: The Game and Oxide Room 104, plus MADiSON is hitting consoles and PC in a few days. Among all these great horror titles is another game I've been eagerly awaiting: FOBIA St. Dinfna Hotel, the debut release from Sao Paulo, Brazil-based indie developer Pulsatrix Studios.

The biggest reason I was stoked to play FOBIA is its throwback graphics and gameplay highly reminiscent of horror greats Resident Evil and Silent Hill. I've now played through the game's 10-hour campaign and have lots to write about. So pick up your room key at the lobby and let's explore the St. Dinfna Hotel, here are three things I liked about the game...and two I didn't.

Liked: Hotel Level Structure

FOBIA takes place in the decadent St. Dinfna Hotel, in a fictional city called Treze Trilhas or "Thirteen Trails" in English. Rumours of numerous mysterious disappearances and paranormal activity circles the hotel, and rookie journalist Roberto Leite Lopes arrives hoping to break the story. Roberto's seemingly ordinary investigation to uncover the truth quickly spirals into a twisted reality with different timelines, a fanatical cult, biological experiments, and sinister creatures roaming the halls.

The bulk of FOBIA's story takes place in the once opulent hotel now turned into a horrific nightmare of fires, floods and fearsome beings. I was immediately impressed with how well thought out the hotel's layout is, reminiscent of Resident Evil's Spencer Mansion or Resident Evil 2's Police Station. There are all kinds of secret passageways, occultist artifacts, and creepy corridors that keeps you invested in the environments. Plus the room variety is excellent, ranging from a decorative music hall to grotesque labs to harrowing jail cells used for nefarious purposes. From beginning to end, FOBIA really nails the room aesthetics and is easily one of the game's biggest highlights.

Progression through these exquisite locations is also very similar to classic Resident Evil titles. You'll go from room to room scavenging for supplies while looking out for keys and tools, like a screwdriver or bolt cutter, to unlock new areas and advance the story. This game is very puzzle centric as well, so be prepared to keep a notepad with you as you play to jot down room access codes, safe combinations, mixture chemical combinations and so much more. The bottom line is if you enjoy PS1 or PS2 style horror titles you're sure to love what's on offer here.

Liked: Interesting Puzzles

By the trailers, I was really expecting FOBIA to have a good balance of combat and puzzles but wow was I wrong—solving puzzles is by far the emphasis. Fortunately, there are many clever puzzles that require you to flex your noodle but none so complicated to make you give up in frustration. FOBIA strikes the perfect balance between challenging you, while keeping puzzles solvable with reasonable effort.

Some of the more clever puzzles require you to use an enigmatic camera that connects parallel realities within the hotel. You'll generally get tipped off to use the camera whenever you see strange inky handprints on objects, or whenever a startling visual distortion occurs. Looking through the camera can reveal hidden gaps in the walls, objects you can interact with to affect the other reality, or you can even find key items only found within the camera's reality.

It's a really cool game mechanic as it means there are two different versions of the hotel to investigate. Quite often I was tempted to use the camera simply to spot the differences, and you're often rewarded for your time as you'll find secret puzzle solutions or much-needed bullets or medical supplies in the alternate reality.

I'm also quite pleased with the sheer variety of puzzles on offer here. A lot of them we've seen in other survival horror titles, like chess board or music sheet puzzles, but there are creative original ones as well. I enjoyed how observant the game asks you to be: you might find random numbers scribbled on a wall, or lock combinations buried a few pages within a manuscript. I had a notepad filled with random letters, numbers and codes I found—most I eventually discovered a use for while others may have been intentional red herrings. There are also a lot of optional puzzles; when I completed the game it said I solved 47% of the side puzzles. It immediately made me want to replay the game (and yes there is a New Game+ mode with your weapons and upgrades carrying over!).

Liked: Creepy Atmosphere

The art direction of FOBIA is outstanding and really adds a lot to the overall experience. On top the beautifully-crafted Dinfna Hotel, you'll also visit a spine tingling deserted village, an underground laboratory and a winding mining tunnel filled with apparitions. Most surprising (in a good way) is how FOBIA creates its terror and dread through suitably haunting environments and very few jump scares.

Audio heightens the experience with undead shrieks or the sound of a large metal object dragging somewhere in your general area. I never did scream while playing the game, but I could feel the hair on the back of my neck stiff up quite often—and I love that intensity in my horror games.

Didn't Like: Janky Combat

While the puzzles are superb, the same unfortunately cannot be said about the first-person gunplay. Aiming is janky and imprecise and it doesn't help that the main zombie creature you battle moves so erratically. Speaking of enemies, even though it's a 10-hour story there are only two common enemies: wall-crawling leeches and zombies. There are boss fight punctuated throughout the campaign, but it certainly would have been nice to have more enemy variety.

I also thought the damage your guns do was absolutely bizarre. Sometimes I would kill a zombie with three bullets of my basic pistol, but the next zombie I'd shoot them six times point blank with my obviously more powerful shotgun before they went down. It's as if zombies have invincibility frames during certain animations yet there's no rationale reason for this to be the case. It was also annoying how the first shotgun blast would knock zombies to their feet but a second shotgun blast has no pushback effect whatsoever. Combat is easily the weakest part of FOBIA but thankfully you don't encounter enemies very often.

Didn't Like: Flat Voice Acting

Another downside to FOBIA is the English voice acting that often sounds flat and unnatural given the situations you're in. The intensity and direness of situations are rarely reflected properly in the characters' voices during cutscenes, which diminishes the scenes' impact. It's too bad because everything else in the game—from the eerie visuals to the heart-pounding audio—really immerses you in the narrative.

I should also mention that I encountered a rare bug during my playthrough that made me lose 90 minutes of my progress. There was a particular spot where I had to collect an item but it mysteriously disappeared. My suggestion for everyone picking up this game is to take advantage of the multiple save slots. Every few saves it's probably a wise move to save in a new slot, just in case you encounter a similar game-breaking glitch.

The Verdict

As a first effort for Pulsatrix Studios, FOBIA St. Dinfna Hotel is commendable. The hotel has exquisite level design and the numerous puzzles kept me interested and engaged over the campaign. I also love the camera alternate reality mechanic, it's a neat twist on a familiar concept. Combat needs improvement, as does the voice acting, but overall FOBIA is an easy recommend for fans of classic Resident Evil or Silent Hill.

Final Score: 7.5/10 - Good

FOBIA - St. Dinfna Hotel details

Platform: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Pulsatrix Studios
Publisher: Maximum Games
Genre: Survival Horror
Modes: Single-player
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

A key was provided by the publisher.