They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and nowhere has imitation been so prominent in gaming with the likes of Resident Evil clones (despite Resident Evil taking massive influence from 1992’s Alone in the Dark). After the success of Resident Evil back in 1996, other publishers and developers decided they wanted some of that survival horror fame, glory, and money and produced their own venture into the genre. This still goes on to this very day, with the likes of Tormented Souls, Dead Space, and many others. But no one has really decided to take influence from the recent First-Person Resident Evil titles … until now.
Fobia: St Dinfna Hotel is a horrific venture into madness, as a lone reporter is trapped within a Hellish hotel looking to solve a gruesome mystery. Does Fobia: St Dinfna have the chops to be crowned king of the indie horror scene? Or should you check out as soon as possible?What is Fobia: St Dinfna?
Ever stayed at a bad hotel? One where the shower doesn’t work, the bed is super uncomfortable and there’s a pair of underpants on the floor which aren’t yours? Yeah, that’s bad. But imagine a place much worst!
Fobia follows the journey of amateur journalist Roberto Leite Lopes who travels to Santa Catarina following a tip from his friend Stephanie. He’s hoping to catch his big break with a story involving numerous disappearances and reported paranormal activity.
After checking into the St. Dinfina Hotel, Roberto soon hits a dead end, and his leads dry up. Yet one night, everything changes as a strange entity appears and causes him to blackout after causing a massive shockwave. Coming to his sense, Roberto discovers the hotel is in absolute ruin, the time has moved forward a year and there are many strange and dangerous threats he has to contend with.
Armed with his investigative skills, a trusty camera that can eye things the naked eye can’t, and any weapons he can get hold of, Roberto will explore the hotel, solve the mysteries within and fight monstrous friends to survive. You can see the influence that Resident Evil 7 has had on Fobia, but there are many neat dynamics to make it something much more. Interestingly, players will explore the horrors of this nightmarish hotel through different timelines and perspectives. There is also the tricky with the camera (a note to Outlast surely), where viewing the world through the camera will reveal an even more twisted reality. The camera will reveal secrets, vital resources, new paths, and secrets that will help Roberto progress through this terrifying ordeal. Come for the sights, stay for the nightmarish fun (Some light spoilers ahead)
Fobia: St. Dinfina Hotel has plenty of the survival horror tropes within its DNA, with elements such as a creepy location imprisoning our protagonist, a location that requires plenty of exploration to discover key items and resources to survive. But it also includes a line-up of gruesome and haunting monsters looking to eat your flesh, plenty of complex puzzles, and a ton of exploration and the discovery of key items for progression. But the tropes don’t stop there, as the story takes many beats from any classic survival horror, with a grand sinister plan of pure evil, led by a mysterious cult that focuses on creating monsters and all manner of mayhem in the name of purity. There is a fiendish stalking enemy, underground labs, and so forth, but Fobia has a couple of decent stories beats to make it different from the rest.
The hotel setting is great and lends well to the story and for the aspect of exploration. Normally we get a sinister hospital or mansion, but the developers have decided to take us to somewhere even more grounded and familiar which adds to the intensity (interestingly this is the second horror game in a month I played set within a hotel). The aftermath of some Hellish events has twisted and deformed the hotel into a nightmarish labyrinth of death, where the multiple rooms hold all manner of dangers and secrets. And with the camera that changes the perspective of the world even further in small ways, you can expect a world that’s thoroughly engaging and haunting to venture through.
The lore behind the hotel, the secret cult, and the figureheads behind everything were quite fleshed out and enjoyable to learn as the game progressed. There are some elements that feel overly generic such as the secret lab you find later. Its inclusion makes it feel as though it’s only in the game because labs at the end of a game are a survival horror trope. But we also get a protagonist who can give Ethen Winters a run for his most unlikable protagonist (actually, he is worse).
As I said a couple of times already, Fobia: St. Dinfina Hotel does take some notes from Resident Evil 7, with certain story beats, the location has those Baker Mansion vibes, and even down to how the weapons look and somewhat feel. There are even moments where our protagonist Roberto speaks with a woman via the telephone to gauge what he needs to do next.
Yet, the other story elements which come later into the game (which I won’t spoil) do add another layer of complexity and overall, an edge over the more generic aspects of the story. Everything is generally solid with the story, and I was compelled to find out the truth behind the sinter mystery grasping the hotel. But I do wish the developers may have strayed away from those plot points and locations we’ve seen so many times before and created something a little more original.There are so many fun things to do on your stay!
Fobia: St. Dinfina has what you expect from great survival horror, and the execution is generally very good. I’ve dived a bit into the world, which really is varied, complex, and fun to explore. The multiple layers of the hotel make it one of the more confidently intricate locations in the survival horror genre, and this is something that could have gone horribly wrong. But the developers managed to balance out the flow, location of key items, and backtracking to make running around, finding key items, and solving puzzles entertaining.
There are plenty of locked rooms to get into and brainteasing puzzles (which puts the Spencer Mansion to shame in some instances) to resolve. You’ll be finding crowbars to pry open broken elevator doors, bolt cutters (again RE much?) to break chain locks, plenty of keys to open other doors, and more exotic items that when put together reveal a grand revelation.
I will admit, the number of keys you find is quite something, and in some moments, you’ll find yourself just going from one room looking for a key, to going to another to find another key! The key hunts towards the end of the game do feel a little tedious, but there are genuinely other puzzles that really do put Resident Evil to shame. One of my favourites was finding a small puzzle cube and solving each problem, revealing a new layer, and by finding important items later, could I unravel more layers. The camera is also used quite well for most of the game, where using the camera will reveal hidden items in the world, but also show the true face of the hotel. You’ll find codes, safes, and vital items whether they’re resources or keys to help you progress further.
Plus, you do have those typical survival horror-style puzzles whether it’s figuring out a riddle via paintings, but the developers really do push the lateral elements as far as they can go to be tough yet enjoyable to figure out. And there are plenty of side objectives/puzzles which do take a bit of work and multiple items to solve yet offer some immense rewards.
My only gripes really were that some key items were too well hidden and that missing a single clue in a nearby room will mean you have no idea you’re meant to be looking for something. Especially with how the world/items are designed, being incredibly grounded and realistic in size, but incredibly easy to miss and difficult to pick up with the small hitboxes.
There is also one key item you get, an actual key which you add components onto (very similar to that of Tormented Souls) which really didn’t spark much innovation or creativity after the first few uses. As the boxes, safes, and doors which are locked and can only be opened with this key, all tell you what you need to change on the key. It might have been nice if there was a riddle for some instances you use the key, but it’s still a neat mechanic and breaks up the more generic keys you find.
Overall, the lateral side of Fobia: St. Dinfina was quite special, and I loved finding the subtle clues to some of the more complex puzzles, the discovery with the camera and the environment itself was frighteningly joyful to venture around in.Please, this is a nice hotel
Aside from puzzles, you’ll be dealing with a host of nasty creatures roaming the corridors and food areas of the impressive Fobia: St. Dinfina. Players will have limited resources to ensure their survival, but they will have access to several firearms including a pistol, shotgun, and machine gun, which do really help when facing zombies, parasitic bugs, or a gas mask-wearing abomination with a giant claw for the hand.
While combat is present, it’s filtered out through the 10 or so hour campaign, and exploration, resource management, and the puzzles are the front runners here.
Managing your resources, scavenging, and looting for those all-important bullets and bandages is as thrilling in any AAA horror game. And as the hotel is so massive, along with the neat trick your camera can do, you’ll be sure to find what you need, and more so if you’re really looking hard enough. I would say that health is scattered in low quantities (or at least decent health packs from my searches) but if you are having trouble in the game, there’s an option to slightly increase the ammo you find to help during tougher, more brutal encounters. This was something present in the old Silent Hill games, and it’s always a nice way to help those new to the genre. It doesn’t become Call of Duty but gives enough so you can defend yourself more effectively on the first run.
There are also plenty of rewards to find, many of them in the form of upgrade cubes which you can use to make your camera, or guns more effective. These were nice to find and while I personally prefer something like attachments or modifications, these tokens were always nice and fun to find.
But generally, combat is not great, and is held back by the clunky, but serviceable controls, and the lack of interesting enemy designs/behaviors. Don’t get me wrong, the enemies do look fairly cool, but they’re also fairly uninventive with their designs or how they behave.
The standard zombie enemy moves slowly, when it does see you, rush in for the kill, and there are these parasite-like creatures, which are the worst enemy I’ve had the displeasure of dealing with in recent video games memory. And the bosses while looking gruesome and decent enough, are very uninspired and don’t have any real spectacle when you fight them. They just become as annoying as the normal enemies, with some windups/attacks difficult to read as they can move incredibly fast, but also clip through walks for the cheap shot. But the parasites are the worst as you can only tell they’re around by the noise they make, but most areas they’re in are very dark. Even with a flashlight, they’re hard to spot and can jump a few feet easily onto you. Then you must watch this tedious animation where you pull them out and stomp on them, and there are normally 3 or 4 together. So, get attacked once, you’ll have to sit through another 2 or 3 animations and when this happened the first time, I already had enough.Come and stay again!
Finally, we come to the end of our lovely vacation and there are some notes to mention about the end and after the game.
I will admit, the last third of the game does take somewhat a dive in quality. I noticed reaching the “point of no return” for Fobia, that the pacing was a little all over the place, and the quality control missed quite a few moments where you can clip through objects such as fences (no serious bugs seen in the game at all … apart from those annoying parasites) and the last location of the game while not bad overall, had a couple of moments which went on way to long. Such as having to traverse this massive room full of multiple walkways to different labs and control panels you need to reach. Because it was so dark, and there were plenty of these annoying parasite enemies hiding away in the shadows.
The endgame is not a flop, but it’s not as compelling as the hotel (the clipping and lack of refinement here could be due to Covid and I can understand if this was the case). But there are lots of unlockable features, including a New Game Plus, which is somewhat harder and includes some new additions … including parasites that quickly move towards you. But otherwise, the new game plus and unlockable features, and in general the replay value is phenomenal. In my first run, which took about 11 hours, I managed to get around 80% of the side puzzles, and I felt there were a lot of them. I found the remainder in my second run and the overall time was around 6, which is still very good. Plus, there were lots of other discoveries to find, including documents and items called memories which unlock other extras.
So, while the end wasn’t the strongest part of the campaign, the extras and unlockable content really did make up for it.Overall
Fobia St Dinfna Hotel has clearly taken a lot of notes from the recent First-Person Resident Evil games, and I both admire and appreciate this. Firstly, survival horror can have multiple camera views and push for other environments aside from spooky mansions. Second, and most importantly, for an indie developer, they’re done an amazing job at creating a confidently constructed, beautifully engaging, and chilling horror game, where so many others have failed.
I love the setting and how the multiple layers of the hotel work in the favour of exploration, scavenging, and problem solving, with the immense amount of puzzles, side activities to complete, and neat dynamics such as the camera changing certain elements in the world. While there are some elements that feel unrefined in comparison, these didn’t ruin my engagement, and I happily played this twice through and would certainly love to go through it again! Which is what great survival horrors should do.
I was impressed with Fobia St Dinfna Hotel, and I can see the developers are immensely talented at creating survival horror games. I do hope they’re working on another project, where they can refine the “not so” great aspects here, and make their next game a brilliant horror game to rival Resident Evil!
++ Great location that adds to the survival horror gameplay
++ Lots of great puzzles and secrets to discover
+ Interesting story beats and lore
+ Looks and plays well and has plenty of extras
-- Combat is basic and tedious at times
- Some secrets and solutions are a little too well hidden
- The third act is a let down
An Xbox Series X/S code for Fobia - St. Dinfna Hotel was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.