Fobia: St Dinfna Hotel (Fobia) is a First-Person Horror Survival game developed by the Brazilian Pulsatrix Studios. The Survival Horror genre has been steadily gaining steam over the last decade or so, with more studios developing them than ever. Fobia leans heavily into puzzles over the usual jump scares that similar titles are riddled with. Think a First-Person Horror version of Broken Sword, where you need to find the code, key, or secret button in order to continue the story.
Fobia throws the player into the deep end off the bat, as journalist Roberto Lopes sets off to the St Dinfna Hotel somewhere in Brazil to investigate reports of strange and supernatural happenings. Unlike many other modern games, there isn’t much of a tutorial or walkthrough, which is a breath of fresh air. Sometimes players just want to get into the game, not fluff about with control tutorials that are generally the same for every title.
After coming up empty on his search, Roberto is about to leave when he discovers a strange portal in his room that changes everything. That’s where things start to get interesting. The player is then required to utilise the games mechanics and their wits to find a way out of the hotel. This may sound simple at first, but the player has a long road ahead.
Fobia’s main gameplay loop revolves around using a camera. This isn’t any old camera though, looking through the camera’s lens is a window into another reality, or even time. Initially this mechanic is only used to see clues that aren’t visible to the naked eye, but the player, along with Roberto, quickly realise that not only does the camera let them view another world, it allows them to enter it. The player can access areas that may be blocked off in reality, but open in the alternate universe. Holding the camera up at a wall may allow the player to pass through it for example.
In addition to the camera, there are many other items that the player can find in the hotel. A flashlight, ammunition, gauze, tape and keys are just some of them. Many of these can be combined to craft useful items such as bandages. The survival element kicks in here with only a limited amount of ammo and bandages to last the players time in the hotel. Inventory space is another tricky element, with only a few slots on the player’s bag. The bag can be expanded through collectible pouches littered throughout the game.
That brings us to Fobia’s combat. Enemies in this game are rather lacklustre, and suffer from the odd glitch here or there. Only two enemy types exist outside boss battles. The first is a large bug looking creature that scuttles around the walls, and if not shot, attacks Roberto, dealing a small amount of damage, then gets squashed immediately by his foot, not requiring any interaction from the player. The second enemy can only be defeated using one of the multiple firearms that can be found in the game. It is a humanoid faceless creature with a glowing chest area that runs at the player and deals heavy damage. Both enemy types commonly glitch into walls and randomly disappear.
Unlike the poor combat, Fobia shines in its puzzle design. From relatively easy safe or door combinations found in documents, to secret codes that require cracking, the developer has really put the work in to push the player’s problem solving to its limits, often requiring out of the box thinking in order to progress. Players may even require a pen and paper to work out some of the more difficult puzzles. Some brain teasers in Fobia are optional, however this fact is not detailed in the game, so the player may find clues that are never used, which can be confusing. This does however give the player incentive to complete a New Game+ playthrough which is offered upon completing the story.
Like many similar titles, Fobia manages to scare the player, or at least provide suspenseful moments, mainly through the camera mechanic. The player knows that at any moment, looking through the camera may result in a scare, which in itself puts the player on edge. The characters in Fobia fail to captivate however, which seems to be the case with a lot of small budget horror titles. Whether the voice acting and script is poor due to the game being translated from Portuguese, or just due to poor writing, Roberto fails to convey any urgency or emotion during what should be an extremely frightening experience.
The visuals and background sounds are spectacular, with some set pieces portraying horrifying scenes exceptionally well. Sound effects such as a knock on a door as the player walks past can cause them to jump, and unlike similar titles, are not overused. The physics engine, which is not something that would usually be discussed with a game like this, was actually my favourite part. In the first part of the game I picked up a pencil holder off a desk that had pencils in it. When the holder was rotated in Roberto’s hand, the pencils fell onto the floor and rolled away from him. Completely independent from each other. I was left in awe, although I always have an affinity for such realisms in games, and I may be in the minority there.
Overall, Fobia is a fun and suspenseful Horror Puzzle game that suffers from poor combat and glitches. This game is not one for the kids unless they’re in their teens.