Any time of year, you can find it here
Every so often, I jump into a could-go-either-way indie game knowing just a basic bullet point or two. In the case of Fobia – St. Dinfna Hotel, a survival horror game from Brazilian studio Pulsatrix, that lack of exposure ended up leading to an overall pleasant surprise.
To quickly catch you up to speed: this game has undeniable shades of Resident Evil 7‘s first-person horror and inventory management, with a huge emphasis on solving puzzles, and there’s a surprisingly deep story to unfurl as you slink around an infested hotel.
I may have gotten extremely lost — twice! — but it all worked out in the end.
After finishing this game, I’ll never look at a hotel the same way again — probably!
That exaggeration won’t stick, but after spending a few lonely late nights with Fobia – St. Dinfna Hotel, I do see floor after floor of locked doors when I close my eyes. You’ll play as Roberto, a journalist trying to get to the bottom of a series of mysteries — missing people, weird sightings, and decades-long cult activity — surrounding a hotel in Santa Catarina, Brazil. You’ve been tipped off, and now you’re the new guest. Lucky you?
Early on, the hotel becomes twisted and fleshy, with a mysterious gas-mask-wearing girl warping in and out and monsters suddenly roaming the halls. It’s just you, a camera that can reveal “different timelines,” and whatever clues you can find and notes you can jot down in your journal. You’ve got a contact, Stephanie, but she’s always one step ahead.
You’ll need to get out alive, but with the hotel’s sudden state of disrepair, that’s easier said than done. Sometimes — okay, more like dozens of times — you’ll need a bespoke key. Or maybe a keycard and a certain hidden code. Or maybe you’ll need to bust out that camera to physically alter the room and crawl through a hole that shouldn’t exist.
Your path forward is often juuust out of reach, and you’ll end up looping all around to find an eventual way forward. If you’re a pixel-hunting adventure game fan, you’ll be a pro.
Heavy on puzzles and zigzagging navigation
One of my big surprises with Fobia – St. Dinfna Hotel was just how puzzle-centric it would be. Most of my time was spent poking around, looking for numerous mission-critical items (at one point you’re literally adding buttons to an elevator to reach new floors), and trying to keep track of where I’d recently been and why — it all starts to blur together.
There are a lot of loose ends (some optional, some mandatory) that you’ll need to leave hanging until you can circle back with the right item or knowledge to proceed. When you have an a-ha moment, this feels fantastic; the game is full of them. But when you’re lost for 45 minutes because you glossed over a staircase you could’ve pulled down from the ceiling, or you forgot to re-check a computer at the right moment, it’s not so fun.
It’s a tricky balancing act. There are a ton of keys, and they’re well-labeled. I appreciate that items like a crowbar or bolt cutter will straight-up tell you when they’re no longer needed; your inventory will thank you. And when it comes to the time-bending camera, it’s great that there’s a visual clue (handprints) so you don’t need to always have it equipped (but there are still plenty of optional items to find with it that aren’t so plainly signposted). That said, certain sections of Fobia could’ve been smoother; less padded.
With plenty of alone time, free of monsters
There are gnarly humanoid creatures to fend off — but they feel pretty finite if you’re cautious, scour for resources, and don’t waste ammo. The main threats are the bosses, though there are just a few. When it comes to creatures, Fobia feels stretched a bit thin.
The first-person shooting isn’t anything special (please do not play this game for its combat), but it gets the job done. Clunky survival-horror shootouts fit the mood, in a way.
Of course, if you don’t actively plan ahead and save — or you’re purposefully trying not to overdo it for a better end-of-game ranking — then the stakes will be considerably higher. It’s only possible to save in select places, and after losing 15 minutes of progress from a death (and then 15 more because I forgot my last several “progression” steps and had to awkwardly retrace them), I made sure to save every time I did anything noteworthy.
That said, there’s an unstoppable pursuer
While most of the game is set in a hotel, you’ll play certain sequences in a different time period — a nice change of pace — and the last act goes… let’s just say “underground.”
For as many times as I got turned around by similar-looking rooms and hallways in Fobia – St. Dinfna Hotel, I never got bored. I think that certain clues and objectives could be more specific without totally giving things away, to better indicate the ballpark of where to go next, but the actual physical puzzles were consistently enjoyable. I felt rewarded for paying attention, fully reading notes, and making connections. Your results will vary, especially with guides or just the occasional Google search to lend you a hand.
The atmosphere is at its most tense when an unkillable pursuer enemy is after you, but it’s worth stressing that this isn’t a full-on Mr. X nightmare scenario. These portions are clearly defined, they don’t last that long, and there aren’t too many of them, so it’s all manageable. If the pursuer had been more prevalent, it ultimately would’ve just been frustrating, not scary. Given all of the back-and-forth wild goose chases you can go on while trying to unlock doors and find an obscure way forward, this was for the best.
That said, I could’ve done with more enemy types. The shambling corpses freaked me out whenever they charged me at the last second, but I had plenty of ammo to clear ’em out. Those sneaky spiders, though. The vast majority of them jumped me before I even realized they were nearby, triggering an animation that would automatically kill them and result in me taking a bit of damage. They come in groups, and for me, that unfortunately often meant three “get bitten, then squish it” animations in a row. These creatures have no chill.
Another heads-up: I’d suggest switching the voice-overs to Brazilian Portuguese with English subtitles, if needed — trust me. It’s a step up, and an all-around better fit.
Eight to ten hours, give or take
In the end, with a nine-and-a-half-hour playtime, 80-some saves (look, I was paranoid!), and lots of damage taken, I was awarded a C rank. I was surprised! But not that surprised. I thought I had explored the hotel pretty thoroughly, but I missed one of the weapons, got completely lost in two instances, and those nasty spider creatures really did mess me up.
The rating scale for Fobia – St. Dinfna Hotel goes all the way up to S, S+, and S++, and there’s a trophy for finishing the game “without taking damage,” which I can’t even begin to wrap my head around. I do like that the results screen tallies up the documents you discovered (I ended up with 78 percent completion) and “secondary puzzles” you solved (somehow, only 26 percent). All of a sudden New Game+ made a lot more sense.
Am I in a rush to play Fobia again? Not at all. It doesn’t have the snowballing power-fantasy progression that Resident Evil has perfected. But I will pick it back up eventually, and by the time I do, I’ll have forgotten most, if not all, of the solutions. Wish me luck. The ending’s (kind of bonkers) revelations will add a wrinkle to that second playthrough.
Fobia – St. Dinfna Hotel is worth playing for patient survival horror fans who want something lighter on combat, and can handle budget-constrained rough edges. Monsters wander around in an effort to raise the stakes, but the focus is on meticulous exploration, just-cryptic-enough puzzle-solving, and mentally mapping out the many, many hotel halls.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]