Your grandfather has passed away, leaving you his English manor. You head to the empty house, looking to see what you’ve inherited, only to find that it’s haunted.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Insomnis’ setup isn’t overly original; gameplay-wise, it’s nothing you haven’t played before. That said, Insomnis hits all the notes a good horror adventure should, and what it lacks in originality, it nails in execution. While the PlayStation 5 upgrade isn’t groundbreaking, if you haven’t played Path Games’ spooky adventure, The Castevet Manor is worth a (re)visit.
The game opens with protagonist Joe Castevet receiving a phone call from his late grandfather’s lawyer, letting him know that the keys to Roman Castevet’s estate are ready to be picked up. Fast-forward to Joe in the entryway to the mansion, and the game begins.
Insomnis opens with a warning that there is no auto-save feature, and players must find out how to save on their own. It doesn’t take long to solve this mystery, but it does add a layer of suspense. Going in, I had no idea whether there were situations that could land me a “game over” screen or whether this would be a pedestrian haunted house experience.
Insomnis is played from a first-person perspective and adheres to a standard dual analog control setup (players can look down to see Joe’s flashlight, though curiously not his feet). Upon assuming control of Joe, players are told to switch on his flashlight using the circle button. That is not a toggle, as the flashlight remains on for the entirety of the game from this point. Joe can also crouch by pressing the L2 trigger, which is handy for searching low points, but his walking speed is otherwise constant. With the triangle button, you pause the game and bring up Joe’s inventory, allowing players to review the notes and collectibles they have found throughout the mansion. Curiously, the essential items Joe collects are not shown in any inventory screen, meaning you’ll need to keep a mental note of which items you have on hand and where they might go.
The mansion isn’t overly big, being two floors and a basement with about a dozen rooms. As players explore the dilapidated manor, they will hit several locked doors, making progress a matter of dead-end reduction. Though Roman’s eclectic taste in art hits an unsettling tone from the start, the overall architecture feels slightly off. A thick coat of darkness and well-choreographed jump scares heightens this sense of unease, and the game had me on edge from beginning to end.
Roman has left numerous postcards, utility bills, and notes throughout the manor, alluding to the strange experiments that ultimately left the house in the state Joe finds. It’s also quickly revealed that Joe and Roman were estranged, making the inheritance more puzzling. There are two main narrative threads in Insomnis: that of Joe and his grandfather and that of the manor’s haunting. The two eventually thread together, but the way in which the story is mainly revealed through written notes is highly effective, allowing the player to make connections on their own.
Puzzle clues are sometimes hidden in documents, but some (like Joe’s postcards to Roman) are for narrative purposes. The puzzles are varied and well-constructed, often rewarding the player with a new clue. Many puzzles involve breaking codes, but none are so complicated as to justify busting out a pen and paper to keep track of details. There are even a few pleasant surprises along the way, like a game of Memory, keeping the challenge fresh.
The old manor is full of desks, cabinets, and armoires, meaning you’ll spend a good deal of time rifling through drawers to find the next clue or key, though it isn’t so extensive that you’ll become overwhelmed. I did get stumped on a few occasions, though the solution was never so oblique that I couldn’t eventually figure it out. Several of these puzzles can be completed out of order, making progression fluid and allowing you to pursue different leads if you get stuck. Joe occasionally speaks, mostly in reaction to ghosts scaring the daylights out of him, though he will also chime in when interacting with puzzle elements for the first time.
Insomnis clocks in at around two hours for a first run. Specific numerical codes for locks change with each playthrough, and certain events need to be triggered before you can unlock some pathways, but a repeat playthrough will take less time. With the game keeping track of optional collectibles, there is an incentive to return. There are also multiple endings depending on a choice you make at the end of the game, though saving your game close to the end also allows you to reload and see the other ending without replaying the entire campaign again.
The PlayStation 5 version features a new rumble sequence at the game’s start, 4K resolution, and 3D audio. While all excellent additions, they don’t quite make Insomnis feel like a fully-fledged PlayStation 5 title. A very small team made Insomnis, and the level of detail they have achieved is astounding for an independent production. Compared to the PlayStation 4 release, this upgraded version features thicker darkness, more believable shadows, and lighting effects. The character models look pretty good, with ghosts haunting the manor and animating in creepy ways. That said, the textures still become a bit blurry when examined up close, and the repetitive use of some objects shows the shortcuts Path Games took, though you’ll probably only notice details like these if you go out of your way to do so.
I did have some issues with the contrast and lighting levels. When an object can be picked up or interacted with, it highlights as the player moves the cursor onto it. For the postcards, the light shining on the paper somewhat nullifies the highlighting effect, and I missed picking up several of these the first time because I didn’t know I could interact with them. There are plenty of discarded sheets and pages throughout the manor, most of which you cannot pick up, forcing you to slow down and squint to see if an object highlights.
The game features text support for many languages, though only English voice acting is available. Although Joe is supposed to be British, voice actor Enric Mateo (also responsible for Insomnis’ marketing according to the credits) cannot shed his accent. It’s not poorly done, but it does feel slightly out of place, though there is an option to turn the voice acting off should you prefer.
A dynamic musical score plays almost constantly throughout the game and does a beautiful job of keeping things tense. The whining strings and gentle piano notes in the background kept the mood thick even in droughts when I wandered around, wondering what to do next.
Insomnis is a beautiful haunted house romp. It’s just challenging enough for its short length, thanks to the puzzle variety and spooky atmosphere, and there is more than enough to justify multiple playthroughs. If you missed the original PlayStation 4 release, the PlayStation 5 version is worth a look. That said, considering the relatively tame enhancements and short runtime if you already own the PlayStation 4 version and have had your fill of it, the upgrade fee may be a bit much to ask. Insomnis may not rewrite the haunted house genre, nor does it feel like an actual current-gen PlayStation 5 experience. Still, it delivers an exciting adventure that’s scary as it is satisfying to see through to the end.
WHERE CAN I DOWNLOAD
Insomnis is available at:
We get a small commission from any game you buy through these links (except Steam).