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Review: Bendy and the Ink Machine

At a Glance

ESRB Rating: T - Teenagers
My Rating: Ages 13 and up
Genre: Adventure / Horror
License: Commercial
Release Year: 2017
Reviewed Version: 1.5.0
Review Published On: January 13th, 2021
Played on: Thaddeus

Available from:

Humble Store, Steam

Save System:

You have three save slots* to choose between, and your progress is usually recorded automatically when you complete a task. You can also save* manually using the punch card machines found throughout the studio.

If you need to pause the game, simply bring up the pause menu by pressing ESC*.

Summary of
Major Issues:

There are a lot of dark concepts in this game, ranging from vaguely occult references to botched attempts at creating artificial life. Various characters are killed during the course of the story as well.

Screenshots

[view screenshot]
Welcome to the ride, Henry

[view screenshot]
An early glimpse of the Ink Demon

[view screenshot]
Aren't you a pitiful lot?



Game Overview

If I had to sum up my thoughts on Bendy and the Ink Machine in a single word, that word would probably be "undecided". Not because I don't know where I stand on the game, but because I'm not confident that the developers had a clear goal in mind while they worked on their project. Were they aiming to make a horror game? an action adventure? a mystery themed puzzle game?

In the end, it feels like they made all three, smashed them together, and hoped for the best. The result is a game that doesn't seem to understand what it's trying to be, and the experience is worse off because of it. They had good ideas, and if they had just committed to a method of executing those ideas, this could easily have been another Amnesia or Penumbra.

The story, for example, is great. You play as Henry, who was an animator at Joey Drew Studios. Your old boss has asked you to return to what remains of his studio and have a look around, as there's something he wants you to see.

Shortly after arriving, strange things start to happen that suggest things aren't right. There's weird writing on the walls, doors are opening themselves, and you get the feeling that promotional Bendy cutout is watching you. Eventually Henry finds that his boss had devised a less than ethical way to literally bring his cartoons to life. But before he can do anything about the things his boss left unfinished, Henry managed to trap himself in the depths of the haunted studio with only the Ink Machine and the... things... it has created for company.

Now that the scene has been set, let's talk about the gameplay, which is where things start going wrong. Most of the time, you'll be wandering around dilapidated sections of the studio, gathering different pieces and parts for whatever your current goal happens to be. Sometimes you'll need to find a code that opens a door, or maybe you'll need to gather parts to repair something. At the same time, there may or may not be a monster prowling around, seeking to eat nasty little intruders like you.

This makes Bendy and the Ink Machine feel like a horror game, but it doesn't quite work. The first problem is that it's not a good horror game. To be a good horror game, players need to be afraid of the dangers around them, and many of the dangers you'll encounter here lack any teeth. An early example of this can be found at the end of the first chapter: the studio begins to flood, and you're prompted to run for safety. Yet, the ink stops rising before it reaches your knees, so you can just casually walk towards the exit. There's no actual risk involved.

But, sometimes the opposite is true, and the slightest misstep results in an instant game over. This becomes annoying, rather than fun or scary, and since the game constantly switches between these two extremes without warning, it doesn't get better. Additionally, there are actually a few boss fights* throughout the game. These would make sense in an action adventure game where the player is fighting overwhelming odds to save the world, but it feels very out of place when we're otherwise playing an inventory based puzzle game.

Personally, I think that Bendy and the Ink Machine could've worked out well if the developers had simply stuck to a genre. What we got instead was, much like the monsters in the Studio's basement, a half-formed mess.

Points of Interest

New Game Plus
During your original journey through the Studio, you'll be given a special device that allows you to see hidden writing in the environment. Upon completion of the game, you can start everything over again, with this new item still in your inventory. This lets you find hidden secrets* throughout every chapter. Unfortunately, like many other details in this game, it's a good idea with poor execution. Most of the "spooky" hidden text reveals things that you'll already know or is otherwise uninteresting.
Bit of a scavenger hunt
As mentioned above, you'll be spending most of your time searching different parts of the studio to find various items. But, while you're doing that, there are also collectibles* hidden around the level for you to find. Cans of bacon soup are stashed away on shelves, in boxes, and all manner of other nooks and crannies. Find enough of these, and you'll earn several achievements.

Another thing to watch for as you explore the complex are the tape recorders. These store recordings from various employees, and while they usually just provide some extra lore like audio logs do in other games, several of them hold vital clues to the puzzles you'll be facing.
Steam community features
There are a total of sixty unique achievements* for players to earn as they work their way through this game. Roughly half of them can be earned simply by completing the game's storyline; the remainder will take some extra effort. To be more specific, there are a number of special props placed throughout the game that can be interacted with, but they aren't used in the story. You might even miss them entirely during a normal playthrough. Find them, play with them, and some achievements* will be yours.
Combat mechanics aren't fun
The combat mechanics* are extremely simple: click to swing the axe or pipe you have equipped. If the object strikes an enemy*, it counts as a hit, and enough hits defeats the enemy*. The catch is that it's not clear if you're making contact or if you're swinging wildly at the air. This makes fighting more than one enemy* at a time rather annoying, and there is a segment where you're up against an entire group of ink monsters. Expect to die a lot.

Oddly, the combat is sometimes done right, as seen during two of the boss fights*. While they aren't easy, they still turned out to be reasonably fun to battle through -- which beings me back to the original point: neither battle belongs in a horror game.
Not very scary
It's obvious that the developers wanted to make this game dark and scary like Penumbra, Amnesia, or similar horror titles, and they had a good premise to work with. There are still plenty of creepy concepts and things going on, but since everything dangerous is either easily avoided or easily taken down by some rando with a loose pipe, it doesn't have the impact it should. This is also why Doom and games like it aren't generally considered scary -- it's hard to be scared by something when you can easily fight back.
Slightly unstable
For some reason, I wasn't able to exit the game reliably. Going through menus to close the game (which is how you'd normally do this) would always cause the game to crash. I ended up getting the habit of closing the game using ALT-F4, as this method worked safely.

Concerns and Issues

General unholy theming
Joey Drew Studios is a mixture of old and familiar cartoon companies, notably Fleischer Studio and 1920s-era Disney. However, their entire product line is themed around Heaven and Hell, and it's likely that this wasn't just a bit of macabre parody. For example, the studio's mascot is Bendy the Dancing Devil, rather than an funny animal like Felix the Cat or Mickey Mouse. The theming continues with the posters showcasing the many cartoons Bendy and his friends have appeared in. Even the heavenly Alice Angel sports devil horns alongside her halo. On the other hand, Boris, the studio's Goofy counterpart, seems to be an exception to this rule: he's always depicted as a friendly, happy go lucky character.
Occult trappings
It's not much of a secret that Joey Drew experimented with questionable methods of making cartoons. In fact, it's probably the main reason that everything has a devil or hellish twist. "Bendygrams" (pentagrams* with Bendy's face in them) can be found scrawled in many different places, often along side candles and other "shrines" to the Bendy character, giving the player the impression that Joey Drew's fascination with his creation was somewhat dangerous.
Inky violence
While the player does bash various enemies* with pipes or hack at them with an axe, there's never any blood. Instead, they just ooze the same black tarry ink that they're made from. Likewise, when the player is hurt, the edges of the screen develop ink splatters, and if you're defeated, you'll need to crawl out of a tunnel of ink to reappear in the game's world.
Links to its merchandise
Many games out there offer merch through their websites or through other platforms, so this isn't that surprising or unique. However, most games don't include a link to their official online store right on the main menu. Personally, I don't really object to this, but I can see this becoming an issue in some families considering they sell plushies of their various characters.
That ink is dangerous
The Ink Machine mentioned in the title is an actual device in the game, but it's not the machine you need to worry about. The ink it uses is the real problem. This strange ink has the ability to transform into cartoon characters and objects, effectively bringing Joey Drew's creations into the real world. However, this is not a good thing, as the creatures it creates are prone to decaying into misshapen freaks. It can also apparently corrupt non-cartoon characters who are around it for too long, turning them into gooey abominations.

Taking things a step further are the generic "blob men" enemies, which are barely defined human forms made out of ink. When defeated, they lose their shape and melt back into the puddles they were originally.
Dealing with existential crisis
The characters who have been brought to life by the Ink Machine are entirely aware that they are someone's creations. That could be terrifying enough on its own, but it also turns out that the ink itself tries to reclaim entities that have been away from it for too long. One of the Alice clones even talks about how being part of the ink pools is like being trapped with thousands of voices, all screaming to be free.

On a different note, the Ink Machine created many copies of Alice Angel, Boris, and the cast of the Butcher Gang. This has mostly made things worse for them, as seeing other copies of "you" is definitely bad for your mental health. On the other hand, there is only one "living" copy of Bendy. He's become stretched and distorted by the ink covering him, which has led to him being given a new name: the "Ink Demon". When you finally confront and defeat him, the game is just about over.
Gore and body horror
As I've explained above, the creatures the Ink Machine brought to life were not entirely stable, and over the years they've become twisted and horrible distortions of their original selves. But that's only part of the gore you'll encounter. You'll sometimes find clones of Boris who have been vivisected by someone. Of course, since he's a cartoon character, Boris doesn't have any real entrails, but there is a defined rib cage.

On another level, you'll encounter the man responsible for designing Bendyland, an amusement park that's themed around Joey Drew's cartoons, much like the well known theme park a certain real-world cartoon company has in Florida. But, much like the other employees who got too involved with the studio, this guy ended up becoming part of his creation.
Attempted sacrifice
Another employee of Joey Drew Studios, nicknamed "Sammy", has become insane after being stuck down here for thirty years. Now he lives in the bowels of the studio, worshiping the Ink Demon as his "savior". At one point, he'll attempt to offer up the player character as a living sacrifice. Luckily for you, while the Ink Demon does come when called, he picks a different target: his self-proclaimed prophet, Sammy.