Bendy and the Ink Machine Review

By Mark Delaney,
Great horror games come in several forms, but generally they must contain a strong sense of atmosphere, unpredictable threats, and a constant unease that keeps players disheveled and anxious. To be blunt, Bendy and the Ink Machine possesses none of those qualities. Despite its arresting and unique visual palette, Bendy is a game crippled by puzzling design decisions, totally flat enemy encounters, and a few annoying bugs.

Bendy and the Ink Machine

Bendy and the Ink Machine tells the story of an animator who, upon request from his boss, returns to his place of former employment to find out what he has to show him. Over the course of three to four hours, you'll find out what you're there to see: a sepia-toned horror that forgets to ever be scary. The setting and gameplay loop — as much as one can even call a game so randomly built to be on a "loop" — collectively give it a feeling like BioShock. Joey Drew Studios is what would happen if Walt Disney, not Andrew Ryan, built Rapture. Your character will often carry around a wrench or syringe too, and you'll be given many fetch quests and return items into a canister as a voice over the PA barks orders at you. The similarities to that classic game start and end there, though. They're superficial inspirations without any of the narrative and ludological merits.

The titular villain, Bendy, is a bygone Steamboat Willie-like children's icon in the game's world, but now the world of Joey Drew Studios is falling apart with cartoon creations becoming warped and coming to life with malicious intent. Sometimes the game demands a hide-and-seek approach akin to Outlast, while other times you're able to fight back. In the former moments, you can jump into a big toy box type of hiding place while Bendy is staring directly at you and it'll cause him to stop chasing. Games like this usually demand you enter a closet or something like it clandestinely, but in Bendy the supposedly intimidating monster is thwarted by watching you close a door. Enemy AI is endlessly stupid like this. With no crouch mechanic, the game allows you to just walk behind monsters for as long as you'd like, provided they don't turn to ever see you. Navigating these creatures is laughably easy and never rises above boring.

When you can fight back against Bendy's ink blot bidders, the hit detection is a big problem. As these murky creatures spawn out of ink on the ground, usually right in front of you and from almost every ink spot you pass, any suspense is lost. It becomes rote to walk near ink, correctly expect a monster to arise, and swing at it. The issue worsens when you swing because often the first swing won't register, as though the game isn't ready to comprehend the player's action. This causes you to swing, miss, get hit by the monster, then swing again and one-shot it. This process repeats for as long as you don't learn to overcome the game's delayed reaction. One moment near the end of the game even lost all hit detection, as you can see below in the video.

Sorry, this Game Clip has been removed

Other bugs demanded checkpoints were restarted a few times too, like one that disallowed me to pick up vital quest items. In better games, issues like that can be forgiven with some ease. In Bendy, they become yet more blemishes in a game with so few bright spots. Aside from the really cool visuals, there's nothing of merit to be seen in Bendy and The Ink Machine.

Despite all of these issues, the game has made a killing on YouTube and in gaming stores selling toys. Through that lens, one may think maybe this is just a lightly spooky game designed for kids — Baby's First Survival Horror. It's not. While the scares may be adequate for younger players, much of the surrounding content cannot be recommended to such an audience, as the game depicts some violence far above the level of its scares. This leaves the game on an island with no conceivable target audience. Too dull for adults, too thematically mature for kids, Bendy should be ignored by just about everyone.

Like Boris here, much of Bendy and The Ink Machine is sufficiently goofy.Like Boris here, much of Bendy and The Ink Machine is sufficiently goofy.

The achievement list will require one full playthrough and at least another partial playthrough. There's a lot you can miss on the way, so use a guide if you're seeking 1,000 Gamerscore. There is a chapter select option at least. There are three achievements that currently haven't been unlocked by anyone on TA or Xbox, but it's unclear if they are unobtainable or if it's just early days for people chasing those achievements.

Summary

It's clear the creators of Bendy and The Ink Machine played BioShock, as some of its design feels inspired by that seminal game. Some fetch quests and a wrench-wielding protagonist moving through bygone dystopia are all they ultimately have in common, though. Otherwise, the game is a poorly designed and sometimes even broken attempt at horror. Worse than any of that, it's consistently boring. For any audience, adults or children, Bendy offers nothing but some cool visuals. It's most enjoyed by looking at screenshots and ending your experience there.
1.5 / 5
Bendy and the Ink Machine
Positives
  • Arresting and unique visual style
Negatives
  • Feels without a target audience, with tame scares only best for kids, but other content that won't suit them
  • Designed as though at random, with many fetch quests interspersed with bad one-off puzzles
  • Bugs that demand reloading and sometimes cause totally absent hit detection
Ethics
The reviewer spent three hours in Joey Drew Studios, dragging his feet to the conclusion. He gathered 12 of 25 achievements for 360 Gamerscore. An Xbox One review copy was provided by the ID@Xbox team.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He has written for GameSkinny, Gamesradar and the Official Xbox Magazine. He runs the family-oriented gaming site Game Together.