Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Publisher: PQube Limited
Developer: Dual Effect, Abstract Digital
Release: August 27, 2021
Reviewed on: Xbox Series X
Wow, has it really been 25 years since we were introduced to the world of Survival Horror? Granted, we’ve seen scary games in the past. I don’t care how anyone feels now, Haunted House on the Atari 2600 was downright horrifying when I played it as a tyke. But in March of 1996, Resident Evil hit the PlayStation (and Saturn!) and changed the landscape of gaming as we know it. There’ve been plenty of other horror games since then – Silent Hill, Clock Tower, Nightmare Creatures – and all are quality titles in their own right. And like horror movies, what qualifies as “scary” is a lot different today than it was back then. As Bart Simpson said in the very first Treehouse of Horror episode, “Oh, yeah, like when you look at Friday the 13th Part One – pretty tame by today’s standards.” And just as a newer horror game (see: Outlast) is a lot scarier than a classic, it’s still fun to go back and play what made the genre what it is today.
Tormented Souls, currently available for PC, Xbox, PlayStation, and the Nintendo Switch, aims to do exactly that. It takes all the best parts of games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill, switches up the story a bit, and throws on a fresh coat of HD paint. Even from the “This game contains scenes of explicit violence and gore” warning at very beginning, you know it’s going to be a love letter to the genre. The ending result is a game that plays exactly like a survival horror classic. And that’s both a good thing, and a…not-so-good thing.
In Tormented Souls, you play as a young woman named Caroline Walker, who, through a series of nightmares (and a creepy photo mailed to her by an unknown party), finds herself in an abandoned mansion-turned-hospital in the middle of nowhere, trying to solve the mystery of two missing children. She is attacked, and through a very visceral opening scene, wakes up naked in a bathtub, hooked up to all sorts of machinery – and missing an eye. It’s all pretty disturbing and scary, and sets the tone for the rest of the game.
Gameplay can be considered 70% Resident Evil and 30% Silent Hill. Like the zombie classic, you will explore the hospital, solving puzzles and unlocking new rooms. Like Silent Hill, you’ll also come across horrifying imagery, grotesque creatures, and reality-warping rooms. The puzzles themselves are pretty straight-forward: Find item A, combine it with item B, use it on item C. There’s a good deal of brainwork involved in figuring these out, but it’s nothing that’s going to leave you too frustrated.
Visually, the game looks great. It utilizes a mostly-stationary view. Whereas Resident evil had cameras set up in the corner, the focus will be on Caroline, but still swing around a bit before switching to a new angle. Everything shines, and the shadows reflected by using her trusty lighter really give off a foreboding feel. Oh, to that point – never, ever, go into the dark without a light source. I learned that the hard way, about thirty seconds into playing the game. There’s photos on the wall that look very old and add to the house’s personality. Statues and real-life paintings add to the unease and tension, but there’s also times where you just take a step back and really admire the architecture of the place.
That is, until the monsters find you.
The creatures in Tormented Souls can be called just that – tormented souls. They look like something out of Event Horizon or Hellraiser. Creatures are tied up with disturbing machinery, have long blades for hands, and are just hideous. And they’re pretty quick too – so you better be fast with those weapons!
Like any good survival horror game, you’ll find various weaponry scattered around the map. You start off with your trusty crowbar, but eventually find a nailgun, shotgun, and others to help you dispatch the undead. Caroline also has a dodging animation, which becomes really useful when stuck between a creature and an unpassable gurney.
You’ll get a good amount of gameplay out of this title, too: the entire game can take around 14 hours if you search every nook and cranny. There’s a 3-hour achievement for aspiring speedrunners, but you’ll have to do a lot of research to utilize your time. And for your first playthrough, I would highly recommend searching everything. Like the old-school horror games that came before it, items in Tormented Souls can be scarce. Nails can be tough to find, especially when you need them most. And the tapes. Ho boy, the tapes. Remember the wonderful ink ribbons in Resident Evil? You know, how you can’t even save your game without finding one of those wonderful pieces of hardware? Well, we’ve got them in this game too – although this time they’re old-school recording tapes. It really does add to the tension and scare, and you get such a sigh of relief when you finally do find a tape so you can save your progress.
One of the things I loved most about this game is the presentation. The music is horrifying and relaxing. When you walk into a room and there’s enemies present, the music ramps up and you know you’re in for a fight. Once you kill all the enemies in the room, it calms down a bit (and so do you!). The camera, while mostly fixed, has some great angles that really add to the fear factor. There’s even some areas you walk down – hallways, mostly – that kickstart a zooming, twisting camera that’s similarly seen in the Sam Raimi classic Evil Dead movies.
While that works, and brings back feelings of nostalgia, there’s a few things that are better left in 1996. For example, the fixed camera angles make it tough to quickly run around tight corners. Too many times I’ve found myself trying to go someplace only to do a quick 180 when the camera changes and going right back to where I was. This is especially frustrating when trying to escape the clutches of one of the many “residents” of this house. I’m also not particularly a fan of the saving mechanic. I know, I know – it’s supposed to replicate the feeling of the old school games. It’s just tough that I am more worried about saving my game before bedtime than getting offed by knifey-hands over there. Same goes for the voice acting. It’s pretty bland, but then again you could say that it’s all part of the homage to classic survival horror games. Either way, it does throw things off a bit.
Final Grade: B+
I really do love games like Tormented Souls. As someone who grew up with these kinds of games, seeing the care and compassion used to replicate and pay tribute to the genre-defining titles really makes an impact. I don’t think I’ve played a game that captures the style of the classics more than this. So to that point, if you love classic survival horror, you will, without a doubt, love Tormented Souls. It’s scary, fun, frustrating, and exhilarating all in one package. Even if you never played the original Resident Evil or Silent Hill, this one is still worth it. After all, everyone’s entitled to one good scare.