If I had a dollar for every throwback survival horror game that tried, and ultimately failed, at balancing a respectable throwback attempt with modern conveniences… I could probably buy something nice and shiny. Maybe pre-order the next Dead Space game. Or a new nail gun to pop holes into monsters once the never-ending horror story that is 2021 throws another twist at us. Tormented Souls manages to nail every aspect, for better or worse, from the games that went bump in the night from my spooky childhood.
The first, and arguably the biggest red flag that came busting through the wall with such speed and force I was half expecting it to growl “Starsssss” was the voice acting. Literally every character sounds like they were voiced by someone who was shown a Let’s Play of the original Resident Evil, told to go for that, and then just spewed “Jill sandwich” ad nauseam at such rapid speeds it was modified in speed and pitch in post-production to form other words that vomited out of the speakers. This is something that I, as a huge fan of the games this title sought to imitate, can forgive. However, I can see many player who would be turned off quickly by this, as it probably has some of the worst voice work I have ever heard, in any media, from 1995 or after. Luckily, this is probably the game’s biggest and only really negatively impacting opportunity.
If you’ve never played one of the original heavyweights in the survival horror genre, auto save wasn’t in their vocabulary, and this game is no different, and it actually takes it one step further. Throughout your journey, you’ll have to find single-use tapes to throw into an old-style recorder to save your progress. Fail to find the next safe room/cassette and any progress you’ve made is completely lost. This is something that was heartbreaking twenty years ago, and is just as bad today, considering most games have given us the creature comfort of saving every thirty seconds, and then saving again, just to be sure. This resulted in some untimely deaths, backtracking, and really pushed me to play way more conservatively than I would have otherwise.
If you choose to ignore these missteps, you’ll find one of the most faithful recreations of what made survival horror great in the first place – the ghastly creatures, a C-grade straight to video narrative, fixed camera angles, brain tingling puzzles, and mildly tank-like controls. It even opens with the same “This game contains scenes of violence….” warning that Silent Hill and its ilk have used since day one. It was at this moment that I was no longer sitting in the basement of my own home, but back in my childhood bedroom from decades ago.
The narrative is pretty straightforward and follows a young woman by the name of Caroline Walker, who receives a mysterious letter that is the catalyst for her to visit a creepy house turned mental institute. Within seconds of walking in the front door, she’s knocked out only to wake up naked in a tub with tubes down her throat, missing an eye, and locked in a room littered with filth, medical equipment, and personal items from the previous inhabitants. Unlike current games that would task you with simply finding a code to escape and clearly display it next to the panel, you’ll have to find some hints, only to find additional items, that make way for more items and notes as a form of a breadcrumb trail that leads you to your goal. Coming from the age of gaming before the internet was even a thing, I am no stranger to having to jot down notes while I play, and this was a refreshing return to form.
Combat has never been a strong suit for survival horror, and this is no different. Yes you can “kill” enemies, but as soon as you leave the room and return, as you will most likely have to do as exploration is a huge piece of the puzzle, you will find the same mangled creature in the exact same spot. As a veteran, this pushed me to really focus on evading enemies instead of wasting precious ammo, which is fairly easy to do unless you get caught in a weird position due to the fixed camera angle, or forget to use health items, as only a few hits are all it takes for our young protagonist to keel over. The fixed camera causes some other minor inconveniences that are easy to get used to, at least if you don’t suffer from controller drift, as any slight movement once a transition occurs can force Caroline to essentially backpedal, at times right into the face of death.
From a horror aspect, the environment and lack of regular safe rooms left me with a sense of dread that permeated the time I spent with it, but I never really found anything scary or jumped from surprises. The AI is so laughably bad in most cases that you could actually run circles around them for as long as you wish as a pseudo-mini game. Most of my deaths came from forgetting to bring out my lighter with a never-ending stream of fuel at the wrong time; darkness is your biggest adversary, and too much time in it will be the literal death of you. I did get a small ting of excitement each time a new baddie was introduced, and they are mostly original looking, but thematically, they all reminded me a little too much of the inbreds from The Hills Have Eyes than something you’d find in a creepy hospital setting.
Outside of the voiceovers that are comparable to a potato, the presentation is mostly flawless with some downright superb lighting that blooms as you’d expect. My one lingering question as of now is due to the game being limited to the more recent consoles, with downgraded versions for the older Xbox and PlayStation systems coming at a later date -why? There isn’t anything here that I haven’t seen in past releases that warrant this limitation. I noticed some occasional clipping of Caroline’s hair and clothing, but nothing game-breaking or nearly as concerning as the dated model that makes up our heroine. The backdrops as a whole look great, as do the creatures that inhabit the world, but Caroline looks like she entered a time warp from the PS3 era, only taking a pit stop to buy a legally safe Harley Quinn knockoff costume from Spirit Halloween. The same can be said for the bulk of the cut scenes that have a jerky quality to them that partially took me back to the early, primitive entries in the Silent Hill series. While we’re on this subject, I would like to call out my love for their tribute to The Otherworld, as Caroline will make a few trips through a mystical mirror that spits her out in a flipped version of the game world, which much like The Medium will allow you to change or alter items and assets in the real world. This is something used liberally, and in my humble opinion, too little, as the rusted, decayed version was at times even more interesting than the areas that go from wealthy upscale mansion to run down crackhouse that was the scene of multiple murders in a flash.
Tormented Souls isn’t going to break the mold or elevate the aged survival horror formula, but if you get around its rough spots, it will transport you back to the golden age of the genre before action and hand-holding took the place of terror and helplessness.
9 out of 10
- Mostly Great Visuals
- Solid Sense of Dread Permeating Throughout
- The Mirror World
- Faithful Tribute to Survival Horror Greats
- The Voiceover Cast Has the Range and Emotion of a Potato
- The (Faithful) Save-System
- Some Mild Control Issues
Tormented Souls was developed by Duel Effect with Abstract Studios, and was published by PQube Limited. The game is available for PC, PS5, and XSX with releases on the previous generation in the future. The game was provided to us for review on XSX. If you’d like to see more of Tormented Souls, check out the official site.
Here at GBG we use a rating method that you are more than likely familiar with – a scale of 1 to 10. For clarification, we intend on using the entire scale: 1-4 is something you should probably avoid paying for; 5-7 is something that is worth playing, but probably not at full price; 8-10 is a great title that you can feel confident about buying. If you have any questions or comments about how we rate a game, please let us know.