Horror games can be found in abundance no matter which storefront you decide to spend your hard-earned cash on. Finding one that can represent true quality is another thing entirely. Whilst the genre has certainly evolved in recent years, there is still a loyal following who wish to see horror gaming revert to that of its former glory days in the vein of the original Silent Hill, Resident Evil and Alone in the Dark. Many have tried to do just that, but despite some semi-decent efforts along the way, we’ve not really had much that has really scratched that survival horror itch. Developers Dual Effect & Abstract Digital look to change that though with Tormented Souls, the latest game to give it a shot.
After receiving an unexpected letter from an individual over at Wildberger Hospital in Winterlake, Caroline Walker, our protagonist, opens it to find a chilling picture of two young girls, whilst the image appears to give her a strikingly sharp pain that sears into her head. On the back of this strange picture is no explanation, but merely a chilling question that asks, ‘Do you think you can simply abandon us here?’
It’s a message that explains very little, but it offers up just enough intrigue and mystery to kick things off, and with two weeks of horrible nightmares that follow and the inability to get that image of the young girls out of her head, Caroline decides she needs to investigate further with a trip over to Wildberger Hospital, but within minutes of arrival she is knocked unconscious before awakening naked and cold in a bathtub, attached to decrepit medical equipment, and missing an eye.
The gameplay begins as players wake in the bathroom taking control of Caroline, and from the very first moments, things instantly strike a resemblance to that of the aforementioned Resident Evil. From interactions and the following text descriptions to puzzles and inventory management, there is nothing missing from the classic old school horror formula here.
Your goal throughout the game is to explore the terrifying halls of the abandoned mansion-turned-hospital on the hunt for the missing twin girls whose picture arrived in the post. To find out more, you’ll need to work your way through the building, unlocking locked doors that normally come with some sort of puzzle, find specific key items through exploration or story progression, combine items, and talk to the odd remaining sane person left in this dark and dreary place. Most of the story ties together through scattered diary and journal entries, or via limited yet telling conversations and whilst this may not be the pinnacle of showstopping storytelling that we’ve seen light up gaming in recent years, the story here is one that has you wanting to know more throughout.
A little way in, and the comparison to old school horror is almost unashamedly brought to the focus with players finding that mirrors bring a new dimension to things and that by lighting the candles that usually sit on either side of certain mirrors, players can not only traverse and time travel through them into the past ongoings of Wildberger Hospital but also manipulate the present by changing things in the past. It’s Silent Hill all over and should we have been seeing that beloved franchise still going strong with modern releases, I probably wouldn’t be so excited by it, but that isn’t a reality right now and for once I’ve never been so excited to see a game essentially rip off a classic and get it so right. In these moments of time travel, which awkwardly is never fully explained, the world is taken to a much darker and withered existence of what is already a pretty horrific place.
The environmental design is something that shines throughout and in these instances of time travel the changing of reality to an often rusted and dilapidated look is superb. In fact, visually there is really nothing that can be given a negative with each room full of character and detail, whilst holding a unique look that makes every new door a fresh and exciting experience, and enemy design proving horrific yet oddly believable and even our protagonist feeling like your classic character suited to a traditional horror game, there is nothing that ever feels out of place and huge props to the design team on this one.
Besides the environmental design, which for me is often the most important experience in these games, we also have to look at the enemies and whilst I would have maybe liked to see a slightly more varied enemy type early on, with rooms often containing multiple of the exact same enemy, it has to be said that the enemies included are definitely rather terrifying. As former dementia patients whose care was long forgotten in a preference for conducting horrific experiments, it’s safe to say they have nothing but the thirst for blood on their minds, and whilst you won’t find zombies in this adventure, and I certainly wouldn’t want to ruin the unique nature of what does lay within these walls, it could be argued that the remnants of Wildberger Hospitals experiments are much worse than that of any viral outbreak.
Sadly, enemy placement isn’t a strong point and whilst combat can at times be avoided by running past an enemy, getting past them without at least one hit can be a lot more challenging than it should be due to either too many enemies in one place, or too little space to get by making some damage almost unavoidable. Fortunately, there are plenty of health items laying about to ensure that poor enemy placement isn’t the cause for continuous deaths.
There is a secondary enemy type to be aware of within Tormented Souls, however, that being the darkness. With a lighter found as an essential item early on, it quickly becomes apparent that moving within the shadows for too long without any source of light is a sure way to find yourself dragged into the darkness and met with the classic, yet definitely ripped off ‘You are Dead’ screen. It’s not an original mechanic but it’s definitely one that keeps you thinking about things when you enter a new room and can hear enemies moving about and can see nothing but the flame in front of you and your immediate surroundings outlined by the shadows, and whilst you do have a nail-gun and a crowbar as possible weapons early on, followed later by a Shotgun, there are numerous occasions in which you’ll need to pick between fighting the darkness with a lighter whilst avoiding other physical enemies to ensure survival, or grabbing your weapons and dispatching of those within touching distance.
Another important aspect of any classic horror is the controls, which can be the make or break in these types of games for both newcomers and old school veterans alike. Many fans will cite a preference for a modern type of control whilst others will push for tank controls all the way. Fortunately, the developers are keen to please both with classic tank controls tied to the D-Pad and a modern control scheme that feels incredibly smooth tied to the analog sticks.
Camera angles here are arguably just as important as controls and whilst they are dynamic rather than still images, the opted choice was angled cameras which bring both the positives and negatives you’d expect with the tension of hearing enemies but not seeing them, whilst also not being able to properly see when an attack is incoming.
Yet another comparison Tormented Souls brings to horror games of old is with its saving system, which relies on players finding tapes before using them on the old magnetophon tape recorder to save your progress, much like Ink Ribbons in Resident Evil. Unfortunately, these aren’t always placed all that well and early on they are very few and far between before being dished out at a much more friendly pace later on in the game.
Finally, we have the audio and Tormented Souls really nails that old school itch, with a soothing yet creepy soundtrack reminiscent of the classics once more, with the only critiscism being the overly loud footsteps of our protagonist which could do with dulling down a little. Mostly though, everything is exactly as you would hope for with enemies, doors, interactions, and music all fitting that pure old school survival horror theme.
Overall, if you want a game that brings back the type of horror that seems to have become lost to time in recent years, Tormented Souls will definitely provide. It’s creepy, it’s dark and it has an enjoyable story within its moody setting. Sure, it essentially rips off the features of the classic experiences, but it also feels like a fresh new experience thanks to a surprisingly enjoyable story that holds its own. If you’re missing an experience that properly gave you a thrill, then Tormented Souls should be able to reintroduce that excitement in your life.Become a Patron!
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox Series X/S. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.