Tormented Souls Review
They just don’t make survival horror games like they used to, do they? Outlast, Resident Evil, Amnesia: Rebirth – they can all be quite scary in their own right, but they play and feel very different from the original fixed-perspective, slow-moving, atmosphere-heavy horror games that used to be iconic.
Tormented Souls was made in a very deliberate attempt to bring back classic survival horror on every level, and it succeeded with flying colors. Most of the time, this is a good thing, but as it turns out, some aspects of old-school survival horror were left in the past for good reason. This game probably won’t draw any new fans to the survival horror table, but it will be a treat for people who already love this style of game.
I’ll give it this, Tormented Souls really does capture the old-school survival horror feel. Move slowly, examine every nook and cranny, read everything you can get your hands on, and hoard tape like it’s going out of style, all while hoping there’s nothing around the corner more dangerous than shadows and creepy dolls. Unfortunately, this extends to a general feeling of aimlessness and an initial introduction to the female lead that feels downright exploitative. I can’t say I’m particularly happy with the way the developers decided to show off their female protagonist’s naked body at the very beginning of the game, but it does set a tone of horrifying violations right off the bat. Even the revelation that she’s had an eye surgically removed without her knowledge or consent is overshadowed in comparison.
Classic Survival Horror Mechanics
If you’ve got a fondness for classic survival horror, you’ll probably enjoy Tormented Souls. However, if tank controls are a deal-breaker, then this isn’t the game for you. The same goes for jump scares. There aren’t a ton of jump scares in the game, but there are enough. In fact, the first time you see a monster is a jump scare, complete with a scare chord. If you’re a naturally jumpy person like I am, take care going forward.
The game’s tank controls would definitely shine better with a controller, but I managed to progress with a mouse and keyboard. That said, moving around with a keyboard can be very slow, especially if you’re trying not to miss any objects you can interact with. Speaking of which, it can be really hard to tell what objects you can and can’t interact with. In comparison, the puzzles are quite well-crafted and probably won’t stump you for more than a few minutes, especially if you’re familiar with old-school survival horror in the vein of classic Resident Evil. You can’t interact with objects or attack your enemies in the dark, which adds a whole new level of tension to the early parts of the game. The lighter plays an incredibly important role here, as it’s how you can light candles, though you can also find ways to turn on the electricity to certain rooms.
Like the old-school games it’s imitating, Tormented Souls has no modern save function–you have to find and use tape in a save room if you want to save your progress, and there aren’t a lot of tapes. I started feeling this lack soon after I started playing. I really would’ve appreciated being able to play this game in small chunks for the sake of my nerves, which were being slowly worn away by the game’s smothering atmosphere. This is a genuinely scary game when it comes to pure gameplay. However, the same can’t be said for its story.
Horrifying Tone, Lackluster Story
Tormented Souls begins with protagonist Caroline Walker receiving a creepy, partly-burned photograph in the mail from a blatantly false sender, complete with a spooky message–or rather, accusation–written on the back. Just picking the photo up causes her physical pain and she soon begins suffering from nightmares. Instead of throwing the damn thing out and shopping around for therapists, she decides to travel to the creepy abandoned hospital on the return address, a decision that immediately leads to her being knocked over the head. When she wakes up, she’s down an eye, naked, and attached to a ventilator, and that’s just the beginning.
Gradually, she begins to explore the mansion, searching not for a way out but for answers, which made me genuinely question her mental health. James Sunderland refusing to leave Silent Hill was creepy and tragic because it hammered in that he had nothing left to live for. Caroline focusing more on finding those girls than saving herself is just confusing. And there’s an Indigenous burial ground involved because of course there is. As always when this particular horror trope surfaces, I’m not sure if this is a taciturn admission of guilt for the cultural genocide that started sweeping across the Americas hundreds of years ago or simply writers being unimaginative. Either way, this particular story beat strikes me as rather tone-deaf, especially in light of the mass graves found in Canada recently.
The game’s main appeal is its retro fixed camera angles, which definitely add a lot to the game’s mood. However, they can also be very jarring. More than once, I accidentally jump scared myself by walking into a new area with a new camera angle. Enemies also take full advantage of the camera angles, encouraging you to keep your distance, which is a good idea anyway. The graphics are serviceable, especially when they’re conveying some genuinely unsettling imagery, and the sound design is quite good until the voice-acting comes into the equation. The game is fully voiced, but the acting can be very stilted and the script is downright wooden at times, which does damage the horror a bit..
Best When It’s Dark
The environmental design and storytelling are very good, especially when they’re dark, though having Caroline’s shadow cast on most of the screen can get irritating. This might be why most classic Resident Evil games had a more zoomed-out POV than Tormented Souls usually does. Caroline’s face is also very expressive and watching her react to the horrors of Winterlake is surprisingly compelling. What really got to me, though, was the soundscape. At least once I made the mistake of pausing the game to take notes for this review while a quiet scratching sound was playing. The noise did not stop while I was typing. By the time I was done, I was ready to jump out of my skin.
All in all, Tormented Souls achieves what it set out to do: recapture the magic of old-school fixed-perspective survival horror games with modern technology. However, this extends to having a lackluster story and underwhelming voice-acting, both of which plagued early survival horror titles. While the game’s tension, atmosphere, and environmental storytelling are top-notch, the controls can be difficult without a controller and some decisions are downright tasteless. In the end, this game will probably appeal most to people who already love classic survival horror rather than bringing in new fans.
***PC game code provided by the publisher***
- Genuinely scary atmosphere
- Old-school charm
- Great environmental storytelling
- Fixed camera spookiness
- Well-designed puzzles
- Underwhelming story
- Questionable logic
- Tank controls are hit or miss
- Designed for controllers
- Bad voice-acting