REVIEW: Tormented Souls is Classic Survival Horror at its very best

You have once again entered the world of survival horror...

18 May 2022
by gn-nakasan 2
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Tormented Souls is a modern, all-new entry in the classic Survival Horror genre that first released back in late 2021 on Steam, PS5 and Xbox Series. It would take a number of months for the game to finally arrive on Nintendo’s Switch but, oh boy, was it worth the wait.

Playing the role of Caroline Walker you must explore the darkest corners of a large, abandoned mansion-turned-hospital to hunt down information about a pair of missing twin girls. Along the way you’ll need to solve puzzles that aid in unraveling the mystery and fight monstrous enemies in combat that feels tense and claustrophobic.

Tormented Souls is a 3rd person, fixed (but dynamic) camera angle Survival Horror game. Comparisons with early Resident Evils, Silent Hills and Alone in the Darks are natural given the genre (and the devs themselves have explicitly stated that they are direct inspirations), but while there are a number of direct call-backs to the godfathers, Tormented Souls doesn’t rely on nostalgia alone in order to impress. Instead, it may actually surpass them in one or two key areas while forging its own identity.

All your time in Tormented Souls is spent in the aforementioned gothic mansion and you’ll quickly learn that all is not as it seems. As you progress through its rundown and decaying interiors, the secrets you uncover about the location turns the mansion itself into a main character. A great level of attention has been put into each room and corridor with the designers giving it a lived-in, but recently abandoned, feeling. Seeing the forgotten remnants of past residents gives it an added touch of mystique, but also the echo of a time when it was filled with living, breathing people, making the nightmares that now infest it all the more disturbing.

The first room you find yourself in is a bathroom, which acts as a short and concise tutorial. To try and avoid breaking immersion, the controls are explained via an in-game clipboard. This dedication to staying internally consistent is kept throughout the experience and is something to be commended.

*A literal tank... brilliant!*
A literal tank... brilliant!

As you can see, there is a choice between old-school “tank” controls, where pressing up on the directional buttons always means forward no matter the camera angle you find yourself in, or a more modern control scheme where movement is relative to the particular camera. I played 100% of the game using “tank” controls as they still make more sense given the disorientation that would otherwise come from constantly having to redirect your character each time the camera changes.

Additionally, breaking free from the locked bathroom demonstrates the style of puzzles you will work through during your escape from the mansion, and introduces the new way of using your inventory to interact more directly with the game world:

Rather than just picking up an item, going to where it’s needed and then selecting that item in a menu – the flexibility provided by the new overlaid Inventory system allows puzzles to more closely resemble those found in Escape Rooms than traditional videogames. They are multi-layered, requiring thought and logic to resolve. As is traditional; long forgotten diaries and notes can be found that fill in plot details, but also require a little sleuthing to decipher clues hidden within, which can then be combined with items scavenged from the mansions’ derelict rooms and hallways in order to solve some of the best conundrums I have come across in gaming. Make no mistake, the solutions are challenging to think through, but they never rely on leaps of inconsistent logic, instead leaving you pressed, but never frustrated to discover the next move.

Another area in which Tormented Souls excels is the story. I won’t go into details or spoilers, but how the story is used to drive some of the puzzles is truly exceptional. The tale being told – taken on an individual game basis – is stronger than any of its spiritual forbearers, and more mysterious, too. The presentation of this story, however, could be improved in a few areas. What limited FMV is present is aggressively compressed and, as that is the first thing you see, it can leave quite a bad first impression. The voice acting leaves something to be desired as well, and occasionally the subtitles do not match what is being said, sometimes leaving you a little perplexed. The decision to leave out lip-syncing all together during in-game scripted sequences is an interesting one, but you almost instantly move past it. If the choice was between bad lip-syncing or none at all, then I think the lesser of two evils won. Even with these drawbacks, the story shines bright and gives great context and motivation for getting to one of the game’s three possible endings.

Presentation elsewhere offers up mixed results, too. As previously mentioned, the game originally came out on PC, PS5 and Xbox Series consoles, and in order to get it onto the Switch, there were a number of necessary cut-backs. Framerate is unlocked and incredibly inconsistent to the point of being distracting in one or two rooms. The developers must have seen some of these bottlenecks, as some of the game’s fixed, but dynamic camera angles have been changed since the earlier releases. This only speaks that much more to the amount of care given to this version in order to get it running.

Other things lost in the transition to Switch include:

  • Thick, atmospheric, lighting
  • Cinematic motion blur
  • Anti-aliasing
  • Resolution
  • Texture Quality
  • Specular surface highlights

Below are a few comparisons between the Switch and the PS5 versions, to see these changes:

As much as these differences are stark when in direct comparison, they fade into the background when actually playing, as the gameplay is more than strong enough to make up for any of these drawbacks. This doesn’t make Tormented Souls a bad port, but one that cuts elements to make a port possible. Even then, it’s not like it’s a bad looking game!

What is not lost in the transition to Switch is the fantastic audio, with individual sound effects coming through clear and with no obvious signs of compression. Each type of monster found roaming the once bustling hospital have creepy and slightly unearthly signature movement effects, and the sound used when unlocking a door is chunky and particularly satisfying. When entering those new rooms, I would find myself pausing for breath as I listened for any monsters ahead of me, making the audio cues an active part of the gameplay. This is needed, as anyone who has played games with fixed camera perspectives before knows, you aren’t given the luxury of being able to scan your surroundings visually. This makes relying on what you can hear for survival a compelling way of increasing immersion.

The soundtrack is suitably moody and atmospheric, too, with occasional nods to genre classics. For example, the Raccoon Police Department chime from Resident Evil 2 and 3 makes a cameo in one track. Tributes aside, the background music stands on its own two feet, heightening the level of tension when needed while also letting you know when you’ve found sanctuary in one of the games few and far between save rooms.

Being a Survival Horror game isn’t easy, as the Survival aspect can be undermined if the only penalty for being killed by a monster is an auto-restart from mere moments before you encountered it. With no progression actually lost, how can you foment more fear? This is where the save system in Tormented Souls comes in. Similar to the classics before it, saving your progression relies on finding some of the limited Tapes left strewn around the environment and then using them with a tape recorder found in only a select few rooms. There’s no doubt it increases your panic when in combat, as the fear of being killed would set you back a significant degree. Whether it is a good design choice depends on your personal preference, but for me, the balance of Tapes and save locations available is just right, and only serves to increase the challenge in a fair way.

*The absolute joy of finding these is something that has been lost in games with save-states and auto-saves*
The absolute joy of finding these is something that has been lost in games with save-states and auto-saves

Managing when to use your resources like saves is a genre staple Tormented Souls adheres to, but it limits further resource management to only the scarce ammo and health pick-ups. A convenience that has been introduced is that your inventory space is not limited, which to me, is a genuine improvement. Finding new items was always a pleasure, as you don’t have to take on the busywork of having to store key items in different spots, only to be forced to backtrack later to retrieve them.

Another divergence from Tormented Souls’ inspirations is that the monsters here are all meant to be killed, rather than run past in order to conserve ammunition. That doesn’t mean there’s enough ammo to do it though. Instead, you get a crowbar early in the game, and it’s something you can use to attack. That said, there are moments to use it, and moments where you should not!

Finding out the attack patterns of each monster and the best way to dispose of each is a puzzle in itself. When aiming, you are planted in place, but the auto aim is generous, and there is a dodge move which is useful in some of the larger rooms. While there aren’t a huge variety of enemies in the game, their relative scarcity means they never overstay their welcome. Furthermore, the designs of these monsters are imaginative and grounded in the story itself.

For example, the first ‘enemy’ you come across is the darkness itself. Before leaving that first bathroom, you’ll see a warning message scrawled across the walls:

*Who wrote this, I wonder...*
Who wrote this, I wonder...

Should you find yourself surrounded by the dark, a transparent static television signal will fill the screen and you have moments to find light again before the darkness kills you. Luckily for Caroline, the first item you pick up after leaving the bathroom is a lighter, the light from which is something you’ll need in order to make your way through the darkest areas of the mansion. Naturally, the lighter cannot be held at the same time as any weapons, and this plays into both combat scenarios and gatekeeping puzzles. The use of simple darkness for atmosphere, gameplay and puzzles again heightens that immersion. You’re always on edge, knowing that should you come across those signature sounds of an enemy while making your way through one of the mansion’s many dilapidated, dark hallways, you better get ready to run!

At a glance...

Developer: Dual Effect, Abstract Digital   Genre: Survival Horror   Price: £16.99   File Size: 8.8Gb

More than just an homage, Tormented Souls stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best that Survival Horror has to offer, while also providing better puzzles to work through and story beats to uncover. Despite a distracting framerate, I couldn’t recommend this entry in the genre highly enough, and I’m crossing my fingers for more releases in this series.

About gn-nakasan

gn-nakasan

Living in England, Neil cut his teeth on Supercars, Dizzy and Bubble Bobble on the C64. At 15 he became the (still reigning!) European Sonic Speed Champion and, barring the birth of his Daughter, he's been chasing that high ever since!

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Comments (2)

conangiga

4M ago

Meh, I was kinda disappointed.
- The game crashed five times (over barely 7 hours).
- Weird glitches everywhere (they got me some free ammo though).
- Laughable 'boss battles'.
- Pointless nudity and gore at the beginning of the game to lure in people.
- No replayability after you get the golden ending.
- Early game hell and way too easy endgame.

I could go on but those are the main offenders.


gn-nakasan

4M ago

@conangiga

I'd seen some comments online about crashing but in my play-through I didn't come across any so didn't feel comfortable bringing them up, as it wouldn't reflect my time with it. Shame you had to experience that tho, especially with no auto-save to rescue you!!

As for that very early nudity scene, my take was it was going for a body shock/horror vibe to abruptly bring you into its world, as apposed to any fan-servicey motives.