There’s a fine line between homage and imitation. When it’s done tastefully, it’s an homage to those that came before. Yet when it’s a deliberate knockoff, it’s an imitation. Normally it boils down to if it’s any good or not, in layman’s terms. Tormented Souls, to the detractor, looks like an imitation at first glance.
From a splash card telling players that “This game contains scenes of violence and gore”, we already know we’re treading ground laid by Resident Evil and Silent Hill. There’s no bones about it, nor is this game hiding its influences. This is pure nostalgia bait, and honestly, I don’t mind. Resi and Silent Hill formed my teenage years (which says a lot).
The question, as you may have guessed, is which category does Tormented Souls fall into? Is it continuing the legacy crafted by the above, or a pale imitator trying to ape off the success and nostalgia? Let’s have a look…
Spooky Premise: Check
Given that horror games have been around for a good few decades, and not just confined to video games, original stories are becoming tougher to find. Too radical a plot seems forced, yet straight up copying the Resident Evil is lazy (looking at you, Daymare 1998). So, in that regard, Tormented Souls has just done a big old cliche instead.
Try not to roll your eyes as I list off the characters and setting, it’s as generic to start with as it comes. Young, inquisitive, doe-eyed female protagonist: check. A strange and mysterious summons to an old hospital: check. A weird, Deadly Premonition-esque framing device with a photo of two young girls that the protagonist knows nothing about: double check with cheese. The only difference is Agent Morgan doesn’t wake up naked in a bathtub, tube in throat and missing an eye, like our heroine does.
Caroline Weaver is the Heather Mason in this adventure, a young woman chucked into the deep end, constantly surprised and inquisitive in equal measure. It’s always a weird disconnect when the protagonist seems to be fleeing in fear one minute, then calmly grilling a mysterious stranger the next. Almost like their dialogue was recorded at separate times, which used to be the case.
But, despite what sounds like cynicism, I actually quite enjoy what Dual Effect are going for here. That it instantly smacks of late 90’s PS1-era survival horror is, for me, a welcome change. That it plays like one too, warts and all, is ever better.
Now, there’s a certain contingency of survival horror players that shudder at the phrase: “tank controls”. To them, the notion of constantly having to press forward, regardless of where the fixed camera angle is, makes them all uneasy. I, on the other hand, embrace it, and didn’t like it when the Resident Evil HD remake set to mess with it. Fortunately, Tormented Souls lets players use either on the fly: tank controls on the directional buttons, full 3D movement on left thumbstick.
It would be remiss to say, “It plays exactly like Resident Evil/Silent Hill/Alone in the Dark” did and call it a day. But honestly, what do you want me to say? It’s what Tormented Souls is going for, there’s no other way to spin it. The corridors and rooms at Wildberger Hospital are fixed, and players will be getting annoyed watching Caroline smoosh her face around corners when the camera changes suddenly.
Tank control players will have no issue with cornering, but fans of 3D movement may struggle with the camera changes. It doesn’t have the fluidity that Devil May Cry brought to things, often seeing Caroline spin back and forth on the spot like she’s forgotten something.
So what with Tormented Souls running the mental checklist of borrowed old tropes, it wouldn’t be complete without that most nonsensical of throwbacks: logic puzzles. Yes, I realise it sounds like an oxymoron calling logic puzzles “nonsensical”, but you’ll begin to understand what I mean. In fact, it may even make you question the older games we used to play too.
In the real world, it makes perfect sense to lock certain doors in hospitals. After all, you don’t want people stealing Propofol or rearranging the bodies in the mortuary to spell out the YMCA. The media would have a field day, for a start. Yet in video game logic, what’s wrong with a normal lock-and-key system?
Why do I have to find two halves of a plastic heart, travel to a mirrored and dank dimension straight from Silent Hill, and pop it into a doll’s chest? Furthermore, why does this close up the chest of a real person on an operating table to stop them clenching an item needed to open up the door the main hospital lobby?
There are some innovative ones, like using a stethoscope to learn a door knock-to-unlock pattern. Or, and this would stump some of those “young folk”: manipulating a floppy disk from Read Only to allow Caroline to input the necessary password. I’m not an old school PC gamer, but this made me pull an appreciative grin.
Again, in my cynical-yet-backhanded way, I do appreciate what Tormented Souls is doing. However, there’s a line between paying tribute to what came first and trying to better it. Veterans will remember Silent Hill’s piano puzzle, or Resident Evil 3’s notorious water facility randomiser. We don’t need something more obtuse than that.
The combat’s enough faff as it is.
Where Evil Resides
When I say faff, I of course mean difficult and panic-inducing. Fortunately, it’s not as convoluted as holding R1 and pressing X to shoot, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it had gone for that too. Kitchen sink and all that. Yet whilst Tormented Souls does incorporate shoulder button aim-and-shoot like its modern contemporaries, everything else is pure 90’s jank.
And honestly, I can’t remember why I used to defend this. Having an auto-aim is a godsend in this situation, as it lets Caroline see things that I can’t (with surprisingly good depth perception and accuracy for someone with one eye). It’s just a shame that she’s not very good at avoiding conflict.
Granted, if the game gave players enough ammunition to Rambo their way through, it’d be no fun (looking at you, Dead Space 3). Conversely, making them skimp and save is a tactic synonymous with the survival aspect of survival horror. But when enemies tank nails, from a nailgun a priest gives you no less, and deal heaps of damage early on it’s very easy to get disheartened with the experience.
Now, I know full well that this was similar in Resident Evil, with Chris not even starting with a firearm. The difference was that game had some roomier environs, whereas the first half hour in Tormented Souls is all small rooms and narrow corridors. Caroline does have a nifty back-step when aiming, but the “cooldown” bites you in the ass as, well, enemies hit you from the front in between.
That said, the enemy design is something out of The Suffering: all grotesque malformations of humans, complete with protruding sharp things for carving up some Caroline flesh. In fact, the presentation all round is pretty top notch… well, mostly.
A Fresh Coat…
For all of its detractions, fixed camera and prerendered backgrounds did give way to something good: very nice looking visuals. From the early days of static walls to visual enhancements like flickering lights and ray tracing-like shadow moments, there’s always a sense of unease.
Tormented Souls, in this regard, scores top marks for looks. The looming sense of fear and dread that lurks in the shadows is palpable. In fact, standing in the dark will kill Caroline if you’re not paying attention. I wasn’t… but there is a trophy attached to dying that way at least once. So there’s some consolation.
But whilst the environments look exquisite, the same can’t be said for the character models themselves. Caroline looks like a Westernised imitation of an anime protagonist, all doe-eyed and out of proportion. Which includes her skimpy, floaty dress and barely-covering jacket. I guess that’s supposed to cater to the old school male gamer brain? It just seems an odd juxtaposition against a backdrop that looks like Koudelka got a visual enhancement.
…Doesn’t Cover All The Cracks
Whilst everything seems to be ticking the boxes for “perfect capsule gaming experience of the 90’s”, there are some glaring faults with Tormented Souls that can’t be ignored. For one, the inconsistency of location. It’s the Wildberger Hospital, yet characters keep calling it a mansion. The dialogue flits between the two, causing this massive disconnect at times.
The other, in a similar vein, is that dialogue doesn’t match up to the script/subtitles at times. Again, a massive oversight that can take players out the experience if the spoken word deviates from the script. Which isn’t helped with the lack of lip movement, let alone syncing. Yes, Metal Gear Solid didn’t have lip syncing, but they couldn’t program that. In this day and age it seems like a major miss.
The other problem I found is the sparsity in saving items. Yes, it’s very cool that it’s using a consumable/recording device combination like what Capcom did, very clever. But at least players were given a couple of ink ribbons at a time. I know the first twenty minutes of Tormented Souls quite well now, having died in bullshit combat moments several times.
You could argue it’s down to player skill, granted. Maybe the man who could speedrun Resident Evil 2 back in 1998 doesn’t have the sharp reflexes anymore, but what kind of excuse is that? I’ve got the platinum on Bloodborne, I know how to play games. There’s no difficulty options here, you’ll just have to grin and bare it, or die and give up trying.
The takeaway then, by way of conclusion, is how big a fan of classic survival horror games you are. If you’re familiar with the classics that I’ve name dropped in here, and they illicit a positive response, then you’ll see what Tormented Souls is going for.
It has all the sentiment of what the vintage era of survival horror brought to the table. There’s a reason the mainstays I’ve name-dropped have sold millions. It also shows why games like this aim to imitate the success of those, hitting that nostalgic angle as to why players loved them back in the day.
However, it also highlights just how rubbish the execution of those games used to be. It’s no wonder that Resident Evil 4 is heralded as a genre reviver, what with the switch to over-the-shoulder aiming. Having a game that pays tribute to inane logic puzzles, awkward combat and unfair difficulty early only exacerbates the complaints the genre used to fend off.
But that’s more of a personal aside. If you loved that jank and clunky charm from the past, then Tormented Souls is a great trip down memory lane, even if players may stumble occasionally on the cobbles. I’m in two minds: I love that it pays its dues to those that came before, yet there are some glaring cracks in that “old school” formula.
Tormented Souls ticks all the right boxes in regards to old school survival horror. It’s paying respect to those that came before, but unfortunately also highlights the frustrations and nonsensical plot-driving puzzles that we’d left behind. Think less critically, however, and there’s a new experience in the genre. Survival horror is still surviving.
Tormented Souls is available now on PlayStation 4 & 5 (reviewed on latter), Xbox One and Series S|X, Nintendo Switch and PC.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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