Survival Horror had its “golden age” in the 90’s, following a strict set of conventions and tropes. Tormented Souls, by Dual Effect, aims to utilize the core mechanics of Survival Horror but with a modernized twist. Detailed backgrounds, complex puzzles, limited supplies, and backtracking are all present here. However, Tormented Souls also adheres to the fixed camera perspective of older titles in the genre. This makes for a frightening, claustrophobic journey through an old hospital with dark secrets. A grotesque adventure that pulls you into its mystery from the moment you begin.
Originally, Tormented Souls was released in August 2021. For those seeking a traditional horror game, akin to Resident Evil, Silent Hill, or Alone in the Dark, this title came with that classic formula. Sticking to the use of fixed camera angles to elicit fear in the player, Tormented Souls also attempts to adapt to a modern gaming landscape. The atmosphere is thick, the fear is full-on and the setting itself uses Playstation 1 era techniques to command your emotions. From the outright gross to the deepest of chills, Tormented Souls captures what makes Survival Horror so fantastic. That said, it does so in its own compelling way.
Story & Setting
The story starts by introducing our heroine – Caroline Walker. One day, she receives a picture of twin sisters from an old hospital. A handwritten message on the back beckons Caroline to visit. Upon arrival, she is knocked out. You awaken, naked in a bath with a tube down your throat and an eye missing. Clearly the victim of some awful surgical procedure. Once Caroline puts her clothes on, the rest is up to you. As you progress, you meet a rather unsettling priest and find diaries scattered around. As with classic Survival Horror games, through reading these diaries you find clues and unearth the depravity of this diabolical hospital.
More than merely telling the story through writing and dialogue, the setting itself shows that Winterlake Hospital is not a place where people are treated. Instead, it’s a place where people are butchered in aid of some wretched cause. The hospital/mansion is a maze of mystery, the corridors of which you’ll need to familiarise yourself with to survive. The enemies are amalgamations of the human body and surgical structures. Pained creatures fused with wheelchairs or IV stands. Victims every bit as much as they are hostiles.
What stood out to me was just how effective the staples of vintage Survival Horror can still be in manipulating fear and tension. Tormented Souls looks like a modern title. At times it really is wonderful to look at. It feels (largely) slick and responsive to play. But what Tormented Souls achieves is greater than that. It’s the first game I’ve played in a long time that made me feel as apprehensive to proceed as those aforementioned titles once did. Genuine horror is a difficult thing to get right. Yet Tormented Souls is clearly developed by a team that have mastered the craft.
Fight or Flight
As hinted at earlier, Tormented Souls works with conventions that shaped Survival Horror. The fixed camera angles are very cinematic, but it also means there’s no camera control to player movement. Instead, you’re drawn by the camera to move a certain way. Or, if you’re confronted by enemies, you panic and make a mad dash to the nearest exit. That’s because for the bulk of the game you only have two weapons at your disposal. A crowbar (which is a weak melee weapon) and a nail gun. The latter is fairly effective, but clips of nails are in short supply. Also, being in pitch darkness will very quickly kill you. To combat this, you make use of a lighter. However, you cannot have your lighter and a weapon equipped simultaneously. These factors combined mean that for the early portion of the game, you’re faced with the task of prioritizing when to engage and when to avoid combat. You’ll eventually be able to craft a rudimentary shotgun out of pipes you find. The drawback? The gun only holds one shell at a time and shells are even more scarce.
In keeping with this theme of managing supplies, there is absolutely no autosave in Tormented Souls. Instead, you save at tape recorders and as you may have guessed, you need to find reels of tape to save with. This makes saving your progress a strategic decision.
Think and Plan
The puzzles in this game are very tricky and are often multi-layered. You can closely examine items in your inventory and in some circumstances interact with them. This means that puzzle solutions are often a mix of being observant as well as making sure you’ve fully inspected your items. The game introduces this immediately, with the first puzzle of the game requiring you to unlock a coded padlock. I won’t give away the solution, but the code requires you to find a clue on a note, examine something in your inventory and deduce the code.
As you solve puzzles, find keys, and combine items, you’ll then have what you need to access areas of the game that were previously locked. This means backtracking through the nightmare and if you’ve opted to avoid killing enemies in certain areas, they’ll still be there. Waiting…
The fixed camera angles do well to obscure the whereabouts of the enemy and you’ll need to rely on sound and shadows to estimate where the nearest threat is. It’s easy to misjudge though, and that often means you’ll run straight into a creature’s path. On this point, let me say it’s a good job I live alone. On more than a few occasions I just bumped into an enemy, resulting in some very loud shrieks of terror!
The focus on managing your supplies and plotting your course wisely, combined with the obscuring camera angles, results in an authentic sense of fear.
It goes without saying that the traditional horror experience is superbly executed here. That’s not all that Tormented Souls has to offer though. For one, the control scheme is excellent. The downside of using a fixed perspective is the restrictions on movement. Back in the day, Survival Horror games would utilize “tank controls”. Simply put, where the “up” button will always move the character forwards, even between camera transitions. In Tormented Souls, if you use the left stick, you have full 360° control and an automatic run. But, if you use the d-pad, you walk, tank control style, and hold a button to start running. This is such a simple, yet brilliant inclusion. Rather than having to change control schemes through a menu, you can simply use them both by switching between stick or d-pad.
I also loved the way the game was paced. My playthrough clocked in at just under 8 hours. However, that’s not what I want to emphasize. What makes the pace brilliant is that you’ll have hallways of horror. Suddenly, you’ll enter a safe space, where everything is calm and no baddies can hurt you. Provided you have the tape, you can save your progress too. Giving the player these brief moments of reprieve allow you to focus and strategize, but also brings the panic down to base levels. Tormented Souls utilizes sound and music brilliantly to this end as well. The score can fill you with tension and dread at times. The sounds of the enemies in the distance, scrambling ever closer, not only pressures you into thinking fast but is utterly terrifying. At other times, the music makes it clear that you’re in a spot of safety.
All of these elements are working to the same end, which is to make you afraid.
For all that Tormented Souls gets right, there are things I don’t like. Whilst the regular enemies are well designed, the only true boss battle is underwhelming. The introduction of an enemy that pursues you and cannot be killed (only downed briefly) doesn’t do much. Unlike Mr. X or Nemesis (Resident Evil 2 and 3), which are panic-inducing, here it is just an annoyance. When you enter a room, a specific track starts playing, so you know this enemy is somewhere. However, you can just exit the room and enter again, and the monster disappears.
There are some minor technical issues too. When you first enter a room with enemies, there’s a brief pause where everything loads in. During this phase, you can accidentally fire your weapon and when the scene loads properly, whilst you don’t hit any enemies, you still lose that shot.
The fixed camera perspective leads to a situation whereby if you use the stick, when you transition between angles, you will head in the direction you’re pressing rather than forward. This can be avoided by using tank controls. That said, whilst I am personally well used to tank controls, younger players may find it jarring. In which case, you’ll be using the stick. The problem here is that you can often find yourself turning right back in the direction you’ve come from. Particularly annoying if you’re being chased.
Also, I wasn’t fond of the character models. They’re very cartoonish and clean-looking. Caroline herself is extremely porcelain. The aesthetic of the models is totally at odds with the grimy look of the game’s backgrounds. It comes across as though someone unaware of the setting crafted the characters. They aren’t bad-looking but don’t fit in. On the other hand, Caroline has jiggle physics, if you’re into that…
These gripes I have do not hinder the sheer quality of this game. Tormented Souls wears its influences on its sleeve in the very best way. It drags true Survival Horror out of the 90’s and into the modern age, all without sacrificing what makes that old formula so brilliant: the fear!
TORMENTED SOULS IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to PQube for a PC review code for this title.
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Damien (dkpriory) has grown up gaming, from the humble days of the Atari all the way through to modern PC gaming. Unafraid to let a game steal his life for a few months, he is passionate about playing something immersive but also yearns for something to take him back to his childhood. Sadly no longer a member of the NookGaming team or creating content, but check out his archives on Youtube here.