I remember when I played my first Resident Evil. It was a gift and couldn’t wait to get it running in my old PS1. That old Capcom “this game contains scenes of explicit violence and gore” plastered on the screen, the menu yelling the title “Resident Evil” as you started; I loved it and played whenever time would allow. The action, the scares, the (at the time) impressive voice acting; all of it just clicked. It has been a long time since that first entry and played more horror games than I can count since then. The genre has gone through many phases and changes from different controls to how much action should be allowed, to borderline walking simulators that deliver some scares on occasion. We’ve even lost some great franchises in the process (I miss you Visceral Games and Team Silent.) Yet, with all the evolutions and new perspectives, I yearned for that simple time when I would slap in a plastic disc and explore spooky mansions and endure overbearing atmospheres. Well, somebody must have called Dual Effect, because they happened to do just that. Well almost.
It Started with a Photo
In Tormented Souls, we follow Caroline Walker as she receives a mysterious parcel carrying a photograph of a pair of twin girls. Somehow drawn to them, Caroline leads her to a creepy mansion later turned into a medical facility. Caroline then receives a nasty bump on the head and wakes in a bathtub with tubes connected to her and her left eye plucked out. She presses on, almost compelled to continue in her search of the twin girls in the photo, and what discover secrets are hidden between the walls of the makeshift hospital.
Return to the World of Survival Horror
Tormented Souls is a throwback to the genre of survival horror, and you’ll find all the hallmarks of the games of old here. Everything from clunky tank controls, blood-soaked creatures of the night lying in wait, and puzzles that open more of the mansion as you join Caroline in her journey. It was like greeting an old friend I haven’t seen in a while. After all, it’s been more than 20 years since gamers got to explore the Spencer Mansion for the first time. Your inventory space is unlimited, and you won’t be trying to figure out what puzzle gets priority or what weapon you’ll bring, or what you’ll leave behind. Caroline can be moved with an alternate set of controls that feel modern and less like I’m trying to park a car blindfolded.
No survival horror game would be complete with its signature puzzles. Tormented Souls brainteasers will humble even survival horror veterans. Every clue, hint, and step are telegraphed to you somewhere and in some way all the while avoiding dreaded “moon logic”. You just need the patience and the spatial awareness to see that the answer may have been right in front of you the whole time. Some made me sit back in awe as I pondered the solution only to have it hit me in the face when I examined a critical clue. More than once my jaw dropped when I got to see the payoff of puzzles I thought I’d never solve. Those taking in every note and piece of the environment will be happily rewarded.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention what lies in the darkness at the hospital. Countless creatures and monstrous former patients await you and only a limited supply of offensive and defensive weapons are available to deal with them. Some can be avoided if you are agile enough but most enemies outside of one will tend to stick around until they are dealt with. Do you kill it now and hope nothing comes at you later? Or, do you save it for a boss fight that may come soon? More ammo might be right around the corner, or it could be another monster hidden just out of view. The game usually provides just enough to get by, but trigger-happy players might see themselves stuck at certain points when their supply dries up. So, make every shot count.
Every Frame a Bloody Painting
Survival horror lives and breathes on its presentation and Tormented Souls mostly succeeds in this category. The Spencer Mansion itself is just dripping in atmosphere and style. The influences are blatantly clear with the Alone in the Dark and classic Resident Evil-style mansion taking center stage and later even Silent Hill-inspired “other worlds” come into play. The soundtrack offers a mix of haunting tracks to keep even the most seasoned players on their toes to relaxing melodies to signal that you are safe for the time being. While not the most graphically intense game on the market, its use of lighting, music, and art style all feel well done and deserving of merit. Mostly.
I mentioned how Dual Effect almost had it right and I still stand by that statement as much as it pains me to do so. While there is definite polish in most places, the aspects lacking really start to become apparent. First is the voice acting; while not a lot of it, most of it is outright awful. I knew this wanted to be a throwback to early horror games, but they didn’t have to imitate the voice acting of the time as well. Caroline is supposed to be somewhere in the late teens/ early 20’s range but sounds like she’s in her 40’s and her delivery is questionable in some parts and laughable in others. The voice work almost comes out of nowhere while you investigate certain items and places of interest; it’s completely inconsistent.
While Tormented Souls got points in the music department, it also can be tone-deaf as certain areas of the game have music that is not as well looped and can grate on the ears while you are just trying to walk around. The amount of backtracking also borders on unacceptable at times. That is normally a given in these kinds of games but combine that with Caroline’s slower than molasses jogging speed and it slows the game’s pace to a crawl even with shortcuts that can mitigate it.
The combat, while engaging at first, completely falls apart once you are given a flashlight. Normally you would light candles with your lighter, lure enemies to the nearest light source, and pummel it with your weapon of choice. Once you receive the flashlight, any tension immediately falls flat as now you have a brighter light source that doesn’t require you to switch it out, you can take care of it immediately.
Finally, I would always find myself saying something to the tune of “Wow just like in Resident Evil” or “Hey that’s just like Silent Hill.” There were so many callbacks and revisited mechanics of other titles that I first enjoyed seeing as I loved to see the inspiration, but at some point, I asked myself “Why wouldn’t I just play those games instead?” “If I missed those games so much, why was I playing this at all?” No game should make me want to play something else while I’m playing it.
Tormented Walk With Me
Tormented Souls is a heartfelt love letter to the classic survival horror genre. All the usual suspects are here; a spooky eccentric mansion full of terror, puzzles that will test your logical thinking and spatial awareness, and a limited amount of ammo to work with to combat the monsters within. Tormented Souls wears its inspirations on its blood-soaked sleeves and has no shame in it. Unfortunately, that’s where most of the problems start to creep in. For every clever idea and set piece there was something that would make me sigh in disappointment. I usually dislike giving a numerical number for a rating, but this is a 5/10 game if I ever saw one. It hooked me in, only to lose me on questionable game and presentation choices. At some point, I just wanted the game to end so I could move on to another. I really wanted to love Tormented Souls and there are parts where I do. But some parts of me just wished it tormented the characters inside the game rather than my patience.