Survival horror is a videogame genre with its origins well and truly founded during the 1990s. Far more than just jump scares and gruesome gore, the primary goal of these games is to terrify the player through their attempt to survive against all odds. With limited resources, players must fend off horrifying and grotesque enemies all while navigating unfamiliar settings littered with puzzles and riddles. Although earlier titles released in the 80s include some gameplay elements that are vital to the genre, it was not until 1996 that gamers across the globe would be treated to the progenitor of survival horror thanks to a single iconic game that defined the genre: Resident Evil.
The decade that followed the original Resident Evil truly was the Golden Age of survival horror, with sequel after sequel released across numerous platforms. Beloved series like Silent Hill, Clock Tower and Fatal Frame flourished, keeping millions on the edge of their seats as they fought for their lives despite the terrors each game contained. However, as consoles and computers became more advanced, horror games too had to match this pace, becoming instead more focused on hectic action and gripping cinematics than slow, methodical horror.
But survival horror isn’t dead; in fact, it may be more alive than ever (unlike its protagonists). Recent years have definitely seen a resurgence in this classic genre. Modern games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Outlast have proven that fear doesn’t always have to be fast. The latest game to join the ranks of the dead is Tormented Souls, an experience that harkens back to the genre’s roots and aims to please those who like their horror slow, dark, and terrifying. So grab your nearest green herb, pick up that discarded piece of a damaged door handle, and let’s dive into survival horror’s latest offering.
After receiving an unlabeled letter containing the image of two apparently deceased twins, our protagonist, Caroline Walker, foolishly puts her own personal safety aside and instead sets out on a mission she’ll very soon regret. Waking up naked in a bathtub of an abandoned hospital, attached to ventilator, and missing an eyeball seems like an awful way to start the day. This is exactly where Caroline finds herself after travelling to the mysterious Wildberger Hospital, a long deserted medical facility located on a remote island.
Though there’s far more to the hospital than just cobwebs and poorly-maintained medical equipment. Pieces of discarded journals and hints of previous inhabitants all point towards a dark past – experiments on patients and children that have rendered them deformed and mindless, now left to wander the hospital hallways. As Caroline delves further, she discovers there is far more terror to Wildberger than she ever could have imagined, and she is the only one who can bring the unimaginable horrors to light.
Immediately players will be able to draw comparisons between Tormented Souls and the original Resident Evil, as the game is not only inspired by, but pays homage to it throughout its entirety. Exploring a dimly-lit mansion with fixed camera angles, assembling makeshift weapons to fight for your life with every single scarce bullet, and piecing together obscure puzzles to access the next area are all throwbacks to classic survival horror. Even the tension of having a finite number of saves! This is truly a game that feels as if it belongs beside the classics thanks to its simple yet gripping gameplay. Like its predecessors, there are two major aspects that divide the game: combat and puzzles.
There’s no denying that the combat in this horror adventure feels just as it would have decades ago: clunky. Being played entirely in third person with fixed camera angles, players must position themselves precisely to aim at enemies as they approach, often whilst completely off-screen. Ammo is limited, so every wasted bullet is one step closer to death. Thankfully the grotesque horrors shamble slowly, giving plenty of time to line up shots or run around the cramped rooms in a panic. There are moments where this can be incredibly tense, especially when precious ammo is almost depleted, though for the most part combat feels tedious, and like my aim, inaccurate.
Where the gunplay seems clunky and even unenjoyable, the puzzles are thankfully the complete opposite. Tormented Souls is a masterclass in brilliant brain-bending, with plenty of perplexing puzzles for the player to unravel across their journey through the haunted hospital. These range from simple item combinations and environmental problems all the way through to complex riddles, clever conundrums, and even some segments that require stories to be pieced together by traveling back in time. The game’s impeccable use of problem-solving will have players constantly scratching their heads and being tempted to consult walkthroughs to progress. Resist the urge to look up solutions online, as the game is at its most satisfying when finally solving its trickiest riddles.
Bringing survival horror to a modern audience means that updating the visuals is a necessity – we’ve been incredibly spoiled by gorgeous horror games like The Last of Us and Resident Evil Village. This is no triple-A title, so don’t expect to be blown away by realism, but there are many aspects of Tormented Souls’ aesthetic that capture the essence of horror effectively.
Darkened environments are awash with filtered light emanating from outside sources, or from the safe, dim glow of Caroline’s lighter. Shadows project beautifully, dancing off the hospital walls and occasionally catching the player off-guard as if in the corner of one’s vision. Details in the hospital’s abandoned rooms help recall the history of the building, which was once busy with patients but now contains mutilated and hideous figures. The attention-to-detail in the hospital and its environments are certainly a highlight, and hold up incredibly well alongside even the best modern horror games.
In contrast, many visuals feel incredibly dated, and sadly not in a nostalgic way. Character models seem awkward and out of place against the detailed environments, animations can be jittery and clumsy, and the interactions during dialogue between yourself and the hospital’s priest seems so unpolished it’s almost as if they were left unfinished. It’s disappointing that these visuals drag down the game’s gorgeous environments, which clearly received far more love and attention.
No horror game is complete without its audio – a vital ingredient in crafting an atmospheric and gripping experience for the player. Distant sounds of enemies groaning or scraping along the ground are helpful in preparing the player for tense situations, as environmental cues like this often give more insight than the game’s visuals where dangers are often hidden off-screen. Music manages to also convey certain situations, as tense chords or shrieking strings mean imminent danger, while the warm and soft sound of a piano represents safety and comfort in the brief respite of recording rooms where Caroline may save her progress onto an audio reel.
Unfortunately, the audio isn’t all quality. Dialogue between Caroline and the occasional remaining souls of the hospital can be described as none other than B-grade. The voice acting, particularly from the Priest, who appears throughout the hospital, is cringeworthy and awkward, which feels more comedic than terrifying and sadly spoils the frightening tones of the game.
Through its clever use of brilliant puzzles and simple explorative gameplay, fans of classic games like early Resident Evil and Silent Hill will no doubt get some serious thrills from exploring the sprawling hospital over the ~10 hour journey. While elements like clunky combat and awkward dialogue feel rough and unpolished, there is still plenty to keep horror veterans satisfied whilst introducing newcomers to this slower and more methodical gameplay format. Survival horror was never even dead to begin with, and Tormented Souls certainly proves that this genre is alive and well today.
So, why should you play it?
- This is a must for fans of the earlier Resident Evil games.
- Perplexing environmental puzzles and problem-solving.
- Gorgeous environments and lighting.
- Slow, methodical gameplay appeals to you.
But why shouldn’t you play it?
- Prefer fast-paced games? This one’s not for you.
- You’re easily frustrated by tricky puzzles.
- You’d prefer a horror game with precise gunplay.
- Can’t stand B-grade dialogue and voice acting.
A review code on PlayStation 5 was provided for the purpose of this review.