It’s said that familiarity breeds contempt. In Visage‘s case, it nibbles away at the fear factor of an otherwise shocking survival horror.
Visage dumps you into a gloomy, haunted world where your sanity as well as your physical wellbeing are in peril. Exploring this world, you’ll reveal its horrific past and your own hidden history, all the while evading the enemies that periodically seek you out. Except, while this scenario screams Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Visage has more in common with PT, the now-elusive demo that was, if Hideo Kojima had his way, going to spawn a new Silent Hill game.
And, like PT, which directly inspired Visage, it’s the game’s suburban setting that makes it so chilling. Even when the lights aren’t being flipped off by unknown entities, every other item you spy is food for thought; the discarded beer can down the side of the sofa, the unfinished Lite Brite picture in the basement. Even the trickle of rain down the windowpane feels threatening. Right from the start, you’re wrong-footed by an environment that’s been tweaked to put you on edge.
Visage doesn’t overwhelm you with jumpscares. Instead, there’s a constant sense of tension as you roam the corridors, fumbling for a light switch or hoping there’s enough fuel in your lighter to stop your stress skyrocketing. You might not be counting bullets, but resources are every bit as precious as in Resident Evil. Do you take that candle with you? Or do you set it down on the side table, just in case the lights go out?
It’s a neat and slightly sadistic twist; every second you stay in shadow boosts your chance of encountering a supernatural foe, who’ll dispatch you in one hit. No amount of self-talk will stop you being scared afraid of the dark in Visage because there is something to be afraid of; the quicker you get to the next patch of light, the better.
Equally distressing, and effective, is the way the house plays with you and, as you progress further, warps around you. It’s just little things at first – like coming across a door you’re sure you’d shut earlier, or the odd creaks the house makes. But then you open a door and discover a corridor so long it can’t possibly fit in the house. Even though I’d encountered a similar scenario in Silent Hill 2, I was unprepared for the impact this discovery would have on me.
Up until that point, I’d taken comfort that there was at least, some sort of logic to it all. But the more Visage erodes this, the less you have to cling on to, and the more the sensation in the pit of your stomach grows. A couple of puzzles – most of which are relatively basic – do frustrate, but Visage mostly succeeds in keeping you thoroughly unsettled.
There are those times when over-familiarity rears its ugly head, however; when Visage stops wearing its influences on its sleeve and starts screaming them into your face. Remember the chained door from Silent Hill: The Room? Visage uses chains to block every other impassable door. And since the game is semi-open world, you’re going to be seeing that every fourth room you wander into to. There’s another scene, potentially repeated several times, that sees you waking up an identical fashion to PT‘s protagonist. If you’re new to survival horror, this won’t be as big an issue, but if you’ve played more than a few titles from the genre, these overt references might be a bit too shameless for your liking.
Another issue is the way that, for the course of the first of the four chapters, the ghost spends a little too much time flipping light switches. The first five times it happens, it’s off-putting, but after that, you wish you had a ruler so you could whack their spectral wrists every time they go near the lights.
Still, with these minor annoyances aside, Visage goes far beyond cheap jump scares and will chill you to the bone if you give it half a chance. It might never completely shed its inspiration, but it spins it in enough clever (and unsettling) ways to keep you hooked. If you’re a fan of horror, you won’t regret stepping into Visage‘s suburban haunted house – even if your character might.