With its shocking opening, Tormented Souls sets the tone for an old-school survival horror experience that’s squarely aimed at adults.
It begins when a young woman called Caroline Walker receives a mysterious letter in the post. Apparently sent from a hospital, inside is a picture of two young girls, with a cryptic message on the rear. Needless to say, she’s intrigued and feels drawn to go there.
Shortly after arriving at the hospital, Caroline is stuck from behind by an unseen attacker. The next time we see her, she’s laying in a bath, naked, with a tube stuck down her throat. Coming to, she’s as shocked as we are, and hurriedly removes the tube before climbing out of the bath. It’s only after she reclaims her modesty and puts her clothes back on, however, that she makes a truly horrifying discovery – someone has removed her right eye. And so begins Tormented Souls, a game that pulls no punches.
It’s just a shame that Tormented Souls’ opening scenes are so low quality. Or maybe it’s a blessing, as when you actually get to take control of the game, the detail put into its environments is a pleasant surprise. The opening video is full of artifacts and is rather jerky on PS5. On top of that the voice acting is wooden, and straight away it’s clear that the game’s character models aren’t going to impress. As soon as you’re left to wander the mansion that’s been used as a makeshift hospital, however, all is forgiven. It looks absolutely stunning.
You don’t quite get to enjoy all of its grandeur though, as in keeping with survival horror games of yesteryear, Tormented Souls employs fixed perspective cameras system. Most of the time the camera will be static, but sometimes it’ll pan to follow Caroline cinematically. It’s a nice nod to titles such as Resident Evil, Silent Hill and Alone in the Dark, but there’s a reason why most horror games have moved away from it. Sure, it helps to create tension at times – entering a room to hear the sounds of an enemy somewhere in the distance that you can’t see can easily put you on edge. But in terms of gameplay, it doesn’t do Tormented Souls any favours.
You see, you will eventually encounter enemies in Tormented Souls, and while you’re equipped to combat them, it’s troublesome. They look undead, but they typically move faster than your traditional zombie. Combined with the fact that the fixed camera angles rarely give you a good view of the room that you’re in, you’re generally better off avoiding your enemies than fighting them. But that isn’t always ideal. So, you’ll often find yourself struggling to find a view that lets you actually see your pursuer, and be able to lock onto them with your nail gun, with enough time to put enough nails into them before they get into striking range. It’s not always possible.
Caroline does have a dodge manoeuvre, but it only allows her to jump backwards, which, when you’ve generally backed yourself into a corner to give yourself the best chances of pumping enough ammo into an undead monstrosity, isn’t particularly useful. Thankfully you acquire weapons with much more stopping power later in the game. Still, it’s safe to say that combat isn’t a strongpoint of Tormented Souls. You get the feeling that the issue could be alleviated by just pulling the camera back a little bit, and perhaps finding a better position for it in some areas. It simply loves Caroline as it is, and tries to stay close to her at the game’s detriment.
Get over the sub-par combat though, and you’ll find that there’s a lot to like about Tormented Souls. As previously mentioned, environmental design is on point; the locations you visit are wonderfully detailed and incredibly atmospheric, drawing you in yet creeping you out at the same time. Being 3D, they’re quite dynamic, too. You might notice bodies being dragged through holes, or other actions that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up if you pay attention to them. And then there are the puzzles, which will have you thinking about the game even after you’ve turned it off.
Puzzles in games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill sometimes used to be fiendish, and Tormented Souls has picked up the torch and decided to run with it. You’ll need to scour every nook and cranny for items crucial for your progress, as well as read any notes you come across for vital clues. Sometimes, you might even need to reach for a notepad and pen to jot things down, or simply work things out in your head. Either way, if you like a good puzzle, you’ll be in your element.
Ultimately, Tormented Souls‘ strength is also its Achilles heel: its reverence for the past. It takes players back to the supposed “Golden Age” of survival horrors, but fails to ask why there are rarely games made in their image any more. And the answer is simple: it’s because games have moved on, and some of their mechanics just don’t have wide appeal. As well as a fixed camera, Tormented Souls features both tank controls and 3D movement, though both feel clunky at times. You can only save your progress if you have a recording tape in your possession, too. These are all things that will arguably detract from the game for many rather than add to it. But hey, at least you don’t have limited inventory space. That’s definitely a win.
The average gamer might want to think twice before picking Tormented Souls up, as mechanically it feels outdated and often rather unwelcoming. The lousy voice acting and unconvincing character models will provide further reason for them to throw in the towel early, too. However, if you’re a fan of old-fashioned survival horrors and find yourself yearning for one that offers a modern lick of paint and a new setting, there’s a very high chance you’ll absolutely love it. It’s not as good as the classics of the genre, but developers Dual Effect and Abstract Digital have delivered something that is hot on their heels.
Tormented Souls Review: GameSpew’s Score