Review – Tormented Souls (Switch)
After providing coverage for Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water elsewhere, my attention was diverted toward Tormented Souls instantaneously. Apart from the commonality of the female lead, it was the dreary atmosphere and dark setup that appealed to my inner ’90s child. This game is a nostalgic gut punch because it looks to take a reminiscent approach of simulating the earliest days of Resident Evil. Now, I’m a massive baby when it comes to horror, though I can’t deny the adrenaline rush it brings. It’s addictive, and I was hungry to seek out my next hit. Well, PQube seems to be the supplier, so I didn’t even hesitate to volunteer to review it. The first thing that welcomes me on bootup is a message warning me of explicit violence and gory scenes. I’ve no earthly idea what awaits me, but man, my ears are perked up.
Tormented Souls has a fascinating tale to weave and share that’s sure to leave you enthralled. Even now, I’m itching to see it to the end, but regrettably, that’s not possible. I won’t clear up the reason for that just yet, though; note that the game remains unfinished. That said, the actual methodology the narrative uses to unravel the mysteries is a double-edged sword. See, characters aren’t the primary route to gathering the information pertaining to current events. None of their dialogue says much, with the bulk covering the bare minimum with no added flavour. It’s only when locating diaries that are randomly scourged during your travels that spiciness is found. Inside are the written ramblings of the inhabitants. It invites you to peek into their lives and the tribulations that lead to this precise moment.
Thanks to the storytelling technique utilized, it puts the onus of receiving the complete picture on the player. None of the deeper intricacies and barely any development are front and center. If I intend to learn about what transpired, I must search out the books with a keen eye. To alleviate that task a bit, the actual layout of the mansion is relatively tiny, making it a straightforward effort to scavenge every nook and cranny. More importantly, the passages are well presented, and it was a nonissue for me to visualize what is said inside the pages. Being capable of feeling the emotion in their words is something I appreciate, and that, combined with discovering the truth, had me utterly smitten. Note that the subject matter touches on abuse, attempted rape, abduction, and other dark topics. It’s a gritty tale, but descriptions are never overly graphic.
My initial gut feeling proves correct, and Tormented Souls is, indisputably, an homage to old-school Resident Evil. Besides the similarities in terms of the location, the gameplay is also heavily identical. You are Caroline Walker, gunning down all deformed monstrosities. Ammo and recovery medicines are scattered in limited quantities, helping to birth anxiety deep within your stomach. It adds a ton of stress, made worse by the fact saving needs a Magnetophon film reel to function, and that, as well, is relatively scarce. Gone are those days of obsessively recording progression, meaning death can wipe many minutes of headway. I had no choice but to abandon my kamikaze instincts, adopting stealth. Another fascinating mechanic is the in-game darkness has a particular lethality when walking through without a light source. That effectively turns the journey into a juggling act between combat, illumination, and desperately hiding.
Now, item visibility is an essential addition since it assures nothing is left behind. It acts as a beacon and attracts your attention towards it. Not including an indication of some kind in Tormented Souls is a massive misstep. There have been countless titles in the survival horror genre that use a faint sparkle as theirs. Oddly enough, there is actually a sole instance of that here, leaving me wondering why it’s not widespread. Because this nifty quality-of-life feature isn’t a part of the game, it forces me to scour my surroundings.
As a consequence of that, it harms the inherent tension ever so slightly. While it’s never to a detrimental degree, it still doesn’t negate the fact that incessantly hugging walls in every room muddles my immersion. Sure, it’s still only a mild distraction to an otherwise great atmospheric romp, but it’s one that shouldn’t exist.
Another joint facet among survival horrors and prevailing in Tormented Souls is the brain crunching puzzles. The majority are clever in their make-up, requiring critical analysis to stumble on the appropriate solution. Sadly, the hints that aid in solving are predominantly tied to the previously mentioned diaries, which, due to lack of a glimmer, can be glossed over if you aren’t diligent. I’m a fan of this approach and am enamoured by the necessity of not only reading between the lines but dissecting their words for hidden meaning. I felt intelligent, though; my second gripe remains looming. Thanks to the abundance of information, it’s simple to misconstrue which tidbits bear fruit. There are a handful of examples of wandering about, following a clue I perceived differently, only for it to garner nothing. Fortunately, my detour lasted a minute or two, and before long, I’d bounce back on track.
Time travelling is a tricky concept to harness, and developers tend to make it convoluted whenever attempting it. Tormented Souls tries its hand at tackling it to a satisfactory level, and it’s a valiant effort. There are only a handful of times it creeps into the forefront, but whenever it does, it’s as logical as can be. The purpose it fulfills is immediately apparent, telegraphing what needs to be done as the conundrum gels perfectly with my inventory. I wish the same could be said for the illustrations that periodically appear as clues, but a few are square pegs jamming into round holes. Now, I acknowledge Dual Effect and Abstract Digital‘s ambitions, like bestowing a puzzle with a secret hint hidden in plain sight. Some images are ambiguous, however, failing to translate what needs to be done accurately. Even after looking it up, some relations lack clarity.
Tormented Souls, much like the inspiration, comes with a disorienting camera. Bluntly put, it likes to jump erratically into varying positions. In doing so, it confuses even the game itself as every directional input is inverted. Alright, picture this; a legless freak is chasing you. As you’re escaping, the point of view suddenly transitions behind Charlotte. Once that happens, what was forward is backwards now. After a second, it adjusts, redirecting suddenly and causing her to inadvertently charge the enemy before being hit, if not dying a cheap death. Another issue is that due to small spaces, the camera can obscure threats. Their visibility is regained, but only when they get dangerously close, and by then, it’s too late. Luckily, I never excessively perished due to this flub. It doesn’t render the game an unplayable mess either. See, that honour goes to the offensive performance on Nintendo’s handheld.
That’s right, Tormented Souls is rife with technical bugs, transforming portable convenience into a bloody hindrance. Perhaps beginning this conversation with the reason I quit is apt. You see, throughout the entirety of my session, the sheer number of crashes I suffered was agonizingly rough. On the bright side, they seem isolated to all transitions into new areas. Well, when remembering that the setting is a mansion with countless doors, the chances of it happening are, in actuality, immeasurably high. In fact, there was this single entrance that caused the game to meltdown four consecutive times, prompting me to partake in the arduous task of replaying a portion over and over. It took the simplistic action of walking into a room, turning it into a gamble – could I continue, or was I destined to fall into repetitive hell. Hell, this one blunder undermines the entire core design behind the game.
Now, any horror strives for the ability to create a tense situation. I’m happy to report that’s what’s here, but maybe not how you might expect. In total, I reckon I had about a dozen or so involuntary shutdowns. By proxy, that inherently means I’ve been through the same sections numerous times. Any jump scares that frightened me the first time lost all their luster the third, fourth, and by the fifth time, it’s now just an eye-rolling annoyance. Still, I couldn’t help but tighten up my muscles whenever I ventured into a new room. It was invigorating not to know when the next software collapse would strike, strong-arming me to repeat the same song and dance. It was then that I realized that tension is intrinsically associated with the anticipation of perhaps advancing. Would you believe this isn’t even scratching the surface?
Tormented Souls on Nintendo Switch is absent of polish, and I can confidently ascertain that based on a couple of things. The shortcut to looking at the map, for example, is mislabeled. Graphically, everything has a grainy visage but isn’t outright ugly because, if I’m being blunt, the downgrade caused charming early-era visuals. Probably the two biggest culprits, however, are a teleportation bug and clipping. As I’ve explained, the camera enjoys leaping into many points of view. In one case, as I frantically created distance between myself and an enemy, it shifted, and to my surprise, they somehow appeared beside me, resulting in a visit from the grim reaper. Another time occurred as I was again running and about to escape into a room. The bile monsters spew travelled through a wall, splashing against Charlotte and, well, causing her to sleep forever.
The sound design is, far and away, the best aspect. I enjoy how it plays with intensifying the score to replicate a building panic. I felt legitimately terrified whenever I was in a room with several creepy objects and violins screeching. My heart would be pumping like crazy because, in the back of my head, a voice was screaming to get the hell out. The feeling was particularly virile in a room full of mannequins. My chest tightened as the score was building slowly, and I’d quickly finish my business before sprinting off. The hair on the back of my neck stood at attention. I highly suggest wearing headphones with deep bass because, without any, the full effect doesn’t impact you. If you wait until nightfall, too, when everything is pitch-black, the creepiness is bolstered. If I were to play in the morning, the session would become a subpar experience.
In conclusion, Tormented Souls is a hidden gem severely dirtied by horrific crashes. They nullify any fun I could have had by having the prospect of retreading sections hanging over my head. The stress I felt was no longer because of genuine scares; instead, it was because of the technical problems. For those curious, yes, there’s voice-acting, and listening to Charlotte as she spoke reminded me so much of Nancy Drew. Her performance is quite stilted, though, lacking cadence. With enhanced delivery, it would have helped with the world’s believability. As is, there’s no sense of urgency at the madness unfolding around her. Her calm and collected murmurings didn’t match the terror that the dialogue seemed to be trying to convey. Be warned, too, that within the first couple of minutes of playing, there’s needless nudity.
While I wholeheartedly recommend the game, I warn everyone to stay away from the Nintendo Switch port until the issues are ironed out. As for me, I’m seeking out the Playstation 5 version as I’m legitimately curious about the ending.
While charming, there’s no arguing that the grainy look is telling. I’m aware it’s on weaker hardware but we’ve seen bigger games with better visuals.
The gameplay, when it was working without crashing, was very fun. I love the tension and puzzles were mostly fine. Take this score and buy this game on PlayStation or Xbox.
Man, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit but being sat in the darkness, listening to the building score, was terrifying. I love it, and look forward to trying this on my PS5.
I was having fun the first day. Then it started to hit a crashing fit. I’m not sure why it only seems to target going through doors, but I wasn’t having any enjoyment.
Final Verdict: 5.0
Tormented Souls is available now on PC, Playstation 4|5, Xbox Series X|S and Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch
A copy of Tormented Souls was provided by the publisher.