Review cover Tormented Souls (PlayStation 5)
Official GBAtemp Review

Product Information:

  • Release Date (NA): August 27, 2021
  • Release Date (EU): August 27, 2021
  • Release Date (JP): August 27, 2021
  • Publisher: PQube
  • Developer: Dual Effect Games/Abstract Digital
  • Genres: Survival Horror
  • Also For: Computer, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S

Game Features:

Single player
Local Multiplayer
Online Multiplayer
Co-operative

Review Approach:

Video game developers have always tried to adapt genres we know from literature and cinema into a playable format, and horror is no exception. In the early days of gaming it was difficult to convey the sense of dread with pixels - it wasn't until the 3D era that we finally saw games truly capable of replicating the atmosphere we know, love and fear so much. Games like Resident Evil have burned themselves into the memories of gamers as the gold standard of what horror should be, in spite of hardware limitations of the time. Fixed camera angles and pre-rendered backgrounds allowed them to give players a good scare without breaking the resource budget and, as an unintended consequence, led to the birth of a brand new genre - the survival horror. As time went on and hardware became more and more capable, developers slowly distanced themselves from this format, but one could argue that what we've gained in freedom of movement and eye candy, we've lost in atmosphere. Imagine my excitement when I came across Tormented Souls, a game that pays homage to the classics by sticking to the model they pioneered. As a fan of the genre who cut his teeth on Alone in the Dark 3 way back in the day, I was stoked. Was my experience bliss, or did I leave the experience tormented? Read on and find out, if you're brave enough!
Tormented Souls is a puzzle-filled survival horror which, after somewhat turbulent development, is finally available on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series S/X and PC, with Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions coming soon.
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A Tale of Two Sisters​


Sometimes life can be turned upside-down by something as simple as a letter. Caroline Walker wasn't expecting any mail, particularly not from a hospital, and especially not an old photograph of two young girls, accompanied by a threatening message. Ever since she gazed upon the mysterious picture, she couldn't get any restful sleep. Nightmares plagued her mind - she couldn't sleep, and whenever she did manage to catch some shut-eye, she wished that she didn't. Something odd was happening, something she couldn't explain, and it didn't take long before she became sick of it all. After two weeks of torment she could only think of one solution - she needed to see the Wildberger Hospital with her own eyes. She needed to discover the fate of the two girls, whatever it might be, and find out who sent her this cursed photograph... and why was it sent to her, of all people. When she entered the dilapidated Winterlake Mansion with her heart pounding, she didn't expect to be immediately knocked unconcious, nor did she expect to wake up naked and afraid in a bathtub with her clothes and, more importantly, one of her eyes missing. It was clear that she wasn't alone, and that someone didn't want her investigation to proceed. Escaping this god forsaken ruin suddenly became a priority - little did she know that finding a way out wasn't going to be nearly as easy as getting in. Something evil was hidden in the walls of this decrepit building, and it had no intention of letting her leave.

House on Haunted Hill​


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Not a very pleasant welcome for Miss Walker...

If you think that this setup seems a little generic, you're absolutely right, and it's this way intentionally. The developers set out to create a game that walks in the footsteps of the genre's classics like Resident Evil, Silent Hill or Alone in the Dark, and they've achieved their goal. The game plays precisely like those old cult classics, except this time around it takes full advantage of modern hardware to visually enhance the atmosphere of dread we're all-so-familiar with. Poorly lit corridors? Check. Fixed camera angles? Check. Tons upon tons of puzzles which stand in the way of your progress? Check! Fans of this old school survival horror staples are sure to enjoy what TS has to offer, provided they're able to overlook some of its quirks. Let's get one thing out of the way - TS is not a big budget title, it's an indie game through and through, and Dual Effect's first foray into developing larger-scale retail titles. As such, it's worth curbing your expectations a little bit and giving credit where credit is due - everybody starts somewhere. The game also went through a somewhat turbulent development cycle as it was originally also announced for previous generation consoles back in August 2020, then cancelled, then re-announced for those consoles following backlash. This probably led to the developers stretching the developer's resources thin, so how did they fare with these limitations? Remarkably well, actually.

Your task as Caroline Walker, the protagonist of the game, is fairly simple - explore the mansion, find out its secrets and walk out of this ordeal alive. From the very beginning the game evoked memories of exploring the The Spencer Mansion in the original Resident Evil all those years ago, both in terms of setup and the visual presentation. The Winterlake Mansion, which used to function as a hospital before it was decomissioned, looks like its spitting image, complete with marble statues decorating the halls, creepy paintings and a labyrinthian layout that'll require some work before it allows you to explore all of its secrets. Out of all the goals the developer set out to achieve, this is one that they've executed without a hitch - the game certainly looks the part. Visually, you'd be hard-pressed to find a fault with it.


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Scary things lurk in the dark - make sure to have your lighter handy!

Sadly, what looks like homage to Resident Evil also sounds like one - the voice acting isn't the best. It's very, very cheesy, just like in the games TS tries to immitate, and it's very clear that English was either a second language for the actors, or that they just weren't very experienced at their craft. Moreover, the voice lines often (or in fact most of the time) don't match the subtitles at all. My best guess is that the developers tried to fit all the text on the screen and picked a font that was just a touch too large to do so. The dialogue must've been re-written at some point to resolve this issue, but the lines were never re-recorded. A bit of a curious solution given the fact that they could've simply picked a different font, but besides being a bit silly, it doesn't interfere with the gameplay. For a while I did my best to follow the two different scripts, but it quickly became apparent that both contained more or less the same information, so it's not that big of a deal. For what it's worth, the original Resident Evil's voice acting wasn't exactly top notch either, giving us timeless gems like the well-known "Jill Sandwich", so can I really fault TS too much? After all, imitation is the highest form of flattery.

Okay, so the game looks and sounds like old school horror, but how does it play? Exactly as you'd expect - you traverse the spooky mansion in search of clues regarding the disappearance of the twins, collect more files than I could count and solve puzzle after puzzle in order to open up new areas along the way. The puzzles themselves are not exactly head-scratchers and you won't spend too much time solving them, but there were a couple that had quite memorable solutions. They also didn't seem to be nearly as... annoying as the ones you remember from the past - there's not a whole lot of backtracking going on here to stretch the play time and you usually know where everything is located and how to get there. No esoteric "rub all the things against the thing until something works" in this one, which is a big plus.

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Although the mansion was abandoned many years ago, you're not alone - be wary!

Of course this is no walking simulator - there's more than just puzzles that haunt you in the hallways of the mansion. One of the mechanics that truly stood out as I played was the game's use of light, which turned out to be a hazard in and out of itself. Caroline begins her adventure with a lighter, and it’s one of your most important items in the game until you obtain a better source of light. Why is that? It's because the good people at Dual Effects were clearly inspired by the Cthulhu mythos, or they've played Eternal Darkness before - most likely both. Standing in the darkness makes the character lose sanity, and this happens rather quickly. It doesn't take long before the void stares back at you, and static on the screen is your first indication that your adventure is about to be rudely interrupted by something that lurks in the dark. This leads to an interesting predicament in some sections of the game - you can't put your light source down, but you are being chased by enemies, so you're forced to bob and weave past them, either to the exit or the nearest source of light before you're able to defend yourself again. It's a very simple mechanic, but it’s inventive and gameplay-altering. Regardless of whether you have the ammunition to spare, sometimes you just can't engage a threat, which really put the "S" in survival horror as I played the game. It's small things like this that make a game memorable. There are also several points in the game where you get to travel across time and dimensions - things are very different on the other side of a mirror or a reel of film, but venturing into the unknown is often necessary to progress in the real world. Again, another really neat mechanic, and one that the game could've utilized more.

In terms of the bestiary, there's a number of different enemies you'll face as you explore Winterlake, and most of them are reminiscent of things you'd encounter in a Silent Hill game. The former residents of the hospital fell victim to both insane experiments and the evil whispers that reverberate in the halls, turning into things that are... less-than-human. As Caroline, you'll have to take your aim and dispatch monsters of all-sorts, from wheelchair-bound "Wheel Monsters" to the imposing cult members clad in ancient radiation suits, the "Atomic Men". Not exactly the most inspired naming scheme, to be fair, and there isn't much variety to speak of, but combat isn't exactly this game's strong suit to begin with, or its focus. The enemy AI is very simple - they're easily tricked, they often don't notice your presence if you've only just entered a room, they're easy to kill and once you do, they die unceremoniously and without fanfare. This is one of the game's chief failings - I feel that more attention could've been put on making the combat truly satisfying, not to mention a bit more challenging. As it stands, your primary concern is conservation of ammunition - yet another genre staple that TS heavily relies on to force you to strategize your encounters.



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Video games do imitate real life! Remember, if something is loose, the answer is duct tape. If something is stuck, the answer is WD-40.

Where TS lets the player down is the story. While the setup is fairly straightforward, once I've finished the game I felt that perhaps Dual Effects tried to be too many things at the same time. I'm not going to spoil too much, but TS wants to tackle multiple types of horror at the same time, from danger that is deliberate and man-made to danger that is ancient, supernatural and uncontrollable. In doing so, it becomes a collection of horror tropes - some of which fit and some that do not. Dual Effects set out to create a buffet of horror in which you can have a little taste of it all. The problem here is that when you're trying to write a coherent, linear story, you don't get to pick and choose the things you want from the table - you have to eat it all, and cake doesn't go with steak. I felt like the title would've been even better with a more singular focus, a commitment to a specific sub-genre that's clearly telegraphed to the player from the start. In all fairness, the game gradually narrows down to that as you play and all of its mysteries are resolved by the time the credits roll, so perhaps I'm being a little too picky.

Lovecraft or Okay-craft?​


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Why is it always haunted mansions and creepy twins?

So, all in all, is this game worth your time? It depends. If you're a fan of the genre, you know exactly what you're getting into, and chances are that you'll enjoy it. If you're not into those kinds of games and the idea of going back to a primarily fixed camera setup doesn't seem alluring to you, this might not be a game for you. At the end of the day, Tormented Souls is precisely what it says on the tin - it's a game that plays homage to the survival horror classics by staying as true to their original gameplay as possible, which to some might be a detriment, but to me was a huge strength. It's very reliant on them in all aspects and perhaps imitates more so than innovates, but if that was the goal from the outset then can I really consider it a fault with the product? No, not really. It's not a very long game by any stretch - if you already know all the puzzles, you can easily speedrun it under 3 hours, but don't let that dissuade you from giving it a go as the same can be said about Resident Evil - I'd say the two are comparable in length. If this was a full-priced title perhaps I would have more issues with it, but as an indie game on a budget, it's good value. I also have to credit the publisher with one thing that I don't get to see very often, and I wanted to leave it for last because I genuinely think it should become the industry standard. The game costs £29.99 on disc, and alongside it you get a nice medallion, one of the in-game items - a nice touch. That's already pretty cheap compared to full-priced productions, but some might feel reluctant to spend this much on an indie title. Well, I've got good news - the digital release is significantly cheaper, retailing at only £15.99, almost half the price, which makes perfect sense considering the publisher doesn't have to go through the hassle associated with a physical release. With that price tag it's not just a bargain, it's a steal, and I struggle to understand why this doesn't apply to all games available digitally. If you're in two minds about it, perhaps you should opt for the digital release and give it a spin that way - you won't be disappointed.

Verdict

What We Liked ...
  • Great visual presentation
  • Good use of lighting, and its implementation in gameplay
  • Bushels of puzzles to solve
  • Reams of files to wade through that give you a better insight into the events that preceded your adventure
What We Didn't Like ...
  • Slightly disjointed story that lacks singular focus
  • Enemy deaths are very unceremonious, making it hard to feel triumphant
  • Very basic AI
  • Cheesy voice acting
  • Seems a little exploitative at times
8
Gameplay
If you like games that force you to manage your resources, solve puzzle after puzzle and slowly explore creepy environments in a classic fixed-camera tank-controls style, this is it. Although the game doesn't redefine the genre, it does feature some neat mechanics that make it stand out from the crowd, particularly its use of darkness as an in-game hazard. If the classic survival horror is your jam, you've got a full jar right here.
8
Presentation
In terms of art direction, Tormented Souls looks exactly like its predecessors would've looked like had they been made on modern hardware with all of its bells and whistles. The mansion's interiors are reminiscent of industry classics and their dimly lit corridors succeed at creating an atmosphere of horror that the genre's fans are looking for.
6
Lasting Appeal
While the game does technically have three different endings, the one you get is dependent on a handful of decisions you make at the very tail end of the game, making it simple to experience everything Tormented Souls has to offer on a single save file. Of course you always have the option to hunt for Trophies or challenge yourself on a higher difficulty level, or simply speedrun the game, but there isn't any story content that would motivate the player to play the game twice. The game is, for the most part, entirely linear, so the lasting appeal here is somewhat limited.
7.5
out of 10

Overall

Tormented Souls is an homage to the classics, but it tries to play homage to all of them at the same time and, as a result, feels somewhat disjointed. With that being said, it succeeds at its stated goal of offering a classic survival horror experience on modern hardware, and for that it deserves credit. Is this a game you're going to remember as a classic in and out of itself? Probably not - it's purposefully derivative after all. Is it one that you're going to have a good time with? Yes, and at that price point, it's really hard to complain - you get your money's worth, and then some.
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Is the Cheesy Voice acting so bad it's good? If so then it's a must buy from me
The trailer is a good indication of what to expect from the in-game acting. To me it was clear that the actors either didn’t know English very well *or* that this was one of their first gigs of this kind. It’s not bad to the point of being distracting, but it is a slice of cheddar if that’s the kind of thing you like. :lol:
 
The trailer is a good indication of what to expect from the in-game acting. To me it was clear that the actors either didn’t know English very well *or* that this was one of their first gigs of this kind. It’s not bad to the point of being distracting, but it is a slice of cheddar if that’s the kind of thing you like. :lol:
I love me some bad acting

 
Loved this game. Very "Resi 1 Gamecube Remake-esque." Couple of random puzzles drag it down a bit but still a solid 8.5/10 for me.
 
The trailer is a good indication of what to expect from the in-game acting. To me it was clear that the actors either didn’t know English very well *or* that this was one of their first gigs of this kind. It’s not bad to the point of being distracting, but it is a slice of cheddar if that’s the kind of thing you like. :lol:
Could also just be really bad or no direction. In a lot of bad voice acting that's the case.
 
Could also just be really bad or no direction. In a lot of bad voice acting that's the case.
That's a good point - sometimes actors are just handed a script with no reference material and they have no idea how they're supposed to act in a given scene. With that being said though, judging by the rest of the material, it seems to me that the team was rather proud of the project they were working on, so I can't imagine it being anything other than lack of experience or ability. Anything's possible, really.
 
That's a good point - sometimes actors are just handed a script with no reference material and they have no idea how they're supposed to act in a given scene. With that being said though, judging by the rest of the material, it seems to me that the team was rather proud of the project they were working on, so I can't imagine it being anything other than lack of experience or ability. Anything's possible, really.
Even Nintendo and Sega are guilty of handing actors a barebones script and giving no context, so I wouldn't rule it out.
 
Even Nintendo and Sega are guilty of handing actors a barebones script and giving no context, so I wouldn't rule it out.
To be fair, I did specify that the developers seemed to be proud of their project. I don't think SEGA's been proud of anything they've developed in-house for at least a decade now. Nintendo's probably not far off from that description either. :P
 
Review cover
Product Information:
  • Release Date (NA): August 27, 2021
  • Release Date (EU): August 27, 2021
  • Release Date (JP): August 27, 2021
  • Publisher: PQube
  • Developer: Dual Effect Games/Abstract Digital
  • Genres: Survival Horror
  • Also For: Computer, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Game Features:
Single player
Local Multiplayer
Online Multiplayer
Co-operative

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