(Note/Warning: Tormented Souls is definitely an adult game with various horror themes; I’ll try to avoid getting too graphic in the pictures or description, but some of it may seep through)
Tormented Souls wants to emulate the old third person horror games from the Playstation days, back when the first three Resident Evil games, Silent Hill, Dino Crisis, and others like it ruled the survival horror genre. It’s to the game’s benefit and drawback that it succeeds in doing precisely what it set out to do.
The story here is pretty basic. Caroline Walker receives a picture that has twin girls on it, and is told to head to a remote hospital to find out what happened. As this is a horror game, you can pretty well predict where things are going from there. A horrifying conspiracy is unveiled along with a lot of bloody messes. There are two different twists that happen in the narrative, one I saw coming from a mile away, and another that I really should have seen coming. It’s not the most gripping or original story in the world, but there are some unique things that come from it, primarily with the use of radiation to detail how some of the horrific monsters came to be.
They do the classic survival horror thing by really fleshing out the details in the environment. I’ll get to how this plays into the actual horror in a bit, but the game does a pretty good job of working the narrative into play naturally. Pictures line the upper halls of the hospital, giving hints to something suspicious and creating a feeling of unease. There’s also plenty of surgical tables and other signs of hospital equipment: the game may be using one of the most cliche environments in horror, but it does a pretty good job doing so.
Reports and text entries are the main way the story gets fleshed out. Oh sure, the characters interact, but there’s not a whole lot of actual characters here: Caroline, a priest, the doctor running the hospital, and a semi-mysterious little girl round out the entire speaking roster (unless I’ m forgetting someone. The reports add in a few other characters and really help to add to both the lore and the sort of spooky feel of the game.
And the overall feeling of horror is incredibly well done. The sound and lighting in this game are even better than some of the more polished games I’ve seen in the genre. Too often you’re in dark locations, relying only on a lighter at first before gaining the ability to clip a light to your shirt and fire with your limited arsenal. But even when there’s light, it will only illuminate certain areas. You have to rely on the sound of enemies scraping, moaning, and rolling their way around. It puts the player on edge and uses what’s already available to an impressive degree.
The creatures are all a mixture of medical experiments and radiation treatments. The first is somewhat familiar to most fans: Evil Within most recently did some takes on that sort of thing. But the game uses the fear of radiation quite well, implying that these are all humans that have gotten radiation sickness and succumbed. Plus they show how the radiation proof suits can be well and truly frightening, as well as dehumanizing.
Quite frequently I found myself on the edge of my seat, thoroughly enjoying the horror environments and the overall spooky feel the game gave me. The environment may be a bit stale, but they’re doing some fun things with it, showing us why these environments are so frequently used for this in the first place.
Even basic things like your weaponry add to the whole feel. Caroline never uses a traditional handgun or the like. Her first weapon (beyond a crowbar for melee that Caroline wields as awkwardly as possible) is a nailgun that basically functions like a handgun. Her “shotgun” is cobbled together from two pieces you have to find somewhere in the hospital, and her third/fourth and final weapon is a melee stun-baton. It feels like Caroline’s piecing together her arsenal from what workers and others have left lying around the hospital, another good stab at world building and immersion.
The gameplay harkens back to far older games. There’s the option to actually use the tank controls of early Resident Evil games (and I think Silent Hill games? I’ve unfortunately never played those), though I opted for the modern controls. You basically move Caroline along the screen with the left stick. Aiming your weapon is done with the left trigger, and firing with the right. There’s a pretty generous auto-aim that helps, as situations like this can make action awkward.
This does create some awkward and clunky moments. Fans are likely to be ready for it, but there’s also a static camera in place to make things more difficult. Older games had to use those for the technical limitations at the time, but here Tormented Souls uses it more to establish mood and set pieces. It can create a few unnecessarily frustrating moments.
Speaking of, this game has several of them, and a few are so obtuse that I’m not sure how anyone could solve them without a guide. Like many of the older games of this franchise, particularly the Resident Evil games, Tormented Souls at times feels more like one of those point and click puzzle adventure games instead of an action shooter. There are numerous puzzles scattered throughout the hospital, which only barely makes sense given the overall story.
Most of these are fun little brainteasers, like looking at several pictures in a gallery in order to set the time on a clock, or listening to an old record in order to match the tones and notes on a sound puzzle. Overall these were quite fun to engage with, and it felt like they genuinely added to the gameplay. A personal favorite involved entering a series of repeating rooms and using a plaque and various context clues to figure out which door to use.
However, a handful require such out of the box thinking as to be almost impossible to really figure out. There’s a particularly maddening one involving turning getting gas to drizzle into a gas tank that I honestly don’t know how you’d solve without a guide. It involves an intricate maze of pipes, which contain several valves that have to be twisted, and several leaks that have to be capped. Your goal is to get the gas from one point to another, but they don’t clearly show you the starting point, and when you hit “go” on the puzzle, instead of looking at the various twisting pipes to figure out where the issue is, you stare dumbly at the gas can.
Oh, and if you forget to examine the gas can, turn it so you can see the top, and pop the lid, you’re going to have to turn the gas all over again. If they’d made me repeat the puzzle, I may have rioted (even though I did just look up the answer online; I’d gotten close through some basic deduction, but the last details would have taken way too much time on my own).
This means there are likely going to be sections where you’ve cleared out most or all the monsters, only to find that you’ve forgotten a puzzle somewhere or are missing that last bit to figure out where to go. That just sort of happens in games like these, but it’s still a frustration and feels like it could have been avoided somehow.
They attempt to liven things up by introducing an immortal enemy that chases Caroline around the hospital. Said enemy has its own sound cue, letting players know it’s in a previously abandoned room. The problem is that you can simply turn around and leave the room to make it go away, making it laughably easy to deal with. Oh, and there’s not really a strong narrative reason why this thing just appears and why it’s stalking Caroline, unlike the classics its clearly emulating.
Another drawback is the just abysmally bad voice acting. It is so remarkably bad that I have to assume it was done on purpose. There’s only three voiced characters here; they could find at least someone who knew what they were doing. But it sounds like they just tapped people who were already making the game or maybe family members or possibly the janitor at the studio. Characters just sound stiff, awkward, and forced at times. It does feel a bit like it could have been done on purpose, mimicking the old translations of the bygone Playstation era, but it completely undermines the plot and feels jarring. That goes doubly when the dialogue just gets equally as bad.
There’s a lot here to appreciate. I would say that if you’re a fan of those older survival horror games and wish we had more like them in this modern age, then this is a sure fire buy for you, even at its full price of $19.99. It does a great job establishing chills and being a solid homage to those games of old.
However, its reliance on some of the older tropes, and the obvious lack of budget in a few areas often work against it. The terrible voice acting, low production, and other aspects could be seen as something of homages to the past, but still make for awkward or unappealing gameplay in this modern error.
For me, the game was definitely worth it, and is one I may find myself visiting sometime in the future. I don’t know if it’ll enter the cycle of games like this I often play yearly, like Dead Space or the Resident Evil remakes, but it was certainly a fun game to play during a spooky time of year.
8 a great throwback that does a wonderful job establishing scares and ambiance, but falls flat with some production values and incredibly frustrating puzzles