It’s been nearly two years since Sadsquare Studio released Visage, a homage to the ill-fated Hideo Kojima and Guillermo DelToro collaboration P.T. Released for free on the Playstation 4 marketplace some six years ago, P.T. – or Playable Teaser – was the next iteration in the Silent Hill series, simply titled Silent Hills. Norman Reedus was on board to helm the protagonist of the game, and the community seemingly fell in love with the short snippet of a much more horrifying and longer final product.
A couple of years go by, and not much else is heard of P.T. Unfortunately, after a lot of uncertainty, Silent Hills was cancelled. An absolute blow to the community eager to see more of this terrifying world built so effortlessly in such a short demo. In the years since its cancellation, the industry has seen a fair amount of P.T. inspiration games come into the light. Infliction offered a haunting setting alongside some low budget, yet effective scares as the player unravels the horrors behind the main narrative. The game received a considerable amount of praise to warrant a console port re-release titled “Infliction: Extended Cut.”
Shortly after, developer Red Barrels released their highly-anticipated sequel to Outlast, now set in the Arizona desert among a murderous apocalypse cult. By the time Outlast II launched, people craved more from the genre that, at that point in time, rarely distanced itself from the typical defenseless, run/hide gameplay structure coined by Amnesia: The Dark Descent.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of being utterly defenseless against some sort of supernatural threat, but we needed some sort of twist in the formula. In October 2018, indie developer Sadsquare Studio released Visage on PC via Steam Early Access with console ports to come after the full release. Within a short amount of time, Visage was being hailed as the scariest game ever created. Sure, that’s what they all say. In this instance, however, they’re right.
Visage is a horrifying experience; one that requires at least two pairs of balls to challenge head-on. Don’t let the “Early Access” fool you, this is a visually stunning horror game with fantastic performance across the board. The developers perfectly utilize the Unreal 4 engine, presenting fantastic lighting effects and ambient occlusion. I rarely experienced a single hiccup in frames, and as the house opened up, I was continually in awe of the sheer attention to detail.
Visage is a game that messes with you in the same way Layers of Fear did back in 2016. As your sanity meter diminishes, the environment around you alters. Doors slam shut, lights burn out, and things that appear in your line of vision will seemingly disappear the closer you get to it. Did I happen to mention that the pause button takes three seconds to initiate?
Visage rarely holds your hand other than from brief mechanic introductions towards the beginning. You’re dropped into madness and free to explore at your own pace – a nice diversion from the more linear games in the genre. Separated into two character-specific chapters, Visage could take you anywhere from eight to ten hours to complete. Each chapter takes you down a different path in the house, consistently challenging our perspective of normalcy. The atmosphere is unmatched. The feeling of loneliness never alleviates, and that’s the brilliance behind it all.
Not only is it visually unique per chapter, but Visage also introduces new obstacles that hinder your progression. These range from locked or blocked doorways and pitch blackness to an unwanted pursuer who feeds off of your insanity meter. Lucy’s chapter introduces this boogeyman creature who can only be spotted with the flash of your camera. After stealing all of the light switches, the Boogeyman essentially leaves you blind. I’m not kidding – there are long stretches of this chapter where you literally can not see your hand in front of your face. You could try lighting candles with your lighter, but they’ll eventually blow out and your lighter quickly runs out of juice. This is where Visage excels. I’m no novice when it comes to these kinds of games, but this overwhelming feeling of uncertainty is intoxicating.
Similar to most survival horror games, Visage introduces some minor puzzle segments that require the player to navigate the halls of the house and to interact with just about anything. Exploration is the name of the game, and more often than not, the key to progression is usually in the darkest, most unwelcoming place. It’s easy to get turned around and lose your sense of direction, ultimately threatening your sanity meter and inventory. Stay in the dark too long and you’ll probably end up at the end of the Boogeyman’s blades. Take close note of the environment, maintain your sanity and use your items sparingly.
Visage has a bright future ahead of itself. According to their official site, Sadsquare is a five man team – a huge surprise when considering the quality of Visage. The developers don’t have a final release date, but eventually plan on launching Visage on consoles after the fact. Based off of their website, they’re working on ports for the Xbox One and Playstation 4, but it’s unclear as to whether or not they’ve taken next-gen into consideration.