Astral Projection is a belief that you can leave your body in a state of suspended animation, whilst the astral version of yourself can go off and travel the world, do some window shopping or maybe head to the zoo without paying. This practice is believed to have been talked about back in the 19th century, which is handy because Tenebris Pictura is set in a different version of Victorian times.
All manner of magic is at play in this intriguing and interesting game, as you play in the corporeal form and the astral one. Let’s go spiritual.
Tenebris Pictura’s pitch and tone are both very strong, pretty much from the title screen. There is some brilliant artwork on display, along with a foreboding soundtrack that gives you a taste of your upcoming journey into something unusual. You play the title role of a paranormal investigator who lives in an alternate Victorian universe. You can commune with the other spiritual planes, delve into artworks and have out-of-body experiences.
You are summoned to do some psychic detective work on a strange island covered by fog. You go to an old friend, discovering their daughter is missing. From there, you are charged with using your powers to find out what has happened to her. Soon you are off on an adventure involving strange cult behaviours, aliens, and all manner of supernatural suspense.
The story and writing are outstanding. It’s a brilliant place to spend some time in, full of atmosphere and fantastic world-building. It has an intriguing story and one that you want to follow. Characters that you meet along the way are fully rounded and the main protagonist is, most definitely, an interesting person to play.
The gameplay is introduced through a dream tutorial session. It’s played in the third person and you wander around the map exploring and examining clues. The first ability to talk about is one that allows you to travel through paintings into their world; you use these to move into different locations or various points on the map. Or you can use an item in that painting to help you with a puzzle in the room. For example, in one room there is ectoplasm covering the floor, so you’re unable to find an exit. In the painting there might well be a totem that can be triggered to expel the ectoplasm. The area that sprays out will come from the painting into the room and, voila, the spooky mess is gone. There are tons of puzzles like this that you are left to solve throughout Tenebris Pictura, allowing progress. It’s this part of the game that is a lot of fun.
The combat is my least favourite part though. See, when the ghouls come out to attack you leave your body by astral projection, as your astral self does all the fighting. You’ll want to be careful to leave your real body in a hideaway spot. The fighting consists of firing a spectral psychic blast at your enemies, in between a bunch of floating and dodging. It all works fine but it just did nothing for me in terms of combat gameplay. In fact, I dreaded it every time it occurred. It’s hard too, and you will die a lot to begin with before you get into the rhythm of it.
The visuals of Tenebris Pictura are very distinctive and pretty beautiful. There is some amazingly inventive environmental design and lavish interiors. Running a nice mix of the painted world and the real, this is a game that does visuals very well indeed. The character thumbnails used during conversation are stunningly hand-drawn affairs.
Sound-wise, you could say that it all comes with some decent effects, like the whooshing chime noise as you enter a painting and the ominous soundtrack that is excellent throughout.
The setup and strange magical story are to be loved in Tenebris Pictura. The characters are intriguing and the gameplay is good, mixing the travel between planes well. Visually it’s all very stunning. But personally, the combat has been hard to get on with.
Mostly though, if you are after a supernatural action adventure then let yourself be pointed in the direction of Tenebris Pictura.