I can’t think of a game that examines the inner workings of a cult group or comments on new-age medicine and holistic approaches to well-being. There’s a chance that Grand Theft Auto V has a comedy swipe at the whole process, what with Michael’s yoga classes and the strange cult group that you can join halfway through, but on the whole, nothing. But cults have become things of interest in recent times, mostly due to some fascinating Netflix documentaries.
The whole concept of capitalism mixed with cult new age mysticism is something The Chant hints at in the beginning, but soon we are thrown into the usual melody of magic and monsters. Let us don our white linen, recharge our crystals and dive in.
The Chant is a game that caught my eye earlier in the year, even if I knew little about it. In fact, the type of game I thought it might be, it most definitely isn’t. It’s a third-person action adventure with puzzle-solving and combat; running a bit like Resident Evil but with spirits of the mind and a lot of lavender. It’s worth noting that this is an indie game rather than a triple AAA game, and it’s not that long, maybe just six to eight hours in length depending on how well you do.
The hero of the Chant is Jess; a girl who is not particularly satisfied with her life at the moment, still getting over the death of her little sister. She is invited to a mysterious island by her best friend Kim, yet as she arrives she begins to understand that it’s a cult wellness centre with dome structures, training films, and a bearded leader. Tyler is his name and his family had come to this island in the past to set up communes; they have a strange connection with the place. As soon as Jess has put down her backpack she is invited to a ritual to drink some herbal tea. And from there, very quickly things start to go wrong as portals open up to a thing called The Gloom. Think Stranger Things and you’ll get the idea of another world on top of ours with strange monsters who want to kill you. Jess has to help each member of the cult and bring a quick end to the weirdness.
The story that plays out feels like that of watching a low-budget horror film – a bit trashy but you can’t stop watching it. I love the setting, and the idea of the cult that turns into horror is one that I applaud. But I think the structure of the plot moves too quickly and before you know who anyone is or what the setup is, the thrust of the narrative is thrown at you. This makes you feel less about the characters and the plight they find themselves in. It’s not helped by the fact that at times the dialogue can feel a bit cheesy, but I enjoyed the vibe of this as it sort of keeps you hooked.
The gameplay works an interesting setup with some new mechanics that I’ve not seen before in a game. You see, in The Chant you have three statuses to look out for: Mind, which drops to put you into the state of a panic attack; Body, which if depleted will kill you, and Spirit which allows you to meditate to restore the other two. These can be restored by ingesting items like Ginger and Lavender; stuff that you find around the island.
The Chant sees you getting involved in some nice puzzle-solving and a smattering of exploration. Combat occurs too and you can craft sage sticks or fire sticks to attack enemies, or are able to throw salt or oil to confuse them so you can attack. There are counters as well and a number of boss battles in the game. You may find that it takes you a little while to get used to the combat and it’s certainly confusing in the opening stages, but by the end, it’s quite fun and I enjoyed finding different ways of battling the creatures from the gloom.
The Chant looks good as well, with a great island location, the retreat, the older commune and different areas that you can discover. The creatures and characters you see come with a mix of quality, AA visuals rather than anything upwards of that. There are good extra details found in the documents and some great films you can find and play on a projector that will happily provide insight into the history of the island. The soundtrack is very good too, with some nice dramatic and horror beats to it. That extends to the solid voice-over work, even though at times the cheesy lines bring a good, yet trashy, vibe.
I can’t help but feel that The Chant is releasing at the wrong time. Earlier in the year when schedules were less busy would probably have done it a world of good, instead of dropping it to the gaming masses alongside some of the biggest hitters of the year. Whenever though, The Chant has some really interesting new game mechanics, and a structure and story which are both very original. However, there is a sense that the narrative is rushed through and the horror feels low budget rather than something stranger, but if you’re after a shortish game and are willing to put up with some slightly strange game mechanics, then you should be stocking up on your ginger and lavender just in case The Gloom rolls in.
The Chant is on the Xbox Store