It goes without saying that survival horror is a very popular genre. Predominantly set in the first person, you are placed in some abandoned building or spooky area and left to explore the surroundings; armed with just a torch and your ability to run and hide. The original survival horror fore-fathers have become huge franchises in their own right, household names now that have burned into our gaming retinas – Resident Evil and Silent Hill at the front of it all. Tormented Souls harks back to those types of games, with a fixed camera, tight locations, and the knowledge that you can die at any moment, freaking out that you haven’t had the chance to save for a while. Is the pain worth it?
You play a woman called Caroline Walker. At the start of Tormented Souls she receives a letter that comes with a picture of some twin girls. The effect of the picture makes her travel to Winterlake hospital to find out what has happened to them. Before you even get a chance to take control, Caroline is knocked out and the screen goes black. You wake up naked, in a bath, with a tube down the throat and an eye missing. It’s now up to you to venture out and solve the mystery.
The story feels very old school and the writing at times can feel like it has been ripped straight from the 1990’s; full of cheese and on-the-nose pieces of dialogue. But you know what, I was thoroughly hooked on it and enjoyed what it provided. Some might find the narrative a bit old-fashioned and there certainly isn’t anything surprising, but you can see that the developers grew up loving this genre of games and have tried to entwine it here. However, it’s the actual locations and their brilliant sense of place and dimly lit rooms which are the real narratives. Health posters on walls, dark paintings, and brilliant interiors tell a thousand stories and are a pleasure to explore.
Gameplay-wise, Tormented Souls is all set in the third person, with a fixed camera perspective like in the old Resident Evil games. This will wind you up if you are not used to it, especially when attempting to escape from an enemy or when trying to navigate your way through a room or area. I grew accustomed to it more quickly than I thought, but it has to be said that it adds in a claustrophobic feel to the game.
You control your character by moving around the space with a light jog to get you out of trouble. The first twenty minutes to half an hour of opening is all nice and easy, as you get to walk about the rooms, admiring the locations. You can examine objects and do the usual thing of collecting stuff, combing things, and using items with the environment to forward the progression of the game. There are maps to collect of the area too, but I did at times find these confusing, bearing little in relation to where you are on the map and what you haven’t explored.
The puzzles though are excellent. You have to think hard and fast about how things work in Tormented Souls, especially regarding combinations of items. Reading the clues laying around will give hints about what you might need to do to solve things, but there’s a high chance you’ll need to hit the online worlds to search out the odd solution. Saving is old-school too, with tape machines found in certain rooms which are well spaced out around the locations. You have to get tapes to be able to use these machines in order to save, and you should be aware that these can be quite rare. That one mechanic in itself is going to be something that you’ll either love or hate, particularly when having to retrace footsteps for the hundredth time.
Combat occurs in Tormented Souls and this is perhaps the hardest part of the game to master. You get a nail gun first of all, firing it off at strange monsters who move quickly with some big range on their attacks. You can dodge as well, but the fixed camera angles don’t help your cause as it’s easy to get stuck in the wrong viewpoint. When that happens, it’s pretty much curtains. Honestly, I ended up running more than I did fighting, which gives you an idea of how well I mastered the combat.
Visually, Tormented Souls looks good in the environments and locations on show. There is some great level design, and fantastic interiors which made me love walking about the world. The creature design can look good at times, but on occasions it’s like a blast from the past. Further, the cutscenes and characters do look like something straight out of a 90’s game, but with updated relish while keeping their original feel to them.
The soundtrack is decent enough too, with enough ups and downs in building tensions and jump scares. It can feel very nostalgic at times. And then we get on to the voice work and once again it’s like 1997 all over again. The slightly cheesy, weird readings of the dialogue standout, but I think that is the developer’s intention, and in doing so they have recreated a faithful interpretation of those times.
Tormented Souls will be loved by fans of the old-school survival horrors. It’s almost a homage to them, delivering a fun narrative with some great puzzles along the way. It’s whether or not you can handle the fixed camera, limited saves, and clunky combat that will decide how long you can stick with it all for.
You can grab Tormented Souls for Xbox Series X|S from the Xbox Store