When we reviewed the first in this proposed trilogy of True Fear games, we mislabelled it as a hidden object game. There’s a good reason for that error: in terms of how it’s presented, the game screen looks near-identical to an Artifex Mundi title, a publisher who have nearly cornered the market on hidden object games. There’s the same first-person perspective, painterly art, inventory running horizontally across the bottom of the screen and a magnifying glass as the game’s cursor. We were almost surprised that the developer, Goblinz.com, hadn’t announced their acquisition by Artifex.
But get into the weeds of the True Fear games, and there aren’t actually any hidden object sections of the game. Which feels like it might be a dealbreaker in calling it one. It’s more like a first-person graphic adventure, set in an asylum that wouldn’t be out of place in a survival horror game. It’s also much better than any of Artifex Mundi’s recent output, so reducing it with the ‘hidden object’ term feels a mite unfair.
Do you need to have played the first game, True Fear: Tormented Souls Part 1? We’d advise it. True Fear: Tormented Souls Part 2 takes place moments after the revelatory events of the first game, and it’s so steeped in the series’ lore that it’ll feel bewildering without. The first game is also rather good, if not quite as polished as this one, so you’d be missing out on a tense puzzler if you skipped it.
It’s not too much of a spoiler to know that you are playing as Holly Stonehouse once more, heading to the Dark Falls Asylum where your estranged sister was imprisoned. The final moments of the first game made it clear that extended family might be involved, and you’re following those inky tendrils of evidence to an abandoned asylum. As you’d expect from the words ‘abandoned asylum’, it’s not all sunshine and Happy Meals.
Gameplay is familiar for anyone with hidden object experience or love for ‘90s adventures like Myst or The 7th Guest. Environments are displayed as reasonably static scenes that you can hover a cursor over. There’s no dialogue or characters here – everyone is dead or undead – so it’s all about interactions with your inventory. Spot numerous keys, crowbars and daggers (other items are available) in the scenes and you can add them to your bag. Those items can then be used on other parts of the scene – a key on a door, a crowbar on a sprung panel, a dagger on a stitched mattress – to get more items, and so on,
The main impetus of True Fear: Tormented Souls Part 2 is to get further and further into the asylum, opening up its various greenhouses, libraries and other facilities. That’s not too dissimilar to modern games that are similar to this, but it’s the sheer scale that sets True Fear: Tormented Souls Part 2 apart. This is roughly double the size of an Artifex game, and Goblinz.com don’t retire areas like other games do. Every scene is available throughout the game, meaning that – by the end – you will have forty-odd scenes in which you might be able to use that item you just collected.
It sounds like a recipe for confusion, but a handy map has been given to you, with exclamation marks denoting an interaction that’s possible with your current items. It’s a bold decision (we can’t imagine Hercule Poirot appreciating a flashing red exclamation mark above a suspect), but it absolutely works here. You’re shunted in the direction of a room that might hold something valuable, but you don’t know what part of the room, and which item will work with it. The result is a hugely expansive map, Myst-like in size, but without the nagging sense of linearity that comes from hidden object games.
What also sets True Fear: Tormented Souls Part 2 apart is its dedication to its own lore. We’d estimate that a third of the items you pick up will be audio cassettes, journals and scratched letters, and they all fill in the patchwork of the trilogy’s story. There’s a clear love for its narrative, and you can’t help but get whipped up in its soap opera of tortures, inhuman treatment and asylum politics. When its sister-genre of hidden objecting has such a lax approach to story, it’s a breath of (rotten) fresh air.
There are plenty of puzzles to stumble upon, and they’re a pleasing mix of familiar and unfamiliar. There are spot-the-differences and Pipemania puzzles, but a few completely sidewinded us. One that required us to slot concentric circles of stars into a conveyor belt of constellations was a particular brain-fizzler, and we’d be jotting it down to steal if we were a puzzle-designer.
True Fear: Tormented Souls Part 2 is also slick in its presentation and usability improvements. Complete the game and achievements can be mopped up by playing the smaller chunks of the game from the main menu. Little ticks and crosses give you an indication of what’s been completed with or without hints. And you can press LT to immediately surface the journal that applies to your current puzzle.
Still, we’d have ported a couple of usability tweaks that similar games have been employing. A B ‘back button’ would have been a godsend when moving from room to room, but we suspect it was removed as ‘back’ is a complicated concept with such a non-linear game. Equally, there seems to be some click-area quirks, as we tried to interact with something and got a head-shake.
Perhaps the biggest note for game three in the True Souls saga is to do more with poor Holly Stonehouse. She’s so deeply mired in journals and backstory that True Fear occasionally forgets to give her something to do. She’s got the personality of a Jacob’s Cracker, and is often animated like one, and she mostly just huffs and puffs at the ghosts as they torment her. Some actual events – not in the past, but in the present – would lift True Fear: Tormented Souls Part 2 into the ‘must play’ category.
For now we must make do with a not-hidden object game that has a cavernous asylum absolutely stuffed with puzzles, graphic adventuring and lore. It’s a lesson to its competitors on how to make this kind of game and – some animation and story issues aside – True Fear: Tormented Souls Part 2 is a horror pageturner that you should dip into, just as soon as you’ve finished the first one.
You can buy True Fear: Tormented Souls Part 2 from the Xbox Store