“Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope.”
“What is thaaaat?”
“You have to be kidding me!”
According to my wife, these were the three (printable) things she heard on loop as I was playing Visage, the latest horror game/torture from SadSquare Studios. I played most of this one while crawling around our sofa, barely sitting down and ready to press the ‘Home’ button at a moment’s notice.
Visage really is that good at jangling your nerves and never letting you settle. It’s a remarkable achievement; a bar that only Resident Evil, early Silent Hills and PT have ever reached, and it should be enough for most horror fans to start up their Xbox One and navigate to the Store. Bravo SadSquare Studios – you’ve done what hundreds of horror games have failed to do.
That mention of PT is a pertinent one, as SadSquare are clearly fans. Visage is the answer to whether PT could be stretched to a full fat game; a house and its grounds rather than just a corridor. As with Guillermo Del Toro’s demo, you’ll turn your camera to find that mirrors have moved, landscape paintings have lengthened, and a slithering intestine has skirted round a corner. From the subtle to the not so subtle, this house barely stands still, and it gives you no safe haven.
You are Dwayne (hur hur), home alone in your house, having not left for the past few weeks. It’s a house of tragedy, with various deaths, suicides and madnesses having befallen its owners. We hazard to call it a moment of quiet, since it’s still tense as anything, but you’ll have a chance to explore the house before finding an artefact – a key – that triggers a chapter. These centre on one of the tragic members of the family. Then things get real.
It must have been a fascinating level design challenge, as each of the different chapters plays out in the same house, with the same layout. Visage does obvious stuff, like opening locked doors, and letting you bust through areas with a sledgehammer. But it has another brilliant tool in its toolbox: this is a psychological horror as much as it is a pure horror, and the house will flex and bend with the chapter’s themes. Mirrors will suddenly appear across the house, acting as portals to alternate, Silent Hill-like versions of the house. An imaginary sewer runs beneath the house. Reality warps and twists to become horrific Escher paintings.
This is a game that has a lot of fun messing with reality, not only when shifting things around the house to mess you up, but also in creating memorable scenarios that will stick with you. The world drops away to leave you in a dark room and a single ring of mirrors. A kitchen suddenly gains sentience. A corridor falls away into pixels. SadSquare Studios clearly didn’t leave their humour at the door, as so much of Visage can even be funny, and I laughed out loud more than once. A moment with a shotgun will stick with me.
It also has one of the most effective audio designs in recent memory. It can get a bit much – even opening a drawer can release a guttural roar – but Visage does a superb job of layering rain, creaks, moans, camera clicks and radio static to make this a constant, threatening soundscape. I mean, I hated the game for it, but the number of times that the game unsettled me, exactly when I didn’t want to be unsettled, was magnificent. I’d say that the pacing could have done with some relaxed moments, but I’m a wimp.
It should be noted that Visage isn’t actually a barrage of monsters and jumpscares – just tension. All of the indicators were that the monsters would be non-stop: the superb trailer was a creature-feature, the opening text in the game says “Visage is designed to be difficult”. This last one is odd from my perspective: this isn’t actually a hard game, not in the traditional sense. There aren’t that many enemies at all, for one, and the majority are triggered by the game’s Sanity system, which punishes you for staying in the dark for too long. Keeping to light sources (more on that later) and paying attention generally saves you. Puzzles, once you know what the game wants from you, are also reasonably simple. This is a game of smoke and mirrors, and your own fears will be the greatest obstacle to getting through the game.
Actually, that’s a lie. It’s about time to raise the two major caveats with Visage, and they both make it incredibly hard to score the game. There are two design issues that could, feasibly, dwarf everything I have already written, and it will be personal taste about whether they’re debilitating.
Visage is not one for guidance and hand-holding. It’s at pains to strip out as much UI as possible and for you to focus on the game screen, rather than a game map, for example. It’s admirable, and is one of the big reasons that it gives us the willies. But that comes at an incredibly high cost. The house is littered with items and 99% of them have no game use. Still, you can pick them up and look at them. The problem is that game progress is so often based on finding key items: a slipper, a key, a tub of pills. Without any key item highlighting, Visage can be a giant game of Finders Keepers as you desperately hunt for something, anything, that will move on the game.
The same is true of ‘spotting’ the scare that processes the chapter. We found ourselves travelling most of the house before stepping into the room where the scare is, like a game of horror Russian roulette. It was tense the first few times, and tedious beyond that.
The house, too, swings between extremes. At points, you will be screaming at the game to tell you where to go, but you’ll have little to no idea. When you’re on edge and bored at the same time, it’s an odd mix. At other points, the house will have become a reality-shattered version of itself and you’ll lose all notion of where you are. The mental map gets etch-a-sketched and you lose track. About 80% of my time in Visage was trying to comprehend what the game wanted me to do next.
Then there is the clunkiness of a lot of the interactions. This is a wonderful game to look at, but to interact with it is a constant nightmare. Opening and shutting things becomes a Herculean task, as you try to maneuver your body in such a way that you’re not in the way. The inventory and item management – I’m getting the shivers just thinking about it – is bewilderingly bad. You’ll have two hands to hold things in, a personal inventory and a storage closet, and knowing which item has gone where is just the first of your problems. Moving things to your hands, between your hands, or – heaven forbid – using one item on another becomes a Mensa test. Some puzzles require you to rotate things or manipulate them in some way, and it’s like eating M&Ms with chopsticks.
A small note on the Sanity system, which too has problems. What is light and dark is more arbitrary than it needs to be, so you’re never quite certain if you’re losing sanity, staying in a status quo or regaining it. There are multiple dead ends, so sudden darkness can lead to certain death, which brings the slightly sparse autosave system into focus.
How much all of this impacts you will change on a case by case basis. We played it as a two-some, and it helped to overcome some of the handholding issues. We suspect that it’ll be a killer for less patient players.
Let’s not forget just what has been achieved here, though. Visage looks and sounds fantastic, with only substandard human faces breaking the immersion, which is presumably why SadSquare shows them as little as they can. The chapters are varied and memorable, and the scares are only occasionally cheap, poking and prodding you until you’re a nervous wreck.
You could have put ‘Silent Hill’ at the front of the title and we would have called Visage a return to form. Ultimately, this is an exercise in stretching PT to a full house, which is almost entirely successful, with masterful scares and near constant tension. Play it with friends and see them all sublimate to jelly. You’ll have to wrestle with a lack of handholding, an abysmal inventory system and your own sanity, but it’s ultimately a haunted house that’s worth spending a few nights in.
- Inspired by PT and just as scary. Pack the adult nappies
- Completely immersive with dozens of memorable moments
- Surprisingly artful and with cracking audio design
- Knowing what to do next, thanks to a lack of direction, can be a chore
- Inventory management need a complete overhaul
- The Sanity system, which determines when you’re attacked, can be opaque
- Formats - Xbox One (Review), PS4, PC
- Release date - October 2020
- Launch price from - £29.24
I am unable to navigate the game menus at all. No command button, trigger pull or bumper push let’s me do things like change settings, save game, etc. The game is worthless if I can’t do these things. (Installed on new Xbox series X.) I can’t find any documentation on the Web the might be helpful. I am at a loss.
Seems like a game to play after the kids go to bed, interaction dificulties seems worrying but, might overcome it if the rest of the game is worrhwhile.
Despite it’s shortcomings, it looks like a nice addition to the library. Always appreciate a jump scare but refuse to play them in the dark 🙂
This definitely sounds like a movie my siblings & I would watch after we turn all the lights off, and turn the sound up on our tv!
Glad to know this wasn’t a let down! After PT was canceled I was hoping this would be really good. Not a fan of getting lost and not knowing what to do next,but everything else seems gravy!
I love games that scare the crap out of you and give those on edge feels when your strolling down spooky corridors or inside a haunted room.
After reading your review, this would be the perfect game to add to my scary bucket list of things I need to do in my lifetime 👍
Thanks for the great review of this game)
Solid review of a supremely creepy game.
Looks like a great game
well the changing corridors are worrisome. but other than that it doesn’t seem bad.
Oooh I love a good horror game and PT was awesome! I am so putting this game on my list!
Thanks for an in-depth review of the game. I saw the trailer of Visage on the Xbox store a couple of weeks ago and got hooked immediately. I am a huge fan of all things horror and judging by your experience it looks like I’ll have to throughly wash my pants after playing it (whenever I get the chance). Right now I am grinding through Outlast 2, but despite many people touting it to be the scariest game they ever played, I am totally unimpressed. Hopefully, Visage will fix the situation.
Je suis certaine que ce jeux va répondre à vos attentes dans la mesure que vous soyez patient et très attentif aux moindres détails. Les indices sont subtiles, ne vous attendez pas à ce qu’on vous prenne par la main pour vous guider dans le jeu. Vous devez faire travailler vos méninges dans une ambiance dès plus stressante qui va vous tenir en alerte du début jusqu’à la fin.
Rappelez-vous que c’est le premier jeu de sadesquare studio. Un produit purement québécois avec seulement 2 personnes qui vous ont offert une telle qualité de jeu. Imaginez ce qu’ils seront capables de produire pour le deuxième jeu.
Dude GIT GUD a d shut the fuck up, the interactions works PERFECTLY when you’re good, GIT GUD wimp