Quick View of Tormented Souls
Game: Tormented Souls
Release Date: August 27, 2021
Platform: PS5 (Reviewed), Xbox Series X, Steam
Estimated Completion Time: 10 hours
A Familiar Terror
“You have once again entered the world of survival horror.” With that ominous loading screen message, 1996's Resident Evil coined the phrase “survival horror” and kickstarted a viable subgenre of video games. Of course, that style of “survival horror” was around before Capcom's horror masterpiece, with 1992's Alone in the Dark being the most notable example, but few would argue that Resident Evil isn't the king of survival horror. 1999's Silent Hill put a unique spin on survival horror by adding a hefty dose of psychological horror to the mix, but the genre crept back into the shadows for the most part after the mid-2000s. Tormented Souls aims to bring it back in 2021.
Tormented Souls tells the tale of a young woman named Caroline Walker, who receives a letter with a photo of twin girls and a cryptic message summoning her to Wildberger Hospital. Upon entering the mansion-like hospital, Caroline is knocked unconscious by an unknown assailant. She awakens in a bathtub and missing one eye. Determined to figure out who attacked her and who the twin girls are, Caroline begins a treacherous journey through the hospital.
Much of Tormented Souls‘ story is told indirectly through journal entries scattered throughout the environment. The gist of it is that Caroline finds herself caught between warring factions of a bloodthirsty religious cult. Oh, and there's also are monsters stalking the halls of the hospital. Lots of monsters. The creatures that relentlessly hunt Caroline are a twisted fusion of flesh and hospital equipment. To say anything about their origin would spoil the story, but rest assured, answers are provided. Caroline interacts with a small number of NPCs along the way as well.
Developers Dual Effect and Abstract Digital clearly adore the early Resident Evil and Silent Hill games. You control Caroline directly using the left analog stick with optional “tank” controls. As in classic Resident Evil, you're at the mercy of mostly static camera angles with no camera control. Getting caught between two camera angles is frustrating, but the creative art direction makes it worthwhile. As for exploration, I sometimes had difficulty discerning items or interactive objects unless I hugged every corner of a room. Being able to see a glimmer of an item from a distance would have easily fixed this issue.
Combat mechanics are exactly what you would expect from an homage to '90s survival horror. You hold the left trigger to auto-aim at an enemy and press the right trigger to shoot. Unlike in Resident Evil, you cannot manually aim up or down, so you're at the mercy of the auto-aim if an enemy is below you. Caroline can also leap backward to evade attacks with the press of a button while aiming. This evasive maneuver proves to be invaluable, as the vast majority of enemy attacks are up-close swipes with blades or claws.
There are no difficulty options in Tormented Souls. There are no alternate characters with lockpicks, either. The game starts out rather unforgiving, with limited ammo and recovery items. On top of that, saving the game requires a tape reel item. Tormented Souls is so dedicated to recreating the tension of '90s survival horror that it limits your number of saves. This might be a deal-breaker to those who swore off ever using “ink ribbons” to save progress after the PlayStation One era, but it's not as bad as it sounds.
By the time you reach the second “save room,” you'll have a fair amount of backup items at your disposal. You'll also have a handle on how each enemy type moves and attacks. Using the default control scheme, it's fairly easy to manipulate enemies, but combat isn't the only challenge in the game. Puzzles abound in Wildberger Hospital, and some of them are real head-scratchers. They're honestly more Professor Layton than Resident Evil for the most part but are rewarding to solve. There are also some environmental puzzles that require you to travel to a parallel reality…but to say more than that would spoil the story.
Visuals and Sound
At a glance, Tormented Souls is nothing special in terms of visuals. Animations are fairly simplistic and textures fail to impress under scrutiny. There are also some very oddly hilarious physics at play with Caroline's skirt, which flies up in the air at as if the fabric were as thin as toilet paper. That said, impressive lighting effects and a consistent focus on atmosphere through presentation leave little to complain about. Much of the game requires strategic use of lighting, and the sight of Caroline's distorted shadow dancing across the walls when you know at least one enemy is just out of view provides some fantastic tension.
If, like me, you have a lot of nostalgia for the music and sound design in the older Resident Evil and Silent Hill games, you'll be very pleased by what Tormented Souls has to offer. Save rooms have eerily calming piano music that offer a rare moment of reprieve. Rooms with enemies utilize rhythmic, industrial sounds to ratchet up the tension and unnerve you as you try to figure out how best to approach combat. There's no denying the derivative nature of the music, but it feels appropriate. There are enough unique compositions to set this one apart when needed as well.
Tormented Souls is a very good throwback to a bygone era of survival horror. It might rely a bit too heavily on nostalgia, but it's far more playable than many of the games inspired by classic Resident Evil and Silent Hill released over the last couple of decades. The developers have done an excellent job of recapturing the look and feel of classic survival horror. At its best, it feels like a “What If..?” product from a parallel timeline in which Resident Evil didn't lean more into action than horror. At around ten hours in length, it doesn't overstay its welcome, either. As much as I enjoyed this nostalgic recreation of classic survival horror, I would love to see a sequel that is bold enough to take the genre in a new direction.