We’ve known about Tormented Souls, the survival horror title from Dual Effect, Abstract Digital Works and PQube, for quite some time. We know that it’s a game inspired by older classics of the genre, such as the original Resident Evil, Silent Hill and Alone in the Dark games. But we haven’t had a chance to play it… until now.
As part of the Steam Next Fest, which runs until June 22, 2021, the team behind Tormented Souls has made a demo available for everyone to enjoy, giving us a preview of how the game opens and what to expect from its gameplay.
Since the Steam Next Fest is over in a couple of days at the time of writing and there are hundreds of demos to explore, you’ll miss out on a chance to take a first look at Tormented Souls if you’re not quick off the mark! So to give you an idea as to why you should give this a look — or for the benefit of those who missed their chance, if you’re reading this in the future — here are some impressions from a playthrough of that demo.
We’ve already seen in the initial teaser trailers and screenshots that Tormented Souls proper opens with protagonist Caroline Walker waking up in a bathtub completely naked and with a tube down her throat. There’s actually a little context prior to that moment, however; Caroline receives a letter through the post inviting her to visit the game’s mansion-turned-hospital setting, and it contains a photograph of some twin girls with the inscription “you think you can abandon us here?”
Obviously having not experienced enough horror popular media to recognise the obvious red flags from such a situation, Caroline shows up at the mansion and is promptly knocked out by an unknown assailant. From there, we’re into familiar territory.
It’s worth noting that Tormented Souls features an original Resident Evil-style “this game contains scenes of explicit violence and gore” splash screen on startup, and this isn’t an exaggeration; within the first few minutes of gameplay are a couple of instances that will likely make even the strongest stomachs turn a little. Firstly, there’s Caroline taking the tube out of her throat, which is enough to make me feel a bit sick just thinking about, and secondly there’s the revelation that she’s also had one of her eyes removed. Lovely.
Being a survival horror game protagonist, Caroline quickly decides that rather than sitting around crying, the best thing to do would be to investigate this weird creepy place she seems to have found herself in, figure out what is going on and, ideally, escape — with or without her missing eye. And from here, it’s on to the game proper — after she puts her clothes on, obviously.
You’re immediately presented with a puzzle: you’re stuck in the room that you start in because there’s no handle on the door. Investigating the room reveals a few potential clues to the situation: there’s what appears to be part of a diary entry where someone describes the birth of their children and some strange happenings that occurred around that time, and there’s a cupboard with two doors, one of which is locked with a combination padlock and the other of which contains a pocket watch that has stopped.
Tormented Souls sets its expectations up front by not providing you with any sort of tutorial as to how you should use these things together to solve the situation — it’s entirely up to the player to make some logical connections, try out some possible solutions and eventually reach the correct answer for themselves without any assistance.
Puzzles are an important part of classic survival horror, though different series emphasise them to varying degrees. Tormented Souls’ execution of puzzle sequences is most akin to the early installments in Konami’s Silent Hill series, since they are much more than simply “find object A to use in location B”. You’ll need to read cryptic information that provides you with clues, creatively make use of the objects you have on hand and finally come up with the correct means of interacting with the environment that allows you to progress.
There are numerous examples of puzzles like this even throughout the Tormented Souls demo, so it won’t hurt to spoil this initial one as an example of how it all works. What you need to do is read the diary, take note of the fact it mentions that the clocks stopped at a particular time around the birth of the writer’s twin girls, retrieve the pocket watch from the cupboard, open it up to discover it is both stopped at a particular time and contains an image of twin girls and is therefore likely connected to the diary entry, then convert that time to a four-digit number to get the combination for the padlock.
Once you remove the padlock and open the door, you’ll find an adjustable wrench which can be used to create an improvised door handle — but only if you adjust its jaws to the correct width first. Only then can you actually escape this first room.
Elsewhere in Tormented Souls, there are other things to discover. Particularly notable is the fact that darkness is dangerous; spend too long in the shadows and Caroline will simply die. The game does warn you of this with a message scrawled in blood in the first room that says “do not let the shadows embrace you”, but it’s still surprising to see it follow through on such a threat.
There’s actually one instance in the demo where this mechanic is a little unfair; upon returning from a generator room to restore power to part of the mansion, stepping through a door that should take you back where you came from plonks you in a dark corridor that will immediately kill you if you went through with a weapon equipped instead of a lighter. Hopefully this will be balanced a little better in the final version of the game — giving Caroline a few seconds’ grace period to whip out that lighter rather than immediately offing her is all it needs.
One of the most intriguing things the game looks set to offer is its use of a “mirror” dimension. By stepping through certain mirrors, Caroline will find herself in a dark reflection of the “real” world — and by manipulating certain objects in that mirror world, different things will happen in the real world.
This might sound a bit Silent Hill again, but the execution is different here; in Silent Hill, you’d typically explore one of the game’s locations fully in the “light world”, then you’d hear the series’ iconic sirens and be thrust into the “dark world” to do it all again but a bit differently. In Tormented Souls, meanwhile, the mirrors allow Caroline to come and go between the two worlds at will — and indeed it is necessary to do so in order to progress. In order to explain this, it’s necessary to spoil another puzzle, for which I’m sure you’ll forgive me.
Stepping into the hospital’s maternity ward, you discover a woman who has been left opened up in the middle of what appears to be a cardiac procedure. Her heart has been removed and her life signs are, understandably, flatlining, but the rigor mortis of her body means that her hand is tightly gripping a handle that you will inevitably need at some point down the line. You always need a handle in survival horror games.
She’s hooked up to some sort of electrical device which appears to be intended to start her heart again — but without a heart there, it’s not going to do much good. Conveniently, you will have likely found two halves of a heart by this point; inconveniently, they’re plastic, and as such not that helpful when dealing with a real person.
So what you need to do is hop through the nearest mirror (which is hidden, of course) and find the “mirror world” equivalent of the corpse, which happens to be a creepy baby doll with its hinged chest open. Pop the plastic heart in there and head back to the “real” world and you’ll find the corpse has been closed up again. Now if you zap her, her heart will start for a moment, causing her to relax her grip on the handle so you can retrieve it.
Grim? Sure. Also great.
Combat-wise, we only see a little in the demo, but it’s against the knife-armed creatures we’ve seen in previous promotional footage. Caroline is initially unarmed, but receives a nail gun relatively early in proceedings. This works like your typical Resident Evil pistol, complete with automatic lock-on if you’re relatively close to an enemy.
A welcome addition to the Resident Evil-style controls is the ability to quickly dodge in a direction. This allows you to either get out of the way of a charging enemy, or put some distance between you so you can fire with a reduced risk of taking melee damage. There’s still a deliberate degree of cumbersomeness to the combat — it wouldn’t be an homage to classic survival horror without it — but this small addition will make it a lot more palatable to modern audiences.
Presentation-wise, Tormented Souls is looking very good indeed. Caroline’s character model is well animated, detailed and quite expressive, and the environments are beautifully rendered, with the fixed but dynamic camera angles offering a modern spin on, again, old-school Silent Hill. The use of lighting is also excellent, whether you’re running around in the dark with a lighter in your hand or in a slightly more well-lit area after restoring the power.
There are a couple of areas that will doubtless be tightened up a little as the game gets closer to release. There are no subtitles in the pre-rendered movie introduction, and there are no facial animations while Caroline and other characters are engaging in dialogue, which looks a little jarring. The death animations for the enemies are a little underwhelming right now, too; they just sort of fall over a little too quickly without any real sense that you’ve taken down a powerful and dangerous foe. This is one area where the devs would benefit from taking a look at how Resident Evil specifically does things; that series has always done excellent, clear and sometimes surprising death animations.
So far, though, the signs are very good indeed for Tormented Souls despite these little issues. The overall quality of the game’s presentation and gameplay is already comparable to the aforementioned classics from Capcom and Konami, and the fact that Tormented Souls is running on more modern hardware means that the experience is even more slick than the original versions of these legends in some instances.
We’ll have to wait and see whether the story is up to the standard of the most thought-provoking installments in the Silent Hill series or if it will provide some dramatic setpieces of the same calibre as Resident Evil’s most memorable moments — but for now, I’d say this looks like being a pretty safe bet for fans of classic survival horror, and well worth a preorder.
Don’t forget our friends at Funstock are distributing the physical release of Tormented Souls, including a physical replica of an important “sun and moon coin” that becomes relevant later in the narrative. If you want to pick it up for PlayStation 5, click here; for Nintendo Switch, click here. Alternatively, if you’re a PC gamer, you can add the game to your wishlist on Steam via its store page.
Tormented Souls is confirmed for PS5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X and Steam later in 2021. Find out more on the official website.
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