The survival horror game market is booming at a rapid pace, and plenty of games are being released left, right, and center. But a common problem with these releases is that they try to hit the same notes again and again, to varying degrees of success, of course. Brass Token’s latest The Chant looks like a similar horror game at first glance, but it is soon able to differentiate itself from the rest of the pack with its unique mechanics that provide a glimpse of a great experience. But a weak plot, poor production values, and gameplay shortcomings envelope this game’s many strengths, and The Chant ends up being a decent experience that falls really short of its potential.
The Chant starts out with you running from a group of people as you try to make a last-ditch escape from a ritual that’s being held against the backdrop of a tropical island. After that short gameplay section, the story cuts to the past where we learn that our character Jess is suffering from severe mental health issues as she tries to cope with the death of a loved one. Her friend Kim asks her to join an island retreat where they meditate and do all sorts of activities to attain peace, which brings us to a faraway island where the game is primarily set.
"a weak plot, poor production values, and gameplay shortcomings envelope this game’s many strengths, and The Chant ends up being a decent experience that falls really short of its potential."
As soon as you get there, things start to go wrong, and soon Jess finds herself trapped in a battle against a cosmic force that seems to have some deep connections with the history of the island and the family of the retreat’s founder. The story itself starts out promising, and each character has an empathetic past which makes them relatable. But then everything from character arcs to plot revelations happens so quickly that it soon becomes jarring with plenty of contrivances.
For instance, how could someone so mentally weak as Jess would instantly transform into a brutal monster killer in moments unnoticed, or why would she risk her life in the first place to save people who were clearly involved with a shadowy organization instead of just escaping from the island for good? These are questions that were running at the top of my head, but the story pays little heed to these concerns as it chugs along at a rapid pace.
The game also has an element of choice, with Jess being able to choose from dialogue options during points of the story. But during my experience, they had little impact on the actual outcome except for different responses from conversations – which makes it feel like an inconsequential system that doesn’t serve any real purpose. The story itself touches on sensitive topics like trauma, psychosis, panic attacks – but due to the aforementioned reasons, it seldom does justice to those topics – and instead, the story devolves into a generic tale where the protagonist must rise to the cause and banish evil to save the day. It’s fine enough for the most part, but it could have been so much better.
"The story itself touches on sensitive topics like trauma, psychosis, and panic attacks – but it seldom does justice to those topics – and instead, the story devolves into a generic tale where the protagonist must rise to the cause and banish evil to save the day. "
The Chant does some interesting things with its gameplay, and it mixes traditional survival horror elements with action mechanics for a unique experience. Jess has 3 core stats – spirit, body, and mind. The mind governs your sanity, and if that depletes beyond a certain extent – Jess will start to have panic attacks. The spirit meter is used for special attacks, and the body stat is basically your health. You can trade spirit points for mind energy at any time by meditating, and it’s essential to keep tabs on these meters to ensure survival at all times.
You will need to craft weapons by collecting herbs and twines from the environment, which can be used to beat down enemies through a combination of light and heavy attacks. Jess can craft and store different weapons, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. For instance, the fire stick will unleash fire damage on opponents while the witch stick will help in gaining spirit energy with every strike. Different species of enemies are weak to different types of weapons, so it becomes essential to mix and match things depending on the situation.
As you progress through the story, you also gain spirit abilities such as the ability to slow down time, repel your opponents through a shock blast, or grow damaging spikes out of the ground. Additionally, you can also lay down traps and use throwables on your enemies to get bonus damage on attacks. Between all this and the ability to dodge attacks and counter mind attacks with the quick press of a button, The Chant has some impressive options when it comes to the gameplay department.
"As you progress through the story, you also gain spirit abilities such as the ability to slow down time, repel your opponents through a shock blast, or grow damaging spikes out of the ground."
But a core issue with the combat is that it feels really clunky, and that’s primarily because of two things. Firstly, the animations are really janky, and that leads to many issues ranging from inaccurate hitboxes to slow movements to even getting stuck between groups of enemies. The second issue is that the enemies don’t really react to your attacks as they soak up tons of damage with little reaction, which can make for boring fights that seem to drag on forever.
The level design itself is decent, and you get to explore different places ranging from forest trails to mines to lighthouses. Each of these places has multiple side-paths that you can explore, which reward you with precious resources and additional notes, the former of which can be used to gain skills and increase stats through a skill tree. These upgrades don’t offer much in the name of gameplay alterations apart from stat boosts, so it could have used some variety in that sense.
The puzzles themselves rarely provide a challenge, and most of these involve fetching different items from multiple rooms and combining them into a key item that’s needed to progress to the next room. The visual presentation is also pretty underwhelming, especially when it comes to character models which lack the detail and expression that’s needed to deliver dialogues that are surprisingly well delivered by the entire cast. The environments themselves lack any sense of dread, and they feel kind of lifeless with less-than-stellar textures and excessive use of dark spaces to unease a player. There is a visible lack of polish when it comes to the presentation, and that really sticks out in a horror game like this one.
"But a core issue with the combat is that it feels really clunky, and that’s primarily because of two things – janky animations and damage sponge enemies."
All in all, it becomes really hard to enjoy The Chant after a while as these issues start to become bigger nuisances in the way of enjoyment. There were times when I was literally wrestling with myself to keep going as the poor visual presentation and clunky gameplay systems kept fiddling with any little enjoyment that I was having during the moments when the game clicked. And that’s a shame because somewhere under the thick veneer of these issues – there lies a game that’s genuinely unique with its mix of horror and action mechanics.
But The Chant tries to do so many things at once, and what happens is that everything gets muddled up in that pursuit – and none of these elements get the love and opportunity to shine as bright as they could. In addition to this, an underdeveloped plot that doesn’t do justice with its heavy themes and otherwise well-written characters alongside an underwhelming visual presentation also contribute to the feeling of the game being a missed opportunity. The Chant is not a bad game by any means, but it could have been so much better had it spent some more time in the oven.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
An interesting mix of action and survival horror mechanics; the characters have plenty of depth; good voice acting
Combat feels clunky due to janky animations and damage sponge enemies; Poor production values with little to no sense of atmosphere; an underdeveloped plot that's filled with contrivances