Even though the survival horror genre has seen a resurgence in recent years, there’s a very specific itch genre fans have that very few games are scratching even now. The itch for a classic, moody, old-school, fixed cameras survival horror game with a focus on exploration, puzzle solving, and resource management, like the Resident Evil and Silent Hill games of old. The elevator pitch for Torment Souls is that that’s exactly what it is. It’s a game that is singularly focused on the idea of creating a modern old-school survival horror game- and that is this game’s biggest strength, but, at times, also its biggest weakness.
Tormented Souls evokes the original Resident Evil (and its remake) in a lot of ways, from its fixed camera angles to its haunted mansion setting (or part-haunted mansion, at least) to the moody atmosphere and quite dread it so successfully builds. Making your way through the dimly lit, creepy halls and rooms of a hospital that once used to be an abandoned mansion is done exactly the way you’d want- deliberate exploration and carefully searching environments is encouraged, and the pace is kept slow.
"Tormented Souls evokes the original Resident Evil (and its remake) in a lot of ways, from its fixed camera angles to its haunted mansion setting (or part-haunted mansion, at least) to the moody atmosphere and quite dread it so successfully builds."
Plenty of emphasis is placed on resource conservation and management right off the bat, which means running and gunning isn’t always advisable, and often isn’t even an option, and deciding when to use your healing items and when to hold on to them also adds an element of strategy. This is all typical survival horror stuff, of course, but it’s executed well enough here, and definitely deserves to be praise. Tormented Souls’ horror isn’t about sudden spikes of fear as much as it is about maintaining a constant foreboding atmosphere, which is the perfect way to utilize its setting.
Solid lighting and well-crafted decrepit environments with blood splattered across the wall and unsettling objects or paintings scattered here and there contribute a whole lot to that atmosphere. Tormented Souls’ setting definitely has a sense of place, and its fixed cameras definitely leverage that strength. Camera angles are carefully placed and serve a range of purposes- in a small room, the camera angle ensures that you can’t see too much of the space in front of you, so you never know what’s around that corner. Walking through a hallway, however, the camera might dynamically move around to give you a better look of your surroundings.
Tormented Souls also uses darkness as an actual gameplay mechanic- which isn’t a novelty in the horror genre, sure, but is used quite well here. Many of the halls and corridors and environments you’ll find yourself in will be quite dimly lit, or even completely dark, but staying in darkness for too long physically hurts you. Your tool against the darkness is a lighter, but if you have that equipped, you can’t equip your weapon- which makes treks through patches of darkness particularly tense, especially if there are enemies lurking around. The fact that you can only save the game with tapes – like Resident Evil’s ribbons – further heightens the tension. Tapes are not abundantly found, and you need to be careful about when to use them.
"Quite a few of the puzzles are really well designed, and honestly, I’m all for a deliberately paced survival horror game that’s all about the puzzles and exploration- but Tormented Souls doesn’t quite strike the right balance at times."
Another area Tormented Souls borrows a lot from classic RE and Silent Hill titles is its focus on puzzles. Careful exploration is crucial (as is backtracking, naturally), because finding items and item pieces scattered everywhere and then figuring how and where to combine or use them is how you solve most puzzles, in classic survival horror fashion. Quite a few of the puzzles are really well designed, and honestly, I’m all for a deliberately paced survival horror game that’s all about the puzzles and exploration- but Tormented Souls doesn’t quite strike the right balance at times.
For starters, the map is not the most useful, which is a cardinal sin in a game such as this one. The game also just throws a bit too many steps of different puzzles at you at the same time, and it can get a little hard to keep track of what items you have, or where a particular item needs to be used. Narrowing down things a little bit and not having too many puzzles active at the same time would probably have made for a better, more focused experience, because more than anything else, this leads to aimless exploration and trying to grapple with some obscure cues that you can’t quite make sense of without some trial and error.
Movement in Tormented Souls is also a little rough around the edges. While the fixed cameras themselves do a great job of heightening the tension, both movement and aiming can feel a little clunky and, at times, sluggish, especially in instances when the camera angle switches and your direction is suddenly changed. Trying to zigzag around enemies to just run past them if you’re trying to save ammo also always take more work than it has to, and combing through environments as you’re searching for items and resources feels a little sluggish as well. I realize that this stiff movement is a very deliberate choice on the developers’ part, since that’s what they’re trying to evoke in this decidedly old-school horror game, but they didn’t have to retain this part of that experience as well.
"While the fixed cameras themselves do a great job of heightening the tension, both movement and aiming can feel a little clunky."
Storytelling isn’t one of Tormented Souls’ strengths either. The story on the whole is quite forgettable, thanks to several well-worn tropes, predictable twists, and uninteresting characters. The Resident Evil fan in me did enjoy picking up bits and pieces of logs and files to get a deeper understand of the backstory and the history of the creepy hospital/mansion, but the actual content of the narrative is uninspired at best. The writing is consistently sloppy, and the completely stilted and wooden voice acting doesn’t do it any favours either. Also as much as I do think the visuals do their job of crafting creepy, atmospheric environments, they just don’t hold up very well when the game takes control for cutscenes or more directed storytelling.
It feels a little unfair to ding on the game for some of these things, because though this is clearly a small-budget production, it’s been made with a lot of love- a lot of love for the classic days of survival horror games. Tormented Souls is completely dedicated to realizing its vision of delivering a hardboiled old-school experience, and honestly, that is why it excels when it comes to its focus on exploration and resource management and its palpable atmosphere. But there are plenty of rough edges too, all of which do add up in the end. For fans of the fixed camera era of the survival horror genre, Tormented Souls is a solid trip down memory lane, but even so, it’s got a lot of room for improvement.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
Fixed cameras; Excellent atmosphere; Emphasis on resource management; Encourages exploration; Some of the puzzles are well-designed.
The map isn't the best; It can be a little hard to keep track of all the puzzles at times; A forgettable, tropey story; Stilted writing and voice acting.