Video Game Review: “Tormented Souls”

   I was looking forward to Tormented Souls when it was first released.

   I immediately bought it on Steam and had always had it in my queue as a videogame I would absolutely, surely, and most certainly, one day get around to playing, maybe.

   Unfortunately, the first mistake I made was deciding to buy Tormented Souls on Steam despite having never played a videogame on PC in my adult life (I had bought a new computer and though I would try to enter into the PC gaming scene, … I didn’t). This meant that I had to wait until I was finished kicking myself about buying Tormented Souls once before I would bite the bullet and buy it again – this time on the Xbox Series X.

   Looking back, I have a lot of mixed emotions about Tormented Souls and I find myself wanting to thread the needle on expressing what I think and yet, not coming off too strongly one way or the other.

   Developed by Dual Effect and Abstract Digital, Tormented Souls should feel familiar to anyone who considers themselves a fan of the survival horror genre, more specifically, it should feel familiar to anyone who is familiar with the original PlayStation and early PlayStation 2 era of survival horror, which I am.

   I don’t say this as a criticism, but Tormented Souls plays like a lot of other horror indie videogames I have played over the last few years. It pulls from two specific videogame franchises, in particular, Silent Hill and Resident Evil. 

   I am not criticizing Tormented Souls for doing so, after all, Resident Evil and Silent Hill are the two most influential horror videogames ever created, but it also has to be expressed the sheer amount of outright clones or ‘inspired-by’ titles on the market today.

   Even now, I have four other videogames in my queue that are directly inspired by Resident Evil and Silent Hill – Dawn of Fear, Signalis, The Medium, and Daymare, respectively. Granted, the latter two are inspired more by later Resident Evil (4 and onward) and Silent Hill (P.T.), but I digress. There are a lot of them. Even now, on Nickelbib, I have already talked about the Silent Hill inspired Welcome to Hanwell, Layers of Fear, Saw: The Video Game and Injection Pi 23, and the heavily Resident Evil influenced Cold Fear, Evil Within, and Shadows of the Damned.

   Tormented Souls is among the ones I have mentioned that feels more outwardly inspired by both of them. Whereas something like Signalis or Evil Within plays like certain Resident Evil’s, they only feel like them, and not solely like they intend to strictly evoke that nostalgic response from the player.

   To Tormented Souls credit and discredit, it feels like it could have been an unnumbered entry into either Silent Hill or Resident Evil. In simplest terms, Tormented Souls feels like it has the gameplay of Resident Evil and the story of Silent Hill.

   You play as a character named Caroline Walker, a woman who finds herself in a mansion-turned-hospital, investigating the mysterious disappearance of two twin girls.

   The setting itself will immediately have you drawing comparisons to Resident Evil, whereas the monsters that creep around the dark corridors of the makeshift hospital will have to recollecting your time spent at Silent Hill.

   The graphics for Tormented Souls are pretty good. Obviously, this isn’t a Triple A, or even a Double A title, but, rather, something that could much more appropriately be described as an indie videogame with a budget, serving up something that looks closer to the remastered version of the first Resident Evil than it does the remake of Resident Evil II.

   With that in mind, it looks pretty good. The environments are detailed and the monsters themselves have been designed pretty well. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel in terms of character design, but it is absolutely par for the course for the niche I believe Tormented Souls is looking to scratch. Its production value, coupled in with the sound work and incorporation of music, not only makes it absolutely clear where their inspirations are rooted, but also further highlights the fact this isn’t a cheap knock-off or a videogame that was thrown together hastily – a labor of love, if you will.

   The dialogue and voice acting leave a lot to be desired. This in itself is almost a staple of Resident Evil, especially the original PlayStation classic, but I found it was worth singling out about Tormented Souls for transparency’s sake. The voice acting is stilted and, at times, the characterizations feel off, which is the best way I can think of to describe it. It creates this, almost, dreamlike quality to Tormented Souls, where the logic calls for a significant suspension of disbelief. I believe a lot of this is intentional. Like Silent Hill, Tormented Souls will see you bouncing between different realities, so there is literally a built-in disconnect. At the same time, I believe a lot of it is unintentional, and it can sometimes underscore the belief you are dealing with a lower-budget videogame. Take that for what you will. Personally, I think it comes a lot with the territory. The story is basic horror, with some interesting wrinkles added to it. They are the type of ideas where you know they won’t have answers for it, and they wear their inspiration their sleeves, but it does amount to more than merely an homage.

   Tormented Souls incorporates four significant traits from the Resident Evil series that ultimately have a significant effect on the overall experience I had with it – fixed camera-angles, tank controls, item-based saves (the Ink Ribbon system), and puzzles.

   On the subject of fixed camera-angles, I consider them to be a mixed-bag in-terms as far as survival horror is concerned. I can see their appeal and, in some ways, I like them. Although videogames’ biggest advantage over other mediums is their ability to allow a unique experience for each player, I believe that fixed camera-angles can be a wonderful way to create atmosphere and allow a ‘director’s touch,’ so to speak.

   For example, imagine a scenario where a character is walking through a dark sewer. As they are walking, the camera positions itself in such a way that the player (but not the character you are playing as) is able to see a large rat scurry across a pipe overhead.

   Fixed camera-angles are a good way to instill ambiance and accomplish things that a more conventional third-person or over-the-shoulder perspective otherwise would not be able to accomplish.

   Unfortunately, they can be a double-edged sword, and I think the blade goes one way deeper than the other when it comes to Tormented Souls. In my playthrough of Tormented Souls, I learned exactly how fond the developers were of cinematic shots and unique camera-angles for certain scenes. At any moment, I will be walking and have my entire viewpoint change on what part of the hallway I am standing in or how far down a staircase I am, and the results can be pretty catastrophic to any sequence involving combat.

   The combat by itself for Tormented Souls is, once more, fairly basic, and anyone who has played Resident Evil will feel fairly at home with it. Unfortunately, the amount of narrow hallways, their incorporation of a sanity system (more on that in a second), and the camera oftentimes making it very difficult to see the enemies around you can make it a fairly awkward and clunky affair. 

   The sanity system is fairly straightforward. Your character has a lighter that can be equipped from their inventory, and it will be needed for traversal throughout the mansion in Tormented Souls. If you don’t have that lighter equipped and the environment is too dark, your character will eventually go insane and you will die. This means that you will find yourself constantly bringing up your inventory to swap between your lighter and whatever weapon you are using (at first, you start off with a nail gun and a crowbar).

   It is an interesting system, and, at times, it can even offer a little bit of variation or complexity to the otherwise basic gameplay design. One specific hindrance you will find in Tormented Souls is that your character can’t use a weapon in the dark. This means that if you see an enemy hurling toward you (and, with the fixed camera-angles, a lot of the times, you often won’t) and you are in a dark room, you can’t switch to your weapon, aim in a general direction, and kill the enemy before your insanity overtakes you. In the dark, as far as combat is concerned, your character is useless. This means you have to either run around the enemy, come back later, or find a candle you can light somewhere in the room so you can see and off the enemy once and for all.

   It is a mechanic I can both see the potential in, and find myself irritated by. In its potential, it offers a new wrinkle to combat and opportunities for puzzle-based progression, and, in a vacuum, isolated by itself, wouldn’t warrant further conversation. Unfortunately, because of how detrimental the fixed camera-angles in Tormented Souls can be, it forces that double-edged sword deeper into the player.

   The same sentiment repeats when we bring up the tank controls in Tormented Souls.

   Again, tank controls are a staple of early Resident Evil, and there are a lot of mixed opinions about them. They can be a little stiff and awkward, and, personally, I prefer what we have now over what we had. Tormented Souls’ tank-controls are sort-of optional, however. In that, you can use an analog and aren’t expected to use the D-pad. In other words, analogs controls, at times, can be a little stiff, but they aren’t the least bit like booting up an original PlayStation (unless you want them to be) in terms of quality of life touch-ups. I didn’t mind them.

   The only thing I didn’t like about combat is that it wasn’t immediately clear whether you could actually kill enemies or if they would repeatedly keep resurrecting and attacking you. As survival horrors are often about ammo conservation, it took a lot longer than I would’ve liked to find my answer (they will die). The longer I played, the more strategy I developed (something helpful I notice is that you could stun or incapacitate an enemy with the nail gun, then quickly switch to the crowbar to finish them off).

   Again, this is an example of something that, if taken by itself, works fine, but when factored in with the camera-angles, is adversely effected.

   Although I like to think I have an open mind about fixed camera angles and tank controls and a lot of other things that more modern players wouldn’t, I will confess that I absolutely can’t stand the Ink Ribbon system of old-school Resident Evil videogames. Rather than a more conventional checkpoint system or saving location, old-school Resident Evil would notoriously make it so that your character was required to find Ink Ribbons spread out throughout their playthrough that could be used at a Typewriter to document your progression.

   For the most part, it isn’t ever as bad as you fear it will be. Thing is, I never needed to save that often in the Resident Evil videogames. The Ink Ribbons were usually plentiful, and, more often than not, I never thought it became an actual issue. It was like a psychological torment, like when parents from the sixties would have their children go pick out a switch to discipline them with.  It was always the foreboding dread of what you thought would happen next. (Don’t hit your kids with sticks, by the way.) I never actually died in Resident Evil, but the thought of losing my progress created a certain feeling of dread.

   In Tormented Souls, because of the camera-angles making it difficult to situate yourself or see enemies properly (and instances I had where when I opened a door to a new location, the enemy would be spawned to be standing right by me, making it inevitable I receive at least one hit, that threat can sometimes be realized.

   And the truth is, I could have dealt with that. I could have accepted it. Unfortunately, Tormented Souls does something that I can’t ever remember happening with Resident Evil on the PlayStation. It crashes. It isn’t very often. I believe, in my seven hours playing, Tormented Souls crashed maybe four times in total. That isn’t that bad. Lies of P crashed about that many times and I didn’t even mention it in my review (that was also spread across a 60 hour experience, however). The difference is, when Lies of P would crash, I would boot it up and I would lose, what, maybe a couple minutes of progression. When Tormented Souls crashes at random, it is a little more unpredictable and the consequences can vary (I had two occasions when playing Tormented Souls where I lost an hour’s worth of progress because the videogame randomly closed out). That bothered me a lot, and is a wonderful reason why an indie developer should abstain from implementing the archaic saving system simply because they want to evoke Resident Evil (Resident Evil doesn’t even want to evoke Resident Evil when it comes to that).

   The last real topic to touch on for Tormented Souls are the puzzles. For the most part, I like puzzles in videogames and I like the puzzles in Silent Hill or Resident Evil. Every once in a while, a puzzle would floor me and stifle my progression, but, most oftentimes, I could always solve them myself (and I could solve all of Resident Evil’s, no problem). Even if I couldn’t, a walkthrough has never been easier to access, and I have no shame about using them if I am forced in a corner. On that end, I really like a lot of the puzzles in Tormented Souls and I dislike a lot of them as well. Some of the puzzles are straightforward. Some you may overthink, but are ultimately telegraphed and of a middling challenge to figure out. Some are particularly challenging, but they can be inferred through context, through diary entries or other documents you find throughout your journey. And others, well, others verge a little too much on the cryptic end.

   The puzzles in Tormented Souls were more challenging for me and were more convoluted than any puzzle I encountered in any Resident Evil. That in mind, I want to reiterate that I liked a lot of them and I think they might be my biggest takeaway from the entire experience. Most of them were telegraphed in some fashion, but it wasn’t always clear they were telegraphed until after I bit the bullet and looked up how to solve them. When I did, I usually liked them and appreciated how clever they were. For some, I feel my inability to solve them was on me and not looking at them from the right perspective. On others, I believe some (or sometimes a lot) of it could be chalked up to a lack of clarity or a way of laying everything out that is bound to lead to confusion, i.e. where it is meant to be executed, and under what conditions. Certain cues and clearer reactions could have helped with that. For example, sometimes I would have the solution to a puzzle, but I would do it counterclockwise when it wanted to be done clockwise, or my rhythm was off slightly, so I assumed my solution wasn’t what they wanted.

   It also had certain brain teasers that I didn’t care for. I won’t spoil any of the major ones for you, but I will talk about a couple basic puzzles that I think will make you understand what I mean. In Tormented Souls, you receive a key that can be modified to display different shapes on it. The key can be used to unlock several doors in Tormented Souls, but it isn’t entirely clear which way you are meant to adjust the shapes on the key. In one instance, you are given emblems of aliens, bees, and pharaohs, respectively. Your key to the cipher is a picture of a human and Earth. It’s a brain teaser, do you understand? Basically, humans are to Earth as … aliens are to (what shape) and pharaohs are to …, and so on. It is one of the easier puzzles, but it is an example of how the puzzles can employ a certain moon logic and / or feel like they are more suited for a book of puzzles than a horror videogame. They aren’t above gotcha moments either, like, later, with that same key, you are asked to situate the shapes in accordance to the number of their sides, and you see the number “8”and think “Octagon,” but it’s actually meant to be interpreted as an infinity symbol.

   The map system also leaves a lot of room for improvement. At minimum, I would prefer a map that clearly illustrates where your character is standing and how each room correlates with the world. In a perfect world, I would have a mini-map, but I know a lot of you won’t go for that. Either way, their current approach is messy. When you bring up the map, you are given several files to sift through that have locations on them. The room you are in blinks to roughly tell you your location. It’s basic and it isn’t all that noteworthy, unfortunately, the files aren’t in-order. As in, when you open up the menus for guidance, it doesn’t have the right file brought up to correlate with your location. This means every time you use the map, you have to sift through the files, find the one that has a room that is blinking, and work from there. It is just unnecessarily inconvenient.

   In summation, Tormented Souls has a lot of problems, and I think an argument can be made that it had more problems than what it was worth. The camera-angles were my biggest gripe with it, which I believe had a trickle down effect that were detrimental to practically every other aspect of it (even some of the puzzles were difficult because I couldn’t see that they existed in the first place). However, I would recommend it to fans of the old-school Resident Evil videogames. It has merit. It really does. The atmosphere is good, the music is good, and some of the puzzles are great, and, as far as original PlayStation style Resident Evil inspired (I don’t know what to call them, … RE-likes?), in-terms of its production, it is one of the best on the market. 

   As for its future, I know Tormented Souls 2 has been announced. I am hopeful. I had a lot of criticisms, but I feel like a lot of criticisms could be easily fixed. The fixed camera-angles can work, but I think they went overboard with the artsy shots in places involving combat. I think they need to make items and points-of-interest clearer. They need to re-work the map system (I don’t think it is imperative you have a mini-map or even a detailed map, but it needs to be more organized and polished than it is now). This, I think, would help leaps and bounds. Of course, you could also polish the voice-acting, story, and enemy designs. There is a lot of potential and I wish them the best with it.

Rating: – 2.8 out of 5.0