Tormented Souls Review: Haunting The House That Resident Evil Built
Developed by Dual Effect and Abstract Digital, Tormented Souls aims to capture the essence of the classic survival horror games of the 32-bit era. A time where scares were plentiful, ammo and health packs were scarce, and characters moved with the grace of an M1 Abrams battle tank. One thing’s for sure: the game certainly looks the part. Its gothic environments are as gorgeous as they are haunting, and its ghouls are gloriously grotesque. But while Tormented Souls nails the aesthetics of the era it hopes to emulate, does it manage to master the fundamentals of fear?
In Tormented Souls, players control a young woman named Caroline Walker. After a mysterious letter lures her to Winterlake Mansion to search for a pair of missing twins, things quickly take a turn for the worse. Moments after her arrival, she’s knocked unconscious, only to awaken in a tub, naked and intubated, with an eye plucked straight out of her head. Thankfully, Caroline isn’t the type to let a little thing like that ruin her day. After getting back on her feet and bandaging the gaping hole in her head, she promptly sets off to unravel the mystery behind the strange mansion. A place where bloodied medical equipment litters the halls, and murderous creatures lurk around every corner.
Wow, What A Mansion
If you’ve ever played a PlayStation-era Resident Evil game, you’ll feel right at home here. You’ll go from room to room in search of cryptic trinkets used to solve puzzles, pore over notes that shed light on the events surrounding the mansion and its inhabitants and encounter horrifying monsters. The estate is sprawling, and you’ll find many locked doors that you’ll need to revisit later in the game as you gather keys and gain access to new areas. With that in mind, you’ll want to pay close attention to the maps you collect so you can make a note of the places you’ll need to revisit.
One thing I appreciate about Tormented Souls is its approach to its puzzles. Once a staple of the genre, many modern survival horror games have all but done away with them. And when they do make an appearance, they’re usually little more than flipping a switch or popping a particular MacGuffin into the right spot. In Tormented Souls, however, they’re a bit more ambitious.
Many puzzles are genuine brain-teasers that will make you think outside of the box. So you’ll need to pay close attention to the notes you find, as well as what’s happening in the environment. There were more than a few times where I was stumped. However, I’d think of some seemingly off-the-wall solution hours after I’d put the controller down, only to return and watch in disbelief as my solution actually worked. That said, if you miss the kind of puzzles that will test your gray matter and leave you taking notes, you’ll love what Tormented Souls brings to the table.
Don’t Let The Shadows Seduce You
Tormented Souls‘ moment-to-moment gameplay certainly seems familiar, but that’s the whole point. From start to finish, it’s abundantly clear that the game’s developers are passionate about the classic survival horror formula that games like Silent Hill, Alone in the Dark, and Resident Evil pioneered. As someone who’s been relatively disappointed with the direction that most of these franchises have taken in recent years, to me, Tormented Souls’ rigid adherence to the tenets of terror feels like a long-overdue homecoming.
That’s not to say it doesn’t do anything original, though. On the contrary, there are a few areas where Tormented Souls shakes things up in exciting ways. For example, one of the first items you’ll come across is an old lighter. Of course, it isn’t capable of fending off the meat-and-metal monsters you’ll encounter throughout your adventure, but it’s essential to your survival just the same. That’s because even the shadows are out to kill you.
With this in mind, you’ll need to make it a point to keep your lighter equipped when entering every new room. Stumbling around in the dark for just a few seconds is enough to send you back to the title screen. The thing is, you can’t have both your lighter and weapon equipped at the same time. So if you want to battle whatever monster is bearing down on you, you’ll sometimes first have to plant yourself near a candle or some other light source before you can start to fight back.
Tormented Souls doesn’t reinvent the survival horror wheel. Instead, it rolls with it as it pulls the player from one ghastly horror to the next. And honestly, it’s all the better for it.
Make Every Shot Count
As you explore the mansion, you’ll come across a handful of weapons to help fend off all the things that go bump in the night. There’s a nailgun that acts as your standard sidearm. It’s weak but has a decent rate of fire and can put down most monsters with eight or so shots. You’ll also find a crude homemade shotgun that packs a punch but only holds a single round and is painfully slow to reload. My favorite weapon to use was the electric lance. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a long metal pole that can fry whatever bumps into the business end to a crisp. It was perfect for putting down an indestructible enemy you meet about halfway through the game who chases you through the mansion, much like Resident Evil’s Nemesis.
Don’t get too excited, though. If you hope to make it to the end of the game, you’ll want to avoid combat whenever you can. Much like the games that inspired it, Tormented Souls is very stingy with the ammo it gives you. This means it’s possible to essentially soft-lock yourself out of completing the game because you simply don’t have enough ammo to face what the game throws at you in the latter half. So use your guns sparingly and make every shot count. Otherwise, you may very well end up paying for it down the road.
We Have Such Sights To Show You
When it comes to its presentation, Tormented Souls doesn’t fail to impress. The game’s full 3D environments are strikingly detailed. And, at first glance, it’s almost hard to believe they aren’t pre-rendered backdrops. And the way the decrepit hospital equipment contrasts with the mansion’s stunning gothic architecture and stately decor makes for a setting so unsettling you’d think George Trevor himself had a hand in its construction. But, of course, a survival horror game is only good as its monsters. Thankfully, Tormented Souls’ demonic denizens are the stuff of nightmares. They’re all mangled creatures fused to medical equipment like wheelchairs, oxygen tanks, and IV drip stands. It’s body horror in its purest form.
But that’s not to say it’s perfect. Remember the enemy I compared to the Nemesis earlier in this review? Well, the way it glides across the floor looks downright ridiculous. And, as a result, it makes these encounters a little less scary than they could have been. Another thing that hurts the immersion is a lack of lip-synching during cutscenes. In 2021, it’s pretty jarring seeing characters’ mouths perfectly still during dialog sequences. The developer tried to make this less noticeable by positioning the camera behind Caroline during most of these scenes. But when you notice it, it’s pretty hard to ignore.
Tormented Souls‘ music is tense and full of foreboding. Additionally, the sounds of gunshots and other ambient effects do a great job of pulling you into the action. As for the voice acting, it’s awful in exactly the way you’d expect a game that emulates Resident Evil to be. If you can’t stomach all the camp, this may be a turnoff for you. However, it’s hard to imagine the game’s target demographic will mind this too much.
Backtracking Back To 1996
As a big fan of the games from which it takes its inspiration, I loved my time with Tormented Souls. It just hits all the right notes to create such an authentic classic survival horror experience. For someone like me, that’s a massive part of the game’s appeal. However, some players may find some of its conventions haven’t managed to stand the test of time. For starters, Tormented Souls requires a tremendous amount of backtracking. And this only gets worse after you discover a means of time travel later in the game. After a while, all of this running back and forth feels a bit like padding. So if that sounds like something that would get on your nerves, then consider yourself warned.
Also, the game features a manual save system. And, just like in early Resident Evil games, you’ll need to use a particular consumable item whenever you want to record your progress. Again, this is all par for the course for early survival horror titles. But it can be pretty disheartening to lose a few hours of progress after dying because you were too worried about burning through your precious supply of save items.
But again, this is all Survival Horror 101. If you were already considering buying Tormented Souls, chances are these issues won’t bother you at all. But if you’re new to the genre or never cared for these conventions, you might be in for a rude awakening.
Face Your Fears
If you love classic survival horror titles, Tormented Souls needs to be on your radar. It’s a terrifically terrifying love letter to Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Alone in the Dark. With brilliant puzzles, a genuinely scary setting to explore, and unsettling monsters to face, it’s the kind of game that will shock you to your core and stick with you long after the credits roll. While it undoubtedly wears its old-school inspiration on its bloodied sleeve, make no mistake: Tormented Souls is a modern survival horror masterpiece.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PS5 (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Switch, PC; Publisher: PQube; Developer: Dual Effect, Abstract Digital; Players: 1; Released: August 27, 2021; MSRP: $39.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy.