The Chant Review (PS5)

The Chant Review: Fails to Enchant

The Chant review

The Chant has a lot going for it. It channels elements of the 00s cult TV show Lost, with a helpful dollop of Alan Wake slopped in there for good measure. It also looked like one of those games that would be a proper guilty pleasure. Y’know the stuff I’m talking about, right? 

I’m talking Storage Hunters, or if we’re talking Horror, Slither, or Alien vs. Predator.

Unfortunately, despite a relatively strong showing at Gamescom, and a promising art direction, The Chant falls short in the execution of its plot and combat experience. It isn’t goofy, silly, or memeable – it’s just disjointed, clunky, and poorly written.

 

Intriguing Plot, Spoiled by Poor Execution

Jess after getting a prism

 

Prime Matter’s latest offering starts with a flashback to the 1970s, which has some context for the future plot of the game, but to be honest, the pay-off isn’t really that exciting. No, the real meat of the story starts when the main character calls a friend to head off to a wellness retreat after seeing an upturned body in a river.

I mean, if I was imagining upturned bodies in a river, I’m not sure a wellness retreat is really what I’d be reaching for! Nonetheless, the main character Jess arrives on the island, and you’re steadily introduced to a cast of, ultimately, quite forgetful characters. 

There’s a small amount of exposition for each of them. One character has lost a child, another might have killed your sibling, another geezer is a bit like that bloke from the Netlfix Fyre Festival documentary, and another is a right manipulative piece of shit.

But none of this really matters, to be honest, because none of these characters are really explored in any sort of detail. The manipulative bastard barely has anything to say, other than making generic grandiose statements, your best mate that apparently killed your sibling is comatose for most of the game (and quite shockingly, this isn’t really explored properly at all), and lastly, Fyre Festival geezer’s head simply explodes, after a rather tedious chase sequence. 

But the most egregious issue I had with The Chant is that despite the lore scattered across the game, the ending I experienced lasted 20 seconds, barely answered any questions about anything, and provided little to no context or satisfaction to the five-and-half-hours I’d spent playing.

And it’s just a terrible shame because the lore was fascinating. The entire game is predicated around arresting an extra-dimensional alien plant thing, called the gloom, that preys on your deepest fears and anxieties. It manifests itself as swarms of insects, bipedal plant beings, and much more. Ultimately the gloom wants to draw you into this barely explained pocket universe, to become one with a bunch of weird flowers. 

The lore rationalises elements of this extradimensional space, its denizens, and attempts to harvest it, and it made for fascinating reading. However, the payoff when you’d expect the plot to marry up with the lore scattered across the game doesn’t happen. Instead, The Chant presents you with a surface-level story, climaxing with a vapid finale.

A Semi-familiar Core Gameplay Loop With Some Interesting Mechanics

Jess in the gloom

 

I don’t think it’s fair to level too much criticism at the core gameplay experience for The Chant. From a gameplay perspective, I wouldn’t say it’s unique, but what third-person action horror game can you name where you smash bad guys over the head with sage and twigs?

Indeed, The Chant dispenses with the arsenal afforded to characters like the Doom Guy and instead, leans into the supernatural. You’ll spend a chunk of your time hunting down prisms that imbue you with special abilities at the press of a button. 

One makes spiky hands appear out of the ground, slowing your enemies down, and another pushes your enemies back. This augments your main supernatural sage sticks, allowing you to approach combat with different tactics – at least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. 

For the vast majority of enemies, simply hitting them a couple of times, dodging and repeating, made them die. This felt really disappointing, especially having played more nuanced combat experiences in third-person games this year, like Elden Ring.

I found the gameplay loop around health to be the most interesting part of The Chant. Jess has three meters, one corresponding to her mind, one for her body, and another for her supernatural abilities. Staying alive and healthy is a balancing act between all three.

Enter a pocket dimension of the gloom, and the parasitic bastards start nibbling away at your mind meter. They do it by making you feel properly shit about yourself, feeding your self-doubt with deprecating comments, saying dreadful things about your dead sister, or even worse, comments from recently deceased forgettable characters.

This makes entering the Gloom a high-stakes affair. Then, throw in a bunch of baddies who do physical damage to you, depleting your body bar. If your mind bar empties, you have a panic attack, which sends the screen black and white, you start hyperventilating, you can’t attack, and the next hit you take kills you. I don’t find panic attacks thrilling IRL, but in the game, it made for some interesting gameplay decisions. Fleeing normally worked well, finding a quiet spot to (yes) meditate and restore equilibrium in your mind at the cost of your cosmic ability meter.

 

Decent Art Design and Enemy Variety

Jess fighting two occult enemies

 

Despite being quite grumpy with the story, I think The Chant is well put together visually. It’s clearly not a AAA title, but that doesn’t really matter. Kudos must be given for the art direction. You arrive on the island, and as soon as things go belly up after a botched supernatural chant ceremony, the sky is painted a wonderful hue of cosmic colours interlaced with bold and bright other-worldly stars. 

Most of the game is played at night, so developer Brass Token has played with lighting a fair bit, especially in the mine sequence, which made for some tense moments, fighting off a selection of abominable creatures.

And speaking of the enemy design, there’s no complaints from me here. Every 15 minutes, I found paperwork for a new enemy type, which kept me interested in the things I was smashing to death with my sage stick. Floating plants, indestructible quadrupedal units, and infected former humans all take the stage, demonstrating the horrors the Gloom warped and twisted beyond recognition.

 

Not Worth Taking a Chant On This One

 

I can’t hide my disappointment with The Chant. I had a real hankering for a supernatural game this year, after getting some hands-on time at Gamescom. Instead, I’ve been left with questions about what this game could have been. 

It could’ve usurped Until Dawn, one of the best recent examples of a supernatural horror game, but with a more intriguing and deeper plot.

It could’ve been a new fascinating way to approach and manage combat situations with three meters that operate together in harmony, giving you complex gameplay decisions to tackle alongside challenging combat.

It could’ve been a new campy horror game, a guilty pleasure, similar to some of those dreadful TV shows I named at the start.

But unfortunately, it’s neither of these things. 

Instead, you’re left with a story that feels incomplete and lacking depth. 

You’re left with combat that lacks any sort of meaningful challenge,

And ultimately, you’ll be left like me: very, very salty.

 


Final Verdict: 2.5/5

Wandering Trails

Available on: PS5 (reviewed), Xbox Series X|S, PC; Publisher: Prime Matter; Developer:Brass Token; Players: 1; Released: November 3, 2022; MSRP: $39.99

Full disclosure: Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.

 

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Since my Dad bought me a Master System after a stint in hospital I've been utterly obsessed with video games. Sonic The Hedgehog was my first love, but since then, I've not been fussy with genres - RPGs, FPSs, MMORPGs, beat 'em ups and sports simulators - I play them all.

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