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Tormented Souls

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: PQube
Developer: Abstract Digital Works (EU), Dual Effect (US)
Release Date: Aug. 27, 2021


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PS5 Review - 'Tormented Souls'

by Redmond Carolipio on Jan. 27, 2022 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

With a fresh twist on the fixed perspective adventure, Tormented Souls modernizes the classic survival horror genre for a new generation.

Buy Tormented Souls

I've learned to brace myself when a game promises a "return to a classic" because the term "classic" could mean a variety of things to players of a certain age. Side-scrolling 2D, platformer, shooter, beat-'em-up, turn-based RPG — you name it. Every style of game has some kind of pixelated ancestor or ancestors that served as the archetype. Now, there are plenty of games that hearken back to the "retro" feel of a genre while still staying in the present, sometimes with a subtle nod toward the future.

Tormented Souls attempts to do that but stumbles on its own sensibilities of "classic" while achieving it. Instead of a deft or even whimsical acknowledgement of the ghosts of survival-horror past, this game takes a time machine to a bygone era and sort of gets stuck there, for better and for worse. It is a faithful replication of everything one could love and hate about the genre, which leads to a conflicted and sometimes arduous playing experience.

When I mention "old-school" survival horror, I mean titles such as early Resident Evil, which featured moving characters in third-person perspective around impeccably detailed, pre-rendered backgrounds. The camera would occasionally follow you, but the stage generally stays still.

The setting is where Tormented Souls scored highest for me. The story focuses on the search for a pair of missing kids at an abandoned hospital that used to be a mansion. In keeping with the original survival-horror tradition of foreboding locales, every part of this place features the appropriate mix of creepy with splashes of grisly awfulness. In a good way, I hated being in every section, whether it was the kitchen stacked high with dishes and god-knows-what staining the walls or the hallways featuring morbid art to a delivery room with a bloodstained tub.

Another faithful adaptation of survival-horror essence is how the hospital is basically a fortress of layered puzzles, not unlike the mansion or police station one would explore in the first two Resident Evil titles. Items need to be discovered and occasionally assembled, special keys open certain doors, a videotape here, a glass eye for a bust there — you get the idea. I appreciated how the game embraced its inspirations, and it's that familiarity that allowed me to become invested in it quickly.

I also enjoyed some of the gameplay and narrative twists that separate Tormented Souls from its muses. I commend the use of darkness, which can kill you if you stand in it too long. The main character, Carolyn Walker, gets a warning pretty early about that, and I found out the hard way when I steered her into a dark corridor and witnessed the screen get fuzzy and pitch black, followed by sounds of her perishing.

To avoid such a demise, you must equip your lighter and carry it around like a torch. Of course, there are dark places aplenty in the mansion/hospital, which can be more easily navigated when you find candles to light or flip on a generator to power the lights. The game uses this mechanic to mess with you on occasion, as there are sometimes enemies lurking about unseen in the darkness, or you can transition lighter-unequipped from a well-lit room into one that's completely dark, forcing you to scramble in your inventory menus for the lighter. In terms of story elements, while RE veered more toward scientific evil, Tormented Souls dips into both science and the supernatural, featuring strange and twisted creatures, religious sects and even a little bit of time travel. There's also plenty of lore to collect that not only helps with the odd puzzle hint but also illuminates what ends up being a surreal and disturbing tale with multiple endings ranging from "as good as you can get, given the circumstances" to "well, that sucked."

Unfortunately, the elements that hinder this little romp through the fringes of hell are the some of same ones that slowed down its forebears. Controlling Caroline can feel tank-like, which I didn't have too much difficulty adapting to, but it might be a jolt for younger players who have only experienced newer horror titles, like the RE remakes. Where the awkwardness really factors in is during combat. Caroline doesn't sprint or elude particularly well, and she doesn't seem to have much in the way of battle training in her background, so she can't end her enemies with a random headshot. She does get her one of her eyes taken from her at the start of the game, so … there's that. She can use a nail gun (which doesn't have a lot of stopping power), a makeshift shotgun, an electric lance, and a crowbar.

Melee weapon use was particularly cumbersome; instead of a button for a full swing, one has to hold the shoulder button to wind up for a strike, then pull the trigger to unleash a swing that — if you're using the crowbar — seems to contain all the fury of a hard slap. I found it best to use the lance to electro-poke foes if you must. Ammo and resources are in short supply, and the save system is a classic tape-recording format where you have to first find tape reels to use on devices discovered throughout the hospital. I remember dealing with this in the late '90s and in remakes, and I didn't miss it.

While the pre-rendered staging of the game is its strength, it also comes with some inadvertent annoyances, such as the constant and occasionally disorienting change in directional perspective as you move from one section to another. For the more directionally challenged among us, this'll lead to repeated map checks. We also have the classic RE-style menus, where you are constantly opening inventory screens to reference items or to open a door that requires a puzzle key with adjustable pieces.

The most distracting parts of Tormented Souls are in a couple of its artistic facets. I have to start with the visual quality of the human characters, especially Caroline. I don't know what her deal is, but close-up, she looks like she walked in from a PS3 or possibly a PS2 game. If that's intentional to truly go for that "retro" experience, it's a few steps too far. She looks like a placeholder in an early build, and I couldn't take her (or any interactions with humans) seriously, especially when you get cinematic interactions with flat, robotic animations. The voice work wasn't great, either; it sounded like the actors were going through a disconnected initial run-through of the dialogue. As a result, I had issues investing more in the narrative.

Through all that, I found Tormented Souls to be just intriguing enough to be worth checking out if you have the time. It's a lesson in where survival-horror games have come from and what stories can still be told within the genre. With a little more modernization within the combat and cleaner visuals, this probably could have been an underground classic.

Score: 6.8/10

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