The PlayStation 2 era of survival horror was arguably the peak of the sub-genre as it was. Those few precious years, before the impact of Resident Evil 4 shifted the goalposts, housed memorable cult favorites such as ObScure, Rule of Rose, and Haunting Ground, as well as the more noted classics of the generation such as Silent Hill 2.
Flaws and all, Tormented Souls feels like it belongs in that era. Its developer, Dual Effect, has seemingly made a survival horror throwback that understands its influences remarkably well whilst not forgetting to throw in a few modern quality of life touches to the package to ensure it slips comfortably between nostalgia and ease of use.
Tormented Souls began as the passion project of Chilean twin brothers Gabriel and German Araneda, who started the game with little more than a desire to recreate survival horror in its pomp. That desire happily led to a government grant and a bigger development team to make that into something fully realized.
The setup to Tormented Souls makes it abundantly clear just how indebted to the early 2000s formula it is. The protagonist, Caroline Walker, heads to Winterlake Mansion, which serves as a hospital, in search of twin girls from a photograph she received. Upon arriving, Caroline is knocked out, and awakens in a bathtub, with a tube from a respirator lodged down her throat. Oh, and someone’s cut her eye out. Not off to the best of starts is our poor Caroline.
So Caroline begins to explore the dark, and seemingly abandoned mansion/hospital, only having the flame of a lighter and the odd candle to illuminate the gloom. It’s a survival horror game, so you’d be correct to assume that some shit goes down that makes escape difficult, but wholly necessary for her continued survival. It’s a tale as old as time, with more than an air of the melodramatic and soaking in oak-paneled line delivery. Tormented Souls’ tale already feels strangely comforting in its rougher edges.
Tormented Souls’ environments are very much the star of the show as it stands. The grimy, dark halls of the hospital areas hint at a bloody history and their intersection with the mansion’s grandiose decor tells its own story. The game opts for a classic fixed camera which really helps to highlight the scenery properly and set the mood and atmosphere up superbly well. The dark in the game is truly blinding without a portable light source to hand, and staying in it negatively affects Caroline’s state of mind. There were a couple of occasions during this preview build where the developer is asking you to decide on the best course of action whilst in gloom. You could run through it and keep your weapon ready, or you could ensure you don’t blindly stumble into a horrifying situation by equipping your lighter.
The build-up to the first enemy encounter is nicely done. The building creaks in that unnerving way so many old buildings do, and occasionally something will fall somewhere, and after accessing the basement level, Caroline catches a glimpse of something ahead of her, and shortly after is confronted by a grotesque figure in a wheelchair and they’re wielding some pretty stabby-looking knives. This foe doesn’t move especially quickly, but there’s an unnerving swiftness to the way they wheel themselves towards Caroline, the squeak of the wheels increasing in volume as they gain ground on her. I’m not a fan of wheelchairs being used as horror devices, but like anything used to garner terror, it’s more to do with how much thought goes into the reasons behind its use. While I can’t speak for that character’s backstory, which I don’t fully know at this stage, I can appreciate the use of the wheel squeaks in chase scenarios.
Caroline escapes from them soon enough, and finds herself in an X-Ray room that’s apparently now also a chapel, as a priest is reading a shrouded corpse its last rites. The priest says he’s met Caroline just days before, she has no memory of that. He also casually mentions that there’s an evil presence about, the staff and patients of the hospital have moved on to a new site, and the lights are out because the generator is playing up. Lucky Caroline (and you, the player), you get to go fix it for him.
The most noticeable issues with this build of Tormented Souls showed their hand here. There had been some stuttering up to this point, but I could accept that given the size of the development team, and the fact this is not a finished build. In the conversation with the priest, however, the game stuttered further still, the dialogue kept juddering, and to top it off, the line delivery from the priest was so painfully like someone reading it off the page I was almost glad for the distraction of those previous issues. I’m happy to have some wooden delivery as part of the experience. This didn’t feel like that though, it felt like the bare minimum.
Anyway, back to the action. Caroline leaves to go and fix the generator and has to solve a pressure display puzzle by sorting valves out. What I like about Tormented Souls’ puzzles is that the inventory screen is right there alongside the puzzle in question, so you don’t have to flit between menus or the puzzle to find that code or item. When interacting with anything, the game moves from third-person to a first-person perspective, allowing you to examine everything relevant without back-tracking between the game and its menu screens. Nothing mind-blowing, but a nice touch.
With the generator fixed, Caroline is sent to explore the rest of the mansion, and even with more light, there’s plenty of disturbing things that are going to get between her and her quest for knowledge. Luckily she now packs a nailgun to ward off evildoers in the punchiest way possible, and some morphine to cure her boo-boos. Perhaps it’s best if you stop by and save your progress (Using a Magnetophon) first though, eh?
In its current state, Tormented Souls does enough to maintain my interest. It’s often like playing a remaster of some lost survival horror game of old, and that’s a huge compliment. The fixed cameras, the puzzles, the sense of foreboding, the weirdo enemies, and the melodrama make for a healthy reminder of what made the genre so interesting to begin with. The edges are still quite rough though. It needs some better voice work in places, and the odd tune-up to prevent stuttering and audio issues, but any other perceived imperfections at this point feel intentional and actually benefit the overall vibe Dual Effect is going for. There’s definitely plenty of promise here, let’s hope it bears some fruit when the game eventually releases.
Tormented Souls preview code for PC provided by the publisher.
Tormented Souls comes to PC, Xbox Series X/S, PS5, and Nintendo Switch in 2021.