Tormented Souls is a love letter to the survival horror games of the early 90s. Gone are modern amenities like unlimited ammo, tutorials, and even free moving cameras. These systems will alienate new players. Meanwhile, long-term survival horror fans will love this addition. Game additions, such as fixed cameras and tank controls, were used to circumvent system restrictions early on but have become a nostalgic genre staple.
A Unique Approach To Storytelling
Tormented Souls starts with our protagonist, Caroline Walker, receiving an ominous photo of twin girls. This photo immediately strikes a piercing headache; turning over the image reveals an address. From here, Caroline is in for a horrifying experience filled with walking corpses, cults, and reality-altering revelations. While the story in Tormented Souls isn’t anything special, and borders on predictable, there remains enough mystery to keep you interested. Tormented Souls’ story begins to get interesting when it introduces time travel and parallel timelines. Tormented Souls utilizes time travel not only in the storytelling but also in many of the puzzles. Whenever Caroline alters something in the past, that object will be changed in the current timeline. Time travel opens Tormented Souls up for a unique approach to storytelling and sets up puzzles, unlike anything the genre has seen before. The same cannot be said for the voice acting in Tormented Souls, as it comes off as flat and uninteresting. Poor voice acting like this was also a staple of survival horror in the 90s. However, this is one trend that should have stayed in the 90s.
From a gameplay perspective, Tormented Souls focuses on stop and shoot mixed with tank controls. The combat never felt overly complex or oppressive; I only died once in my 10-hour journey, but a game like this doesn’t need challenging battles to work. Most of the shooting comes down to angling the character enough to shoot off-camera while listening for audio cues. There was still tension even though I always had enough healing and ammo to get by, partly due to the limited save structure. Saving the game requires the use of tape that Caroline uses to record her adventure audibly. It’s a nice narrative tie-in to explain the use of save states.
Tormented Souls shines when it focuses on puzzle solving, and to my surprise, it does it better than many of the heavy hitters in the genre. You’d be doing yourself a disservice to look up the answer, and with time travel, many puzzles require more than you initially thought. I was always looking back, thinking about that lock I saw when I travelled through time or that box I found in the attic. Each item was a different piece of the puzzle, and figuring out where and how to use them brought a challenge not typically found in today’s games. As much as I love the survival horror genre, it can be somewhat formulaic when it comes to puzzles. This unique approach continues within the game’s keys. Each door fits the same key, but you must adjust it based on the specific clues. All isn’t perfect when it comes to puzzles in Tormented Souls. The creativity crumbles during Act 3; this carries to both the puzzles and the narrative.
The Final Act
The final act of Tormented Souls is where the game started to fall apart for me. Moments where the dialogue didn’t match the subtitles, bugs where I would be unable to kill the final boss, and shoddy puzzles held back the climax of this game from being great. The last segments of Tormented Souls felt rushed and overdone. The twists are barely twists, which removed any thrill we would typically get from an ending reveal like this. The final boss fight boils down to pulling a couple of levers at the correct time, completely throwing out any unique world-building that came before it. It would have been interesting to see the final boss fight mix all the systems together, having Caroline travel back in time to reverse the summoning while jumping forward to open passages. Overall, the final act feels rushed. Given the proper budget and time, Tormented Souls could have been the perfect capstone to an already engaging journey.
Tormented Souls is Dual Effect and Abstract Digital’s first venture into the survival horror genre, and in my opinion, it is a massive success. Unique time-bending puzzles paired with nostalgic horror set-pieces make Tormented Souls a must-play for horror fans, new and old. At the same time, the tank controls and fixed cameras will be jarring for some players. However, it provides a much-needed shift in a genre that’s all too focused on action in recent years. A messy third act filled with boring boss fights and puzzles holds Tormented Souls back from being great. Nonetheless, Tormented Souls is still a must-play for any horror fan!