“This game contains explicit violence and gore.”
It’s a phrase so familiar to fans of classic survival horror games that its appearance at the start of Tormented Souls is almost heartwarming. Since the mid-2000s, the genre has been bent and twisted to keep up with the changing times and growing fatigue around overused mechanics in franchises like resident Evil and Alone in the dark. The classic survival horror tropes of the 90s – fixed camera angles, stationary aiming and careful object management – have all but disappeared. Tormented Souls is a love letter to classic 90s horror games; a true tribute that embraces the origins of the genre. It is therefore a pity that it has great difficulty measuring up to such a high benchmark.
The game begins on a slightly sour note with an opening sequence that is both fuzzy and jittery; it’s almost a throwback to N64-era cutscenes in and of itself, but clearly the presentation is simply a by-product of porting the game to Switch, as such performance issues aren’t noticeable on other consoles. . Once you get into the gameplay itself, however, the presentation fare much better. You wake up in a small x-ray room as protagonist Caroline Walker and immediately fixed camera angles mean this is old-school survival horror through and through. Shortly after, you pick up a lighter which can be used to light up the dark surroundings, and the shadows dancing around the rooms as you walk through them are a truly impressive sight to behold.
As you explore, you’ll encounter puzzles and enemies that will have die-hard survival horror fans grinning from ear to ear. Enemies will often lie in wait, just out of sight of the camera which happens to be fixed on Caroline; it’s an effective way to increase the tension in some scenarios, but in others the lack of visual cues is downright frustrating, especially when the odd camera positioning causes you to lose your sense of direction. Likewise, aiming your guns is very “classic” survival horror; you can aim in any direction, but moving your feet at the same time is unfortunately impossible for Caroline; you are fixed in place. Luckily, there’s a dodge mechanic that can get you out of tight spots, but since you can only dodge backwards, there’s no point if you’re backed into a corner.
The puzzles will also feel familiar to you, but implementing them seems a bit more complicated than other survival horror games. Confronting them requires much the same process: you’ll need to explore your surroundings, gather items, and combine them to unlock new paths and obtain key items. The inventory screen implements the use of an on-screen cursor, which can be used to select items and move them directly into the game world. You can also examine items and select specific parts of them with which to interact directly. The on-screen slider makes the process pleasantly intuitive, and you’ll be able to see the effects of using your item in real time.
Ultimately, while Tormented Souls is a laudable homage to classic survival horror games, its focus on the past is unfortunately its biggest downfall. Advertisements for the game present it as a “modernization” of the genre, but the mechanics it contains seem as archaic as the games it emulates. Lasting around seven hours, you’ll have a good time here if you’re a hardcore horror game fan who wants some of the big names to revisit their origins, but for everyone else, the fixed camera angles and limited combat can be more frustrating than nostalgic. Add to that a few technical hiccups in the way of questionable cutscenes and animations, and you’ve got a game that truly plays second fiddle to the more established survival horror games on Switch.