What if a “classic’ Resident Evil game was made today? And no, I don’t mean in the contemporary, cumulative way the actual current Resident Evil games have been made. I mean, what if someone decided to make Resident Evil 1 in 2021? Tormented Souls is one possible answer. A heartfelt homage to a very specific era of horror games, Tormented Souls wants to make you go, “oh yeah, this is like back in the day” while serving up its own ideas on top.
Tormented Souls Review
Tormented Souls quickly reminded me how much gaming has changed over the years. At times this is a gorgeous game, with legitimately creepy architecture comprising the game’s menacing hospital and a visual style attempting to recreate the pre-rendered backgrounds of old. Other times you can tell this isn’t a game with a AAA budget. The voice acting is pedestrian, the character models are a bit janky and there’s a real lack of options.
But that’s kind of the vibe the original Resident Evil had, no? It’s a vibe that hits different today, because the base level videogameness of videogames is so different. And that works for and against Tormented Souls. The voice acting in particular really hurts the mood, especially since it sets out to be taken much more seriously from the jump (also, the subtitles don’t match the spoken words). At the same time, the old school horror fixed camera angles, weird puzzles and pensive pacing all feel nostalgic and fresh at the same time.
This game set out on a mission to do a 1990s Resident Evil game in 2021, and in that Tormented Souls is a success. But taken on its own merits there are just as many stumbles. As cool as some of the ideas are, it’s hard to get a sense of what this world’s rules are, and what exactly it is we’re supposed to be afraid of. Mythology is important to horror, even when it’s as simple as “virus make zombies.” Here, weird stuff happens that isn’t really tied to consistent diegetic logic. It's more like scary things happen because they would be weird or shocking, instead of having a more long-term context.
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Plus, the main enemies aren’t really scary. They’re fleshy globs of flesh with sharp claws and teeth, which the game does everything it can to let you know they’re in the room with you. Pop ‘em from a distance with the ol’ reliable nail gun and you won’t be in serious danger. If they do get close you might take one hit since the RE 3-like dodge step is clunky, but you’ll be fine. Even better are the wall-mounted enemies that seem like a real threat until you realize you can just stand beside them and bonk them safely with a crowbar.
Another word that describes this experience is "fumbly." There's a mechanic that kills you if you stay in the dark too long, but that gets in the way of exploring, combat and enjoying the lighting. You have to open up the inventory whenever you need to swap a held item, such as from a lighter to a gun. Little things like that feel awkward, even for a game like this.
Issues aside, Tormented Souls still has this energy that makes the experience appealing. It’s extremely novel to have a game that looks and feels this way that isn’t a port, remaster or remake. There’s an aesthetic vibe that feels very different compared to the usual Japanese or North American horror affectations, which gives the horror and gameplay unique flavor. And hey, as much as homage can be disastrous for art, it works here for the most part.
Tormented Souls is a horror game made by a small team and directly, intentionally derivative of PlayStation-era horror games. There’s no pretense of this game being anything but, and that honesty is appreciable. This is as much a compelling, mysterious videogame adventure as it is a janky, flawed game not always able to nail its ambitions. If Tormented Souls was a PS2 game we’d be seeing $100+ online listings, just like many of its inspirations. It fits that space like a torn, bloody glove.
- Evokes the PS1 horror game vibe and maintains its own identity
- Cool and creepy architecture, music
- Good movement controls and fixed camera solutions
- Really unconvincing VO
- Occasional jank
- Wobbly storytelling
A copy of this game was provided by a publisher for review