In a sea of survival horror games citing classic Resident Evil as an influence, Tormented Souls stands out for its willingness to wholly, uncompromisingly commit. It can be abrasive, even hostile to the player to a point of frustration—especially in a time where there’s so much focus on “good UX”. But like the games it draws upon, that hostility, frustrating as it can be, is also what gives it its atmosphere. Far more than just a nostalgic throwback, it’s a game that understands what makes those classic survival horrors tick.
In Tormented Souls, everything is scarce. Ammo isn’t too bad—if you pay attention to your surroundings, you’ll find enough ammo to deal with any enemy you encounter. But it’s still rare enough that you can’t afford to get wasteful, and if you miss a box of nails or two, you can easily find your back against the wall with nothing but an unwieldy crowbar to defend yourself. The life-giving effects of morphine are harder to come by, and crucial for giving you a bit of breathing room when three or four hits is all it takes to drop you dead. And tape reels, those vital consumables that allow you to save your game? In the first half of the game, at least, they’re like hen’s teeth—if you want to use one, you better pick your moment right, or your next death could be a major setback.
When you’re used to the convenience of autosaves and plentiful resources, this can be infuriating. Not being able to just save at will and turn off the game is more than a little inconvenient (though sleep mode helps with that, so long as you don’t want to play a different game in the meantime), and losing a huge chunk of progress is a pain. Again, this is a game that’s knowingly and deliberately hostile; inconvenience is a feature, not a bug.
But what you get in exchange is atmosphere. With such high stakes on something as utilitarian as saving comes a real, palpable feeling of tension, even anxiety. A simple encounter with a type of enemy that you’ve fought a half-dozen times before and know exactly how to deal with can still put you on edge when a little mistake can have such heavy consequences. In a game about exploring a creepy old medical facility filled with bizarre abominations and enough dark secrets to fill a tome, that tension goes a long way. Tormented Souls is rarely “scary” in a jump-out-of-your-seat way, but discomfort and unease are constant companions, and the willingness to indulge in “bad UX” is a vital piece of that.
Fixed camera angles take that atmosphere a step further. The cinematic effect of set design and shot framing allows the game to present each location in the most eerie way possible, but more than that, it takes a degree of control away from the player. You can only see what you’re allowed to, and the first time through a new area, you don’t necessarily know when there’s going to be a camera cut. You can usually hear monsters before you see them, and camera angles can make targeting unwieldy, even with a bit of aim assistance. All these pieces combine to make a game that’s clunky, but again, that’s by design: the clunkiness and fraught encounters are a source of tension.
That said, it doesn’t always strike the right balance. Save tapes and morphine are particularly limited in the early hours of the game, but become (relatively) abundant later on. That seems back to front: a particularly miserly opening can push frustration a step too far, disrupting that all-important mood instead of enhancing it, while more plentiful resources can dull the impact of the most climactic moments. The quirks of the combat can take some getting used to, and it’s surprisingly easy to back yourself into a corner that’s difficult to get out from: your last fleck of health, no healing items, and a few enemies blocking your progress that you now have to deal with without taking a single hit.
But once you get over that initial hurdle, meet the game on its level, and learn to start the game on the right foot—even if that means a few fresh starts—things click into place. That’s when Tormented Souls shows its worth, using every tool in the box to build suspense and eerie atmosphere, to keep you on edge and let a story of evil cults, ritual sacrifice, and medical horror burrow under the skin. It’s an intriguing tale, steeped in mystery at first and gradually unravelling layers upon layers as you explore an old mansion turned makeshift hospital. Deformed bodies fused with medical equipment make for some genuinely terrifying enemies, and they only get more so as the pieces come together.
Compared with PC and other console versions from last year, the Switch release has a noticeable visual downgrade that, while far from a dealbreaker, does hold it back somewhat. This is a game where lighting, moody visual effects, and obscured details play a big role, and the technical compromises needed to get it running on Switch mean those things just don’t quite reach the same level. The trade-off is, being on a handheld, you can now play in bed, under the covers, with all the lights turned off—the best way to play a horror game.
Tormented Souls is a true homage to the survival horror classics of the ‘90s. It’s sold as a modernisation of the genre, but really, it’s the opposite: a game that resists the allure of polish and convenience, and instead commits to the clunky, unwelcoming design—deliberately—that makes those classics tick. That approach won’t appeal to everyone, and the balance isn’t always spot on, but when it comes to dredging up some creepy atmosphere and instilling a constant sense of tension and unease in the player, Tormented Souls hits the mark.
Developer: Dual Effect, Abstract Digital
Genre: Survival horror
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.