Earlier this year, I struggled my way through the last third of Doom Eternal. It was a game that went on entirely too long, became frustrating rather than challenging, and drove me to shamelessly drop the difficulty from hard mode (Ultra-Violence) to the easiest difficulty (I’m Too Young to Die). Later on, I watched Twitch streamer Gladd play on Nightmare mode, the hardest standard difficulty mode in the game. He loved the challenge, and his audience loved watching his FPS skills be put to the test. But while I respect his skill and drive to entertain his audience while punishing himself, I remain unconvinced. I still think Doom Eternal is kind of bad.
That’s all to say I’ve gone through a very similar experience with Visage, a first-person horror game inspired by Hideo Kojima’s infamous P.T. demo. This game started life as a Kickstarter in 2016, with chapters released in early access over the years. The completed game was finally released this year on Halloween, offering players multiple chapters that could be completed in any order.
This nonlinear approach resulted in me selecting the story of Rakan, a disabled man seemingly haunted by thoughts of body horror and hospital visits. His chapter transports you from the P.T.-inspired house that most of the game takes place in, to a hospital where you are pursued by both Rakan and a mob of faceless zombies. Visage makes no qualms about being a hard game, but in this chapter that meant awkwardly side-stepping pursuing enemies in one trial-and-error sequence after another, dying repeatedly until I found the right path.
It wasn’t fun, it wasn’t challenging in a satisfying way, and it was the exact kind of cheap horror that normally makes me turn off indie horror games in favor of something more traditional, like Resident Evil. I got so fed up with the experience that I did something I’ve never done in all my years reviewing games: I watched the rest of the game on YouTube.
On YouTube, on Twitch, in the corners of the internet where entertainers push themselves through video game challenges to keep their audiences glued to the screen, Visage thrives. For the Gladds of the world, who see Doom Eternal’s annoying Marauders and endless combat arenas not as flaws, but a challenge to overcome, Visage has something to offer. You don’t need to be a streamer to enjoy the game, but you have to be willing to look some bullshit right in the eye and take it on headfirst.
From the no-commentary, 5-hour playthrough of the game I watched (thanks SHN!), I came to find that the majority of Visage isn’t really about trial-and-error pursuits (though there were more chases in Rakan’s chapter I would have hated if I stuck with it). Instead, much of the game seems to be about using inventory items around the game’s haunted house to puzzle out the next steps. This looked a lot like the latter sections of P.T., which were cool and visually striking, but required crowd-sourcing and internet forums to figure out.
Visage isn’t hard in the traditional sense. It isn’t teaching you skills and pitting you against enemies that train you. It isn’t presenting puzzles with clear clues and asking you to think through them on your own. For better-or-worse, Visage feels like a game inspired by P.T. in every way—not just in visuals and scares, but in its inscrutability.
For large chunks of my time watching someone else play through it, I really had no idea what was going on. I didn’t understand how the player knew where to go, or why they used a particular item where they did. I imagine a streamer working this out with their audience, or a Reddit community picking apart every last secret. I imagine someone with infinite patience, a lot of free time, and a love of horror playing this game by themselves and still getting frustrated with it. The last thing I would imagine is me ever wanting to finish this game.
I respect Visage though. Where I can’t help seeing Doom Eternal’s prickly elements as flaws, I find Visage’s choices to be intentional. They’re not for me, at least as a player (I’m happy to watch someone else struggle through this), but they’re for someone. A lot of love went into this game, and while I don’t enjoy navigating it, I found it to be a visual treat.
Visage utilizes P.T.’s photo-realistic style with some heavy depth-of-field effects to create a seemingly endless series of scripted sequences. There are just SO MANY horror visuals to see in this game. It is truly a buffet of psychological scares, and that is ultimately a reward that you can enjoy whether you are playing or just watching.
Visage is ultimately a game I have to respect from afar, and that’s a strange thing. I’ve never been the type of player to give up the controller or shy away from a challenge, but I was much happier watching someone else play this game. I don’t think this is a game for many people at all. But for the audience Visage feels laser-targeted to please, I think they are in for a treat. You’ll just have to decide for yourself if you are part of that audience or not.