One of the first Playstation games I ever played was Resident Evil. My memory of the circumstances are foggy, but the experience with the game is burned into my memory. My friend had a Playstation (I was a Sega Saturn kid), and he invited me over after getting the game.
I would have been 12 or 13 at the time. He had the game set up on a small TV in his bedroom.
I don’t think my friend took to the game’s fixed cameras, tank controls, or difficult puzzles, so he was happy to just let me play. That, or maybe he was pleading with me to go outside instead and I ignored him. Regardless, Resident Evil captivated me. I was terrified, but I couldn’t stop playing. It was the beginning of a love affair with the survival horror genre that continues to this day,
I’d draw monsters from the game, or try to come up with my own gruesome creatures. I dreamed of being a game designer and making a gory horror game of my own. Eventually I’d get my own copy of the game when it was released on Saturn. I’d finally get a Playstation and play Resident Evil 2 and Silent Hill, and from there, follow the genre through all of its ups and down.
My dreams of making my own games didn’t really work out, but even today, if you asked me what kind of game I would make, it would likely be survival horror in the style of the original Resident Evil. So, I feel a bit of a kindred spirit with the developers of Tormented Souls, a new survival horror game that recaptures the vibe of the original Resident Evil in 2021.
That said, if you asked me what my RE-inspired game would have looked like, it certainly wouldn’t have been as ambitious or as faithful as this. Hats off to the team at Dual Effect, because their commitment to recapturing Resident Evil surpasses my wildest dreams, and maybe even Capcom’s.
Tormented Souls is another story of experiments gone wrong in a puzzle-filled mansion. It is a fully 3D, polygonal game, but it looks like the gorgeous backdrops used in Gamecube remake of Resident Evil. It is dark, gothic, utterly weird, and a little horny at times.
It has fixed camera angles, optional tank controls, and even limited saves. Enemies eat away at your ammo supply and health items. The level design requires you to think through your runs, as the mansion snakes off in different directions and eventually collapses in on itself as you discover shortcuts.
The puzzles are a highlight, typically asking more from you than a Resident Evil game, perhaps taking more inspiration from Silent Hill. In fact, Tormented Souls is influenced by the Silent Hill games in some other fun ways, but I won’t spoil the surprise here.
Sometimes the puzzles are too clever for their own good, asking you to pay very close attention to the story and take some unexpected actions to progress. The majority of the puzzles were challenging enough to be really satisfying to solve, but some stumped me to the point where I unfortunately had to look up the solution. Kudos to you if you can get through all of Tormented Souls without peeking at a guide!
For those that are comfortable in this genre, I don’t think Tormented Souls is ever so hard that it would scare you away. The challenge was inviting, and had me engaged with the game for the entirety of my 13.5 hour run. Still, it would be nice if there were difficulty options to make the game even a little bit easier or harder in either direction. Once I got into a groove, I never really worried about running out of ammo or healing items. At the same time, I recognize that newcomers to this genre may be really overwhelmed by how punishing this kind of game can be, especially early on.
Resident Evil games are infamous for losing steam in the back half of the game. Almost all of them funnel down into a linear action-packed experience in the later sections, getting away from the exploration and puzzle-solving that’s so initially engaging. Tormented Souls never suffers from this issue. Even when it takes a detour into a sewer system or underground tunnels, the core mansion area is never far away and the non-linear exploration stops. Even the final boss encounter has some puzzle elements to it. It’s a game that stays true to its vision from beginning to end.
Some elements of that vision may not work for everyone though. The story in particular is a mixed bag, with voice acting that is so bad that it gets in the way of some of the more interesting plot beats. Sometimes the voice acting has that so-bad-it’s-good cheese that made Resident Evil so iconic, but mostly it’s just painful. I can only hope this was the best the team could do with their resources (or simply the language barrier), because if the stiff voice acting was intentional it would be a bridge too far for nostalgia’s sake.
Other elements of the story are likely to rub some folks the wrong way as well. The main character looks like she walked out of some kind of Blender sex game. She wears a truly ridiculous outfit, and she’s shown naked from head-to-toe within the first five minutes. The game also bases its premise on some vague indigenous peoples’ ritual sacrifices. It’s the “indian burial ground” trope without a wink of irony.
That said, assuming those two callouts aren’t total dealbreakers, there are some neat moments to be found in the story. The mansion is filled with diary entries, and it’s fun to piece together the family drama and cult-y experiments spanning multiple generations. There are twists and turns, some of which are very predictable, but fun nevertheless. There is enough here to maintain the vibe and give the great gameplay and setting some fun context.
The “fans of genre” trope has been done to death, but truly, if you have nostalgia for the first Resident Evil and Silent Hill games, I think Tormented Souls is a must play. Flaws aside, I can’t deny that this game was hard to put down. The specific balance of ammo conservation, limited saves, creepy monsters, and a massive, complicated mansion to explore is a very hard thing to get right, but Tormented Souls nails it.
And if you’re like me, and you grew up playing these kinds of games, this might feel like a bit of a dream come true. After all, even the core Resident Evil games—the ones most faithful to the standard set by the original Resident Evil—are quite different from that first game. Tormented Souls is closer than all of them, while still updating some things for 2021. Sure, it feels like I’m 12 again, and I’m getting that nostalgia hit from Tormented Souls. But more importantly, this game’s success is a reminder that not everything that goes out of style is bad. Maybe we need even more games like the original Resident Evil in the world.