Review: Song of Horror
Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Eternal Darkness and Alone in the Dark are all games which have offered something to the videogame horror genre. They all take elements from each other, and some have continued to succeed and evolve, whereas others have failed. Alone in the Dark started it all, with fixed camera angles, puzzle-based exploration, and a supernatural element. Resident Evil took the baton and ran with it becoming one of the most successful franchises ever! Silent Hill brought more psychological terror to the genre, and fans are always hoping and praying for the next good Silent Hill game. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem introduced Lovecraftian ideas and truly innovative ways to mess with the players mind as the main character slowly went insane. And now we have Song of Horror to add to this list. It takes bits of all of the above, but is it any good? Let’s find out.
Before I sat down to play Song of Horror, I watched the trailer as I’d never heard of it before. What I saw filled me with excitement. Fixed camera angles reminiscent of early Resident Evil. Psychological horror and a Lovecraft narrative which promised to keep the player on edge.
Looking at the menu screens, it’s obvious where the inspirations lie with Song of Horror. Choosing the difficulty, you can select E.T.A Hoffmann (easiest), M.R James, Edgar Alan Poe (normal), and H.P. Lovecraft (hardest). I like this, as it shows the makers aren’t afraid to let you know their influences.
The story initially follows Daniel Noyer, a downtrodden employee of a publishing house. He comes home on Friday evening tired and just wants to go to bed. He receives a call from his boss asking him to go to the home of author Sebastian P. Husher who along with his wife and two children has been missing for weeks. Daniel goes to the house and finds nobody home, but events unfold which sees him trapped and unable to get out of the house.
His ex-wife is worried about his whereabouts, and this is where the real game begins. One of the really interesting ideas which Song of Horror introduces is the ability to choose to play the game with different characters. You can start the game with Daniels ex-wife, Sophie, his boss Etienne, or two other characters which have a connection to the house. Even though the dialogue is minimal, when you examine objects in the house, the characters all have different motivations and see things from a different perspective. They also act as your lives in the game if you choose to play it on normal difficulty. If they die in the game, then they are gone forever, and you must choose to pick up where they left off with someone new. If all of your characters die, then you have to start the episode from scratch. This is quite frankly an awesome idea and one of the main reasons why I kept playing the game.
As I mentioned the game is played with fixed camera angles which adds to the tension. The left analogue stick moves you around and the right analogue stick move your right hand which either has a torch or another light source. As you can imagine, most of the house is in darkness and using a torch to light the way brings another level of tension. Your head moves in time with your hand, which gives the character some authenticity.
You can examine various items and some of them can be picked up and added to your inventory. I wouldn’t class the house as the same size as the Spencer Mansion from Resident Evil. It’s still large enough to explore, but not so big that you get lost. There is a map available which handily marks where there are items or puzzles. The puzzles themselves are fairly straightforward. There is the tried and tested puzzle of finding fuses and putting them in the fuse box in the right order to restore the power. Some of them did get me scratching my head, but I managed to figure them out after a little while.
Song of Horror is more about the unseen terror which lurks in the shadows, rather than fighting zombies, or twisted nurses. Essentially you can’t fight back, so when you are confronted with the darkness which threatens you, your only options are running and finding somewhere to hide. Hiding spots can include under a table or in a cupboard. When you are being chased, you only have limited time to hide before you a killed and have to start over with a new character. If you do die, the new character can pick up any items you found. To help you avoid confrontations you can listen at doors to hear if there is a presence on the other side. This doesn’t happen on every door which is a relief as it could get tiresome checking every door before deciding to open it. If something does happen to try to get through the door, you can block it by hammering the X button and timing pressing R2 to block it. When you are scared you also have to control your heart rate and breathing by pressing L2 and R2 in time with the beating of your heart. The controls and gameplay are fine, despite it feeling a bit gimmicky and controlling the main character is a bit clunky, but you get used to it fairly quickly. However to be honest, the main reason I kept playing wasn’t for the controls or gameplay, it was for the story and to see how it played out.
The graphics aren’t exactly triple A, but they aren’t cheap and cheerful either. They are somewhere in between, and I was generally impressed with the level of detail as you walked around the house. As I said earlier, seeing fixed camera angles put a lovely warm smile on my face and it took me back 25 years to the first time I played Alone in the Dark and Resident Evil. The sound design is also good. It’s fairly minimal with creaking floorboards, but it cranks up when it needs to apply tension. Hearing little girls crying as you put your ear to a door is never a good thing for your blood pressure.
The game is split up into different episodes, but I’ve got to say I’m hooked and looking forward to seeing where it goes. I love the style and tone of the game. I love that it lends itself to some of my favourite games of all time and is unashamed in taking inspiration from them. It is definitely a game where you feel on edge as you play. There are subtle scares, such as blink and you miss moments of seeing something in the corner of your eye, and the next time you look it has gone. The gameplay is fine, but Song of Horror is all about the slow burn tension, rather than relying on quick movements and twitch gameplay.
It’s fair to say I’m quite impressed with Song of Horror. After I watched the trailer, I half expected it to be a cheap knock off, and quite frankly a bit crap. But it has exceeded my expectations and I’m looking forward to playing more.
Song of Horror is available now for PlayStation, PC and Xbox.
Review by Chris.