A direct homage to the Playstation 1 and 2 era of survival horror, Tormented Souls is a modern take on the old-school survival horror genre. This is a game specifically meant for those who played the Resident Evil 2 Remake and decided they preferred the original PS1 game or Gamecube port, replete with puzzles, items to collect, and awkward combat controls you have to use to prevent eldritch horrors from giving you hugs. So, is Tormented Souls a game that’s going to torment you as you play, or does this game radiate enough charm to keep your interest until the end? Let’s find out.
Who here hasn’t trespassed into someone’s mansion, get bonked on the back of the head, then wound up naked and intubated in a bathtub? Well, I know I’m not completely alone in my spring break experience because that’s precisely what happens to heroine Caroline in the beginning moments of Tormented Souls. Caroline becomes plagued by headaches and nightmares after receiving a mysterious photograph in the mail, so she does what every sane person would do: Break into a haunted mansion. Accosted by an unknown assailant shortly after entering, Caroline is down 50% of her eyes and 100% of her depth perception. The only way forward is to make her way through the mansion and defend herself from all variety of abominations.
For fans of classic survival horror, a la Playstation 1 or 2, then Tormented Souls is exactly what you want in a game. The combat, while stiff and limited to those not experienced with the genre, hearkens back to a day of simpler control schemes where the clunkiness of the combat goes hand in hand with making enemies seem fearsome because do you really want to engage with a difficult foe when that could mean lost time? For those who never played that kind of survival horror game, or only played action-based survival horror games, then this can be a massive negative influence to your experience. It cannot be understated how Tormented Souls feels like a late 90s, early 00s survival horror, and that was clearly the developer’s intent.
There’s very little inventory management in Tormented Souls, a departure from the classics in this regard, though you’ll often refer to the items and resources screens to combine items or switch weapons. Like old Resident Evil games, the ability to save your progress is limited to the number of tape reels you can find throughout the mansion. The game is relatively forgiving with tape reels, thankfully, because it’s pretty simple to reach the end of the game with four or five still in your inventory, but if you’re a busy gamer with a child, for example, you might need to consume more tape reels to save than most, which can feed into issues should the game crash.
The puzzles in Tormented Souls range from simplistic to layered and intricate, requiring the player do quite a number of steps beyond the usual explore > combat > puzzle > key loop. Many puzzles have hints that can help you solve them, but it can still be a bit difficult to do some of the more esoteric puzzle solutions, at least until you familiarize yourself with Tormented Souls’ brand of puzzle solutions. Like classic survival horror, there’s an order of operations for everything and missing one poorly communicated step will result in the player getting stuck. An example would be knowing that you need to run clockwise around a body on an operating table with a lighter in hand, but doing so to no affect because you forgot to turn the lights off, first.
Combat in Tormented Souls is very, very similar to classic Resident Evil games from the Playstation. Animated corpses crawling on the ground will require you stop, aim down, and shoot them, possibly even requiring that you walk up and club them with a crowbar until they stop moving. There are several instances where the best course of action isn’t to engage with two or more enemies at once, but to merely kill the one directly in your way and move right to the next screen. There were some enemies I just did my best not to engage with at all, like the guys with glowing eyes and an axe, and found that luring them toward a wall and running around them was often the best course of action (until the end of the game, anyway). Trying to engage with every foe is a great way to meet the game over screen, so one of the best tips can be to only engage with combat on your terms.
The camera placement works in tandem with the prerendered backgrounds that players will cross time and again to solve puzzles and complete the various objectives in your way. This isn’t a game where you have free control of the camera- Tormented Souls is set up using “screens” you walk through, and the camera is fixed, sometimes causing a disoriented feeling going from one screen to another. Sometimes the enemies aren’t that difficult, but the perspective of the screen can make that individual encounter challenging, and it’s clearly been designed that way as every area of Tormented Souls was crafted with extreme care to elicit nostalgia for those old survival horror games.
Once you get past the lack of modern conveniences in Tormented Souls, it can be a pretty fun game. Unfortunately, there’s some ugliness in the Switch port of the game. For example, the first time the game was loaded, pressing down on the dpad did nothing. As in, on the menus, to reach options from star game, pressing up or using the analog stick was the only way to do so. Tormented Souls has tank controls like old Resident Evil games, so it stuck out as weird that pressing down on the dpad wouldn’t make Caroline backstep.
The game also crashes sometimes, which conveniently for me only occurred a couple screens right after saving, but this is specifically mentioned because re-opening the game after the crash caused the dpad to start working fully again (in both menus and causing Caroline to walk backwards). I have no idea if these two things are connected- as in, the dpad not working properly can inform of a potential crash, but it’s extremely weird and hilarious that something as integral as the dpad, which is the primary method to access those old-school tank controls, can be bugged.
The visuals of Tormented Souls aren’t necessarily anything to write home about, but they achieve their goal well. Due to the fact that this is intended to be a modern day PS2-era game, it looks pretty polished and uses darkness pretty well to create a spooky environment for you to explore. The sound design is precisely what you’d expect, with atmospheric dissonant noise, as well as a loud arrangement that signals to you, the player, that you’re not alone in a room. Tormented Souls doesn’t exactly have AAA studio sound design, but what they do have is leagues beyond things like Poppy Playtime.
The challenge with reviewing a game like Tormented Souls is that this is a niche game for an even more niche audience: This game was specifically made with one type of gamer in mind, those who played the PSX and early PS2 era survival horror titles and loved them. Every single possible con that could be listed against Tormented Souls would actually, in turn, be a positive for fans of classic survival horror. For those who have only played more action-based survival horror, like Dead Space or The Evil Within, you may need to more heavily scrutinize what Tormented Souls offers before checking it out. This is primarily due to the fact that Tormented Souls lacks many of the modern conveniences and design elements that came from survival horror after it (this is the, “Seinfeld is Unfunny” trope but in video game form).
However, if you’re a fan of classic survival horror and have been pining for a return to that form of convoluted puzzling, Tormented Souls is a 5/5 game that you absolutely should buy as this will likely scratch an itch you’ve had for quite some time. Time, however, is not a vacuum, and there are now entire generations of gamers who may not have experienced dogs jumping through a hallway window or running away from a Pyramid Head. Tormented Souls feels very much like a thoroughly polished PS2 game – with all the benefits and negatives that statement may inspire. Still, though, for a small indie studio, the game simply is irradiated with charm.