Gather up your courage and enter a haunted house that’s dark history spans over many years and several families. Just don’t let the lights go out.
Developer: SadSquare Studio
Publisher: SadSquare Studio
Release date: 29 Oct, 2020
I’m forever chasing the high that few games other than the Outlast series and Resident Evil 7 have given me when it comes to horror. I’m always optimistic and often disappointed by what’s out there, though every once in a while I come across something that’s at least not a complete waste of time. A title that offers some enjoyment and even an occasionally legitimate horror atmosphere that keeps me pushing through to see what’s next. Visage falls into this category, and although it doesn’t quite hit all of the marks that I was hoping for based on its price and Steam reviews, I will say that it satisfied me enough that I wasn’t dozing off an hour in.
Home Sweet Home
The house that you spend most of your time in during Visage is not a pleasant one. Even when everything is relatively low-key, lights will flicker and go off, radios will pop on, and doors will slam around you. When the house has started to take its toll on your sanity, you’ll experience much, much worse. Four chapters detail the stories of the unfortunate souls who have lived (and died) here in the past. Each of them has its own theme that stands out from the others with puzzles and game mechanics that are different enough from the others that they keep the experience from becoming stale. As a matter of fact, I would even say that most of them are grade-A horror if you were basing it solely on the narrative and terror-inducing atmosphere. On a less fortunate note, the quality among the chapters varies wildly.
By chance, I ended up doing Rakan’s chapter before the others, though most seem to agree that it should be done last. The story was fairly bland as it involved a rugby player who was out on an injury that suffered from extreme scopophobia, a fear of being stared at. Although it’s nice to see that this character was worked into the game due to them being a backer who’s similar to the character involved, this chapter truly feels like it was forced in without the same level of passion and skill as the others. By the time I’d reached the end of his story, I was concerned about whether or not Visage was for me.
I decided to press on and see if the rest of the game was as dull and I was pleased to discover that it wasn’t. That’s not to say it was a masterpiece, there were plenty of flaws that I’ll dive into in the next section, but I played Lucy’s chapter next and found it to be worth the wait. Lucy is a young girl who you quickly learn had an ‘imaginary friend’ that she had bonded with. This friend was important to her, but as time went on, it began to become increasingly dominant leading to plenty of terrible events to follow. As opposed to Rakan’s chapter, Lucy’s was marred only by the rough-around-the-edges gameplay that seemed to not really know which sub-genre it belonged to, the primary flaw of this title overall.
True Terror or an Exercise in Frustration?
Visage builds tension and atmosphere better than most horror titles that I have played and I can say that with full confidence that most fans of the genre would agree with me. The house is big and creepy, the locations that you visit outside of it keep you on your toes, and the stories of those who came before are well-written and keep you wanting more. What frequently gets in the way is the gameplay though. Well, that and the Rakan chapter…
You’re informed that Visage is a difficult game from early on and this is accurate. You’re likely to die plenty of times from start to finish, though being chased by the entity of the chapter isn’t particularly exciting. There’s no way to hide, you simply run away until they disappear or they catch and murder you in an animation that loses its luster and takes up way too much of your time after you’ve seen it the first time. The scripted encounter sequences tend to do their job admirably, but the random appearances get old quickly. Puzzles are the name of the game here and I can’t even count how many times I was interrupted and chased around as I was trying to figure out what I was supposed to be doing next. You’ll likely find yourself forgetting about the excellent atmosphere often as your awe and suspense are replaced by frustration. At least the auto-saves are placed in convenient locations, for the most part.
An equally irritating flaw comes in the form of the inventory system. While I’m certainly not expecting to have my mind blown by a walking simulator-ish horror adventure, this one really took the cake for being a pain. Just about any time you’re going to use an item, you need to navigate through an inventory window while the world around you continues. I consider myself lucky that this didn’t kill me far more often than it did, though I’m under the assumption that others won’t have such luck and will become increasingly frustrated with it. I’m unsure whether it was the intent to have the feeling of digging through your pack while danger is closing in on you, but it was more of an irritation than an atmosphere builder.
Visage is one of the better horror titles that I’ve gotten my hands on lately, though it’s far from perfect due to several notable flaws. An excellent setting with a flawed chapter is forgivable enough, but a horror game that loses its thrill by consistently killing the player is inferior to one that forces them through near-death experiences due to the simple fact that the segment is no longer new or frightening, but exactly what you’ve already seen. Others manage to strike a strong balance here by offering additional action and stealth mechanics that allow for these close calls, though Visage does nothing of the sort, forcing the player through events that require them to escape but without giving them any of the more fun and creative methods of doing so.
At the end of the day, Visage is a solid enough horror title that shows its PT inspiration, but it falls short of becoming an instant classic. I’d recommend it to horror fans who are looking for a new challenge and interesting setting to explore, though I can’t help but think that it would’ve been a significant improvement if it had leaned more into its excellent atmosphere and story more and its running sequences less.