My favourite type of horror film has always been those that have more of a psychological angle rather than purely relying on jump scares. That ‘creeping dread’ is replicated very well in Visage, a horror game many years in the making from developer SadSquare Studios.
In fact, this is one of the most successful games I’ve played when it comes to atmospheric horror. It’s clear the developers are fans of games like Silent Hill and Visage has a lot of the elements that made the infamous PT demo on PS4 such a talking point (and a disappointment that it never got made into a full game).
Visage starts with a bang, or several, as you see a family murder/suicide directly from the point of view of the killer. After fading to black after this upsetting scene, your character, Dwayne, wakes in a tiled room before opening the door and entering the rest of the creepy, dark corridors of the house.
Wandering the corridors and rooms of the house gives you a good feel for the layout, though many of the doors are locked until you pick up your first key, an event that also starts the actual game proper. The first thing I noticed was just how detailed the house was, with many different objects that can be picked up and examined or interacted with. Many of these, I’d come to find, weren’t even useful in the game which became both a blessing and a curse when trying to find an item the game wanted me to find in order to progress, but it did add to the feeling that I was in a living, breathing house.
While there are very few prompts and no icons to tell you how you are doing or guide you, a brave decision by the developers which goes some way to making the game feel more immersive, you do get a sanity meter which pops up when paranormal events occur or when you’re stuck in the dark for too long. This game feature goes way back to Gamecube’s excellent Eternal Darkness and has been used in other horror games since but it works perfectly here and is well implemented as your singular health meter.
Useful items that aid you in your progress (and in staying alive and sane) are dotted around the various rooms. Candles and lighters provide light for limited periods while medicine helps your sanity meter and prevents you from going insane. On top of this you have the usual puzzle items and keys that need to be collected in order to solve the game’s fairly simple puzzles or progress further. There’s no hand holding as such in the game but I found the notes left around were enough of a hint when required.
The lack of conventional HUD does have its negatives, though. For such a sprawling environment with many rooms to explore and even more areas that become unlocked as you play (revealing these would be spoiling the surprise) there is no map to reference so I often found myself getting a little lost or constantly back tracking through parts of the house I’d previously been to a little too often, only to find nothing there. While the PT Demo teased the house being just the starting point for the adventure in a full game we never got to see, Visage uses it for 99% of the game world, though there are some neat tricks to making it more interesting as you progress.
If you’re expecting the scares to come thick and fast then prepare to be disappointed. This is a slow moving game that builds tension more than it offers actual physical scares but, in doing so, makes those frightening elements more powerful when they do arrive. As such, it makes this a game that you’ll either love or hate depending on whether you crave action or are happy to wander a spooky house looking for clues and waiting for scares. For me, though, it blends the best parts of the horror genre with a dedication to a more psychological experience and despite its flaws, works well in doing so.