Nearly five years after its Kickstarter backing launched, Sadsquare has delivered on their promise to unnerve and terrify the gaming community with the release of the much anticipated Visage.
While it’s clear that Visage truly was a labour of love by and for fans of psychological horror, it’s also clear from the opening sequence that Visage isn’t going to be for the faint of heart. The game wastes no time in letting the player know that its setting has been the site of gruesome, unconscionable murders, and that you must go forward to uncover the story behind them.
The main story consists of 4 individual chapters, each retelling a separate fragment of the house’s grisly history. You play as Dwayne, whose identity beyond a name is undisclosed. Dwayne wakes up on the floor of the house in which the aforementioned murders took place, with no clear explanation of his connection to them (if there is one). One thing that is very clear is that Dwayne is not alone there.
Visage borrows the best from classic horror titles and manages, for the most part, to use them effectively throughout. While the developers stated in their Kickstarter campaign that Visage would not be “the typical jump-scare fest we see these days”, I can promise those of you who are easily spooked that there will indeed be plenty to scream about.
Visage’s atmosphere truly is its selling point, and the creators have done an impressive job of using a very limited setting in a way that doesn’t feel too repetitive with each new chapter. While the game does overwhelmingly take place in the same house, you do occasionally get a brief respite when Dwayne is transported to a different locale for narrative purposes. But eventually, inevitably, you must return and face what is waiting for you there.
Visage also has a haunting score that only adds to the house’s already disturbing aura, and even just the ambient noise is so carefully crafted and so expertly used it will surely unsettle you by its mere presence. I’ve been a horror fan all my life, and I am very difficult to scare but this game definitely got me more than once.
However, Visage is not going to be for every gamer or every fan of psychological/surival horror. It has a frustrating lack of direction that, for me anyway, periodically took over the fear and nearly turned me off of the game completely.
When you’re navigating a pitch black house where you can be preyed upon by what lurks in the darkness at a moment’s notice, it would be nice to have a little more information on what it is you’re supposed to be looking for. Once a chapter has begun, you’re essentially left to your own devices, going from room to room and just HOPING that there is something in there to help you progress. You’re also hoping that there isn’t some inescapable, randomly generated ghoul in that room that will tear you to shreds.
If you’re the type of person who likes to fully immerse themselves into a game and not have to resort to outside help, I don’t know that I could recommend Visage. I think most people will find that the game feels nearly impossible if you don’t consult some sort of walkthrough or video guide.
While I enjoy a good puzzle-based game, this is not what Visage is. The solution to unlock any sort of progress really does seem to be completely irrelevant to the puzzles or stories themselves. Now, some people out there might relish in this type of challenge but I personally enjoy something a little more structured.
The game does have an inventory system that allows you to both store items while also having an item in each hand. While this might seem useful, it is also a little bit difficult to get used to, especially when items must be dropped and then picked back up instead of being easily swapped out between your hands and inventory.
In the style of Amnesia, you must also keep a close eye on Dwayne’s sanity level, (by way of a little brain image in the bottom left of the screen) which is depleted by prolonged exposure to darkness, or witnessing unsettling events. This is another rather frustrating aspect of gameplay, as you’re essentially ALWAYS exposed to darkness and ALWAYS witnessing unsettling events. From electronics turning themselves on and off, doors slamming, lights going out, and shadowed figures standing in doorways as you round corners. When Dwayne’s sanity falls too low, the things that haunt the house come out to play, and by “play” I mean “instantly kill you and send you back to your last checkpoint”.
In all fairness, without the repeated, unavoidable deaths and the aimless searching, there would be very little to Visage in terms of game length. So in that context, I can understand why the developers wanted to ensure that gamers got more bang for their horror buck.
The individual storylines themselves are both terrifying and well executed.
Visage embraces horror history and takes inspiration for its characters and narratives from some of the genre’s most familiar titles; Poltergeist, The Exorcist, Amityville, Evil Dead, and The Haunting, to name a few. One of its greatest strengths is the way in which they make the parts they’ve borrowed feel fresh and unique to Sadsquare. It’s a credit to the minds behind the game that they can tell stories that have been told before, but do it in a way that still frightens, still intrigues, and still leaves you wanting more.
Luckily for you, the game has multiple endings and can certainly be revisited in case you didn’t get your fill of nightmare fuel the first time around!