Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Song of Horror is an interesting indie horror effort that draws inspiration from several other horror gaming franchises and tries to pull them together into something a little bit different. Sometimes it succeeds, sometimes it misses the mark a bit, but all in all Song of Horror is a pretty solid offering for fans of the genre.
First off, this console release is of the same game that came out on PC a couple of years ago. There it released in an episodic format. Song of Horror is called a survival horror game, which feels mostly accurate. Song of Horror gets compared to the earlier PlayStation era titles of Silent Hill or Resident Evil, which if I squint hard enough, I can see why. However it lacks some of the more basic things you usually associate with the genre, such as lacking any real inventory / resource management and combat is really more akin to timed quick events. That being said, the fixed camera angles are used quite well and certainly remind me of those older games that used the forced perspectives to help create tension and scares.
Song of Horror uses the combination of camera angles and excellent audio design as its two main methods of building up the tension. Characters have a slowly paced movement and there is the threat of character permadeath (on the default or higher setting) hanging in the air as you progress through the chapters that certainly helps create a tense atmosphere. Now, the permanent character death is a little hit and miss, because the game is heavily reliant upon actions over combat. You’re not fighting off zombies and rationing herbs to keep yourself alive – you’re exploring an old house and there’s the possibility that simply interacting with the wrong thing at the wrong time can cause a character to die. It lends a certain feeling of anxiety when you are trying to figure out a puzzle by finding things within the environment, but also unease as to whether or not you’re doing the right thing along the way. It’s an interesting tug-of-war that I enjoyed most of the time, though a few of my deaths along the way felt a bit on the cheap or unearned side.
In some ways, despite this title looking like and being compared to classic survival horror, it had elements of an adventure game to it as well. As mentioned earlier, many of the environmental puzzles involve some aspect of your surrounding that needs to be interacted with, or a specific item to be picked up and taken to another nearby location – that sort of thing to progress. Puzzle difficulty is all over the map – some of the earlier ones were simple as one would expect, but I have to admit that some of the later ones were really challenging to figure out. That in and of itself might not have been an issue if it were not for Song of Horror’s biggest overall issue – pacing.
The slow character movement makes sense – especially since some characters do move more quickly than others. They all have small plusses and minuses, which is a nice touch. However, this combined with the need to listen at doors for audio cues that indicate safety or danger, the frequency of the quick time events and the lingering threats that can occur can make more intricate puzzles and exploration more frustrating than frightening. In particular the quick time events feel like they trigger a bit too frequently, and while early on they added healthy tension to the exploration, by the end of the game I felt like they were hindering the story’s progress and making progression a bit too uneven.
The actual story is pretty interesting. I won’t go into spoiler territory, but the opening introduces us to a character named Daniel, who is a bit down on his luck as a recovering alcoholic. He works for a publishing company who has a popular but enigmatic author that needs checking up on. Daniel’s boss asks him to go check in on said author, who lives in a strange, large mansion. Daniel arrives and things start off a bit odd and creepy, including a looping song from a music box that lures him into peril. Here Daniel’s experience turns into a tutorial of sorts, showing you how to interact with things, how to manipulate your light sources, things of that nature. From there, the different character mechanic gets introduced as you take control of one of a handful of different characters who go to investigate what happened to Daniel.
I touched on the visuals and gameplay earlier, but they come together into another aspect of the game. There are numerous things in the environment to look at and interact with, and they’re all clearly marked. Not having played this on PC, I did find myself wondering if Song of Horror was built with mouse and keyboard in mind or controller. Movement is fine, if a bit sluggishly placed, but I did struggle at times to interact with items in the environment – especially if two of them were close together. The indicator for the A button flashes up, telling you when to interact with it / press the button, but there were times when those indicators just disappeared a smidge too quickly / were a bit too fickle to interact with.
The graphics work well when we are looking at the environments. There is not a lot of movement, so it’s not a huge technical challenge. That allows for the sort of grimy, dusty and highly detailed approach the developers took with the environment. I think that was a good choice, as it is atmospheric and lends to Song of Horror’s creepiness. Characters fare a bit less well. They look okay, they move adequately, but they look a generation or so older than some current, bigger horror titles – especially the characters’ faces. The actual Presence that stalks your characters from one chapter to another does not necessarily look impressive, but someth8ing about it and its changing appearance is undeniably creepy and a worthy antagonist.
Song of Horror deals with elements of terror and adventure-like puzzle solving pretty effectively. The pacing is a bit uneven, but the overall story is an interesting one and the game works well as a whole despite a handful of rough spots. Fans of the slow burn horror genre should enjoy their trip through the manor, but those hoping for a more action-oriented experience like Resident Evil may come away somewhat disappointed.Score: 7 / 10