I find myself split almost down the middle when it comes to BlackSoul. On one hand, I can appreciate and even kind of enjoy it for what it is: a survival horror throwback to the days of the original Resident Evil and Silent Hill. But on the other, it lacks the charm of either of these, perhaps because it has no nostalgic value and is therefore just a game out of time, whose shortcomings would have been tolerated back then but are now incredibly dated. At times it really channels the aforementioned games, providing fleeting moments of past glories but, for the most part, it’s a clunky, awkward experience without the history that would afford it forgiveness.
Taking a leaf from Resident Evil, the game features 2 protagonists, the reporter Ava and her cop brother Sean. It’s 1972 and Ava has travelled to a rural English village to investigate disturbing rumours of an outbreak, against Sean’s wishes. Naturally, he high-tails it after her and the two become trapped in the quarantine zone and must find the truth and escape. Not exactly ground-breaking, but at least the setting and time period are a break from the norm.
The first thing that will strike you about this game how it looks. And damn does it look bad. It’s a horribly, blocky, low-res textured mess of brown and black. We’re talking PSX graphical quality here. But I imagine that was the objective. The whole image of the game revolves around late 90’s survival horrors that really took off on Sony’s first console, right down to the box art and colour palette. Even the menu screens look awful. It isn’t laziness on developer XeniosVision’s part that it looks like this, so it’s not a major negative point although it might just be too ugly for some players to look past. The lack of advanced graphical options is notably absent and should have been included. I understand if you want to make your game look like this but at least give players some control outside of resolution changes, even if it is just something as simple as V-sync!
If you aren’t one to judge a book by its cover and manage to overcome the intentionally dated aesthetics then you’ll find that BlackSoul handles pretty similarly to the games it tries to visually emulate. It’s clunky and slow and, at times, quite infuriating. If you’ve ever played a Resident Evil or Silent Hill you know the feel of the game. The controls are primarily keys but the mouse can also provide limited camera movement. It’s not as static as you might think and can shift dynamically at times, but not in anyway that impacts things greatly. In general, the mouse is only useful for the right-click aim and left-click fire scheme. Controller support would have been nice but I’m sure it’s something that could be patched in later down the line.
The combat is similar to movement, in that it’s just as awkward but seemingly worse than the games Black Soul is paying homage too. With ammo in predictably short supply, melee weapons are the main choice of attack but something is a little off with the mechanics. Maybe it’s that the grab range of the infected and your weapon reach is too close, or perhaps the delay between hits is too long but there is something unfair about it all. It’s difficult to describe, but it’s definitely an area where things falls down. Of course, in a game like this, evasion is just a viable option as attacking so frustration can be minimized.
Problem solving plays a large role in the game, and in keeping with the theme, they are completely obscure puzzles with no relation to the real world. There’s quite a lot of backtracking too, to collect rods, cranks and keys, which is painful no matter when a game is made. And going back through old areas you didn’t clear the first time around (due to the awful combat) doesn’t help anything. Some puzzles also borded on impossible, not helped by almost unintelligible hints.
It’s clear there isn’t much originality here. Everything in the game is derivative or directly copied from something else. The inventory screen and health indicator are both very similar to those found in Resident Evil, while the music is reminiscent of Akira Yamaoka’s Silent Hill scores. Even the dialogue and diary entries have the same odd use of language you find in these games, the style that is brought about either from poor or too literal translation.
VERDICT: If you understand what you are getting into, BlackSoul could be a very enjoyable experience for some. It offers hardly anything new but stays faithful to the old-school classics, warts and all. But XeniosVision do it in a such a way that it manages to at least come across as endearing.
The problem is not wholly in the execution or even in the intent; the very act itself is questionable. After playing this, I had to ask myself, “What is the point of this?” If I wanted the same experience, I could have easily gone back to Silent Hill or Racoon City for a much richer, nostalgia-filled trip. There I would find all the same faults and maybe more, but at least with my rose-tinted glasses, they wouldn’t seem half as obvious.
POOR. Games tagged 4/10 will be playable, perhaps even enjoyable, but will be let down by a slew of negative elements that undermine their quality and value. Best avoided by any but hardcore genre fans.
Review code provided by publisher.