As we approach the spoopy season (sorry Adam), it’s not surprising to see a few horror games making their way onto the release schedule. Song of Horror has been around for quite a while, there’s a chance you may have seen its Kickstarter demo from a couple of years back. We were given the chance to play the first chapter of the almost finished game, which is very different from that old concept demo, but is still filled with scares.
Song of Horror’s premise is interesting, as you pick one of a selection of characters (only a couple were available in this build) to enter the Husher Mansion in search of a man named Daniel, who hasn’t been heard from since he entered the house. The thing is, something is very wrong with this particular house and, should the worst happen, you will lose that character for the rest of the game. Lose them all and it’s game over, sending you back to the beginning of the current chapter.
In theory, that idea isn’t a bad one, but in Song of Horror it’s entirely possible to lose a character without having much say in the matter. For example, the game teaches you to listen before opening certain doors, in case something is lurking beyond what the game calls “The Door.” That’s fine, but it only teaches you about a very specific sound, and when I heard what I thought was human sounds, the game decided to punish my cautious entry with instant death. It felt a bit unfair, even if technically the game did what it said it would do.
When the scares work without this harsh punishment, however, they really are fantastic. From the moment you enter the house, the narrow corridors and tight spaces reminded me of the original Resident Evil. There’s oodles of atmosphere as you walk over creaking floorboards, candle in hand, barely seeing what’s around.
You can damn well hear what’s around, though. The sound in Song of Horror is incredible, with muffled footsteps heard on the floor above, whispers and unnatural thrumming echoing through the darkness. Indeed, sound plays a huge role as I mentioned earlier, having to listen at doors before entering. This is made doubly difficult and paranoia-inducing, thanks to the ambient sound and occasional musical notes that constantly bombard your ears. Thankfully, for those hard of hearing, there is an option to display visual cues when listening at doors.
As I said earlier, The Door is the main concept behind Song of Horror, or at least its first chapter. It’s a fascinating idea, as a dark force lurks behind this doorway to another dimension, or wherever it leads, and it can replace almost any regular door at any moment. If you don’t listen carefully, you’ll be dragged into its deadly embrace and lost forever. At times, the darkness tries to break free and you’ll be forced to push it back, which equates to hammering a button as inky arms try to thrust open The Door. This videogameyness removes some of the atmosphere, but it does still set the heart racing.
Similar moments happen when the darkness spreads and you’re forced to find a hiding spot, be that under a table or inside a wardrobe. The camera zooms in uncomfortably close, everything around you turns to darkness, except for the glimpses of horrifying monstrosities that appear behind you. You’re then asked to press buttons along to the rhythm of your character’s heartbeat, fast at first but slowing as they calm themselves. How long this takes depends on the character. This feels a lot more atmospheric than bashing back a door, though a lot of that could be the claustrophobia of hiding in those cramped spaces.
There’s no combat on display, instead it’s all about exploration and puzzles. Most puzzles revolve around finding the right key or object to progress, which usually leads to another puzzle blocking your way. In many ways, it feels like a point-and-click adventure, though it actually plays more like the original Resident Evil or Alone in the Dark, albeit with some awkward controls. Using an Xbox One controller, there are no tank controls here, instead pressing up moves you away from the camera, down walks toward it. The problem is, the camera angles change constantly and the controls don’t always respond properly to the change, which could lead to disaster if you need to escape from something.
Some puzzles are a bit more obtuse, or more long-winded, much like having to find all the crests to exit the mansion in Resident Evil. One in this preview, however, required the help of our very own Mick Doherty, as it offered no hints whatsoever. The full game may change this, as well as translating some of text from Spanish. Whether any of the text in this preview could have helped, I’m not sure, but I’m certainly not going to hold my inability to speak Spanish against the developer. This is a preview, after all, and I was made aware of it being mid-translation ahead of time.
Song of Horror is certainly an interesting prospect, especially if you’re a fan of some of the old school horror games from the PS1 and PS2 eras. Its atmosphere is eerie as you explore the mansion, shadows moving in your periphery, sounds never letting up. It’s also incredibly intense when things ramp up and you see something directly, usually forcing you to flee the darkness. There is so much potential here, but we’ll have to wait a little longer to see if it’s fulfilled.