After the death of her sister, Jess visits her childhood friend on a seemingly peaceful island that’s basking in sunlight. Home to a spiritual retreat ran by Tyler, she soon realises that it might have been better to stay at home. On the surface, The Chant ticks all the boxes of a story based on a cult longing for enlightenment, but there’re some neat ideas that are executed rather well, although there are some technical issues that hold it back from fully achieving what it sets out to do.
Along with Kim and Tyler, there are other characters on the island looking for peace, for possible redemption, and for answers. Each one burdened by darkness that is revealed through cutscenes and various documents littered around the island. There’s an interesting story fed to you in bitesize chunks, and the more you explore, the fuller the narrative becomes. This is a story about a woman trying to rid herself of the guilt she feels as part of her sister’s death, but other threads can be pulled and picked at to open up an interesting tale.
What Brass Token has done well is make Jess feel completely vulnerable at all times. She’s not a fighter, a mercenary, or someone used to violence. She is surviving, and that is what you’ll spend your time doing. After a group chant goes wrong early in the game, you’re left to your own devices, finding various flora to craft makeshift weapons with, and stop yourself from going into a full on panic attack. These mechanics are smart, and the survival horror elements constantly creep in, giving you the feeling that anything can kill you at any time, however, attacking can be clunky and ineffective, especially when you have multiple enemies surrounding you.
The main threat to Jess is something called the Gloom. A plant-based parasite that takes many forms, leading to psychedelic trauma and encounters with various monstrosities. These creatures range from Mimicrawlers (seemingly inspired by Lickers from the Resident Evil series) and Cankertoads, to unhinged cultists wearing animal masks. Sometimes it’s better to run, but Jess does have some protection against them. Various materials scattered across the island can be used to craft different weapons for different situations.
Witch sticks can do extra damage to Gloom-based enemies; sage sticks hurt swarms of flies; fire lash can burn cultists with great effect; and oils can be thrown to trap and damage. If you feel overwhelmed and just want to try and run, salt can be thrown at them to cause a brief period of distraction. Jess can use light and heavy attacks, but you’re not Kratos here. You’re a normal person, so sometimes it’s better to get the hell out of dodge. Speaking of dodging, you can move out of the way of an incoming attack. Sometimes you’ll simply move to survive, but you might fall over and this helps to highlight just how vulnerable you are.
As you progress through The Chant, other items will become available, such as a two-way radio and a flashlight. On top of that, Jess will acquire Prisms which can be used to slow enemies, damage them, and more. The survival elements are further elevated when you’re managing Jess’ Mind, Body, and Spirit levels. If your mind gauge drops, you’ll have a panic attack and weapons can’t be used. Body is essentially your health, and Spirit is what supplies the power to the prisms. By finding lavender, ginger, and spirit caps across the island, you’ll refill these gauges.
I didn’t struggle too much when finding these valuable resources, but they’re seldom found in certain areas, forcing you to carefully manage their use. Finding Prismic Crystals will upgrade certain attributes, such as gaining more health or mind when using resources, or holding more of it in stock. You’re not unlocking powerful abilities or attacks, which makes perfect sense, but they do help to acclimatise Jess to the island and the horrors it harbours. Although the island isn’t huge in scale, there’re plenty of areas you’ll visit, all home to the freaks and monsters that want you dead.
One of the earlier segments of The Chant took me into the mines where a guy called Sonny had run off to. There are some puzzles to solve, and I had to find various fuses to light darkened areas, but it wasn’t particularly challenging. Most of the puzzles involve finding key items like geometric shapes that are put together to form a key, parts of machinery, or actual keys to remove padlocks. With the relentless nature of some of the enemies, I wasn’t put off by the simplicity of the puzzle sections, as trying to get through areas riddled with Gloom was more than enough to test my stress levels.
The Chant isn’t a bad looking game by any means, but some of the lip syncing isn’t great. Some mouths look too wide, and the way characters move don’t feel at home on PlayStation 5. I was expecting smoother movement and transitions, but there were a few times when its clumsiness was noticeable. I also had various issues following an auto-save. After dying, I was loaded right back in to an enemy attack, which was frustrating as I had no way to evade it. This happened more than I would’ve liked, and it was these kind of issues that showed why a bit of polish to certain parts would have been appreciated.
Despite some technical issues, The Chant is a solid entry into the survival horror genre. The acting is strong, and the crafting elements help to bring a sense of defencelessness to Jess. The story kept me interested throughout, and the Gloom was a smartly integrated enemy that led to some tense encounters. It may not look as good as it perhaps should on current gen, but the griminess of the island acted as an eerie backdrop to what first seemed like paradise.
Nice mix of survival mechanics
Nice enemy design
Lip syncing and animations can look off
Some clunky movement