I’ll try not to mention it too much but let’s face it, since its release back in 2015 the Silent Hills playable teaser, P.T, has inspired most horror games that came since. The reaction to it was insane and developers across the world used its undoubted impact to inspire themselves to make something similar. SadSquare Studios have now released their attempt at capturing that creepy first-person psychological horror success in the form of Visage.
The game has been scaring people on PC for a while, with hundreds of videos of people getting terrified being posted on Youtube. Console players can now experience these spooky scares themselves and I’ve been tasked with facing them head-on. I’ve just about completed the game and I’m ready to tell you what to expect and to answer the following question: Just how scary is Visage?
This game is bleak. It’s definitely not something you’re going to want to play if you’re struggling with mental health issues or if you’re disturbed by blood and gore. Take the opening scene for example, (mild spoilers begin…) you’re watching a guy, from the first-person, pick up a revolver and shoot all the members of his tied and gagged family and then himself (end spoilers). It’s not pleasant at all and immediately sets the tone of the game so you know what type of experience to expect.
Once that’s over, you take control of Dwayne Anderson in 1980s America. You have the freedom of a freakishly large house to explore which you’re seemingly trapped within. You can interact with and examine hundreds of objects, but most are pointless barring some amusing puns on certain things. However, interact with everything you must, as that’s how you figure out where to go and what to do – but more on that later. You can’t exit out of any of the doors (though try to and you’ll get a trophy) instead, you’re left discovering secrets about this very disturbing house and the tragic events that happened inside.
The game plays out in chapters, similarly to What Remains of Edith Finch. Each chapter has a name of a person that lived inside the house. Once the chapters begin, which you can play in any order, you begin to figure out what happened to that particular person; as you can imagine there’s no rainbows and happy endings in this game. As you progress through the chapters, you can also find cassettes and tapes to listen to that explain more of the story to you so be sure to look out for those.
In Visage, you’re essentially interacting with objects that have some kind of significance to a person’s story and then following clues as to what happened to them. Honestly, for large parts, the game is incredibly frustrating. There were so many times where I had to refer to a guide simply because the game does nothing to usher you in the right direction. Even if you think you’re doing something progressive, it turns out you’re doing it in the wrong order and it means you can’t complete the task you’re trying to do. Therefore, I highly recommend just having a guide open just to tell you the order to do things in, just don’t read it in detail as that can ruin a lot of the surprises.
If you’ve ever played Amnesia, you’ll know about the sanity mechanic where you need to stay in the light to stay healthy. Visage has a very similar thing where being in darkness rapidly decreases your sanity. When your sanity is low, more paranormal events happen around you, which in turns makes it more dangerous and more likely for you to die. You can either die by an environmental occurrence, getting caught by a chasing ghost or by simply filling up the sanity meter. Thankfully there’s not too much of a punishment if you die, you just return to the last autosave.
Paranormal events can occur randomly too, so as you’re wandering around you may notice a light flicker or turn off, or a door will slam in your face. The randomness of events can be absolutely terrifying and then also really repetitive, depending on the event. For example, there’s a clock upstairs that can randomly ring aloud, or the doorbell can ring where a ghostly apparition awaits outside. Both are fine events on their own but when they happen 5 or 6 times over a playthrough, it gets a bit predictable. There are some truly brilliant random events though, things like faces appearing in doorways and TVs blasting on, there’s lots more too but I won’t ruin the experience.
For the majority of the game, you will have to manage your inventory, which is nothing short of annoying. At any time, you can hold any number of key items but only 5 “dynamic” or usable items, unless you’re physically holding them in each hand. These items include lighters, candles, bulbs and sanity pills. As you can see, the items are all used to keep your sanity meter as low as possible but they’re limited in their use, so moving around the house when you’re not sure what to do is not only terrifying but also really infuriating. If you drop any key items, they get returned to a storage room in the basement, as long as you’ve opened it, which is really useful but I can’t help but feel like the whole inventory aspect of the game could be removed.
I get that you need to stay in the light to remain sane, a mechanic I actually think is a great concept. However, when you’re not able to carry what you need for an objective and simultaneously what you need to remain in the dark, it gets a bit tedious. What makes it more frustrating is the mechanic where periodically the house breaker will switch, meaning you will have to trek to the basement in the pitch black, using up all your resources to turn it back on. Everything is unnecessarily long-winded which kind of pulls the rug under the horror aspect somewhat.
Gripes aside, this is one serious horror game. As an experienced horror player, I can safely say Visage is one of the scariest games I’ve ever played. I was frozen to the spot on multiple occasions and there were more than a few pants that needed changing as I discovered the events of the house. If you’ve ever played a game and felt that resilience to turn around to see what’s behind you, this game has that in abundance. At any time, a ghost can be there or a paranormal event can occur – I made some noises I had no idea I could whilst jumping at some of the scares in this game. There are lots of weird and horrific set pieces in the game too, with some seriously disturbing sequences and visuals that will surely make even the most hardcore horror fan uncomfortable.
Some of the scares are genuinely smart too which is what makes it so refreshing. Sure, you have the occasional chase that can happen randomly but as long as you keep moving it won’t be too much trouble. The scares are earned and are a result of incredibly well-built tension that pays off in a massive release, sometimes with multiple scares in a short space of time. Thankfully, there are very few cheap scares, in the vein of something like Emily Wants to Play Too.
You’ll experience monsters jumping out of cupboards, apparitions waiting in dark corners and faces peering round walls at you, it’s relentless and horrible but if you love the feeling of being scared this game is for you. My favourite scare by far is a sequence when you’re heading out of the bedroom into a narrow corridor that has a ghost awaiting you at the end. As I started approaching it, I thought “nope” and tried to turn around and head back into the bedroom. The bedroom door slammed in my face and the ghost began laughing at my pitiful escape. It’s absolute torture but it’s brilliant.
The other major thing you will be doing during the game will be solving puzzles. They aren’t too tricky but it definitely varies up the gameplay a bit which is always welcome. There’re puzzles that rely on sound, puzzles where you have to use your memory, and puzzles where you’re going to be using something as a reference to match something else. It’s a good variety that shakes things up a bit and makes the game feel less tedious after all the aimless running around you will likely do without some sort of guide.
Visage is also full of really fun easter eggs too. I’m not going to spoil all of them but there’s a reference to Doom, P.T itself, and multiple easter eggs that refer to Silent Hill 4: The Room, including being able to visit the famous apartment room 302 – so, keep an eye out for those by interacting with everything and using your imagination (or of course, Google).
Visage is a truly beautiful looking game, with some scenes that look almost photo-realistic. There are many scenes that take place in an alternate dimension of sorts and they look hellish and awesome. Even some of the animations look brilliant which is rare in a game like this where they aren’t significant. The characters on the other hand look a little strange. Their hair looks like a separate entity and their faces are lacking the detail and realism that the locations are. They still look creepy enough but it feels at odds with the gorgeous scenery.
I did experience some weird glitches too. There’s a lot of texture pop and objects just randomly appearing and disappearing but I think the weirdest one for me is when the objects you hold get stuck inside things. It’s almost like a VR game in how your left and right hands feel separate from your body and whatever you’re carrying can disappear, only for you to find them inside a drawer where it’s glitched and become absorbed within it. They also get stuck and warp on walls too, which is off-putting but nothing seemed game-breaking.
Visage is haunting but frustrating. If you were to ask me if this is a good game, I’d be inclined to say that it’s simply ‘okay’. If you were to ask me if it’s a good horror game, I’d say it’s terrifying, heart-stopping and simply unmissable. The stories about each character are interesting, if a little disturbing, and it’s fun working through the puzzles that come up while you’re moving through the chapters. The inventory system is nothing short of a nuisance and it made me want to stop playing at times, especially coupled with the sanity meter and the cycle of not knowing where you’re supposed to be going. If you can set that aside though, and you want an experience of a horror game that will chill you to the core, I don’t think it gets much better than Visage.
Play this game with headphones and alone in the dark if you’re feeling brave but be warned, this game does not mess around. Visage will haunt me for a long time.