The horror genre is having somewhat of a renaissance. It went through a weird clunky phase when it first came around, then transitioned into an oddly action-focused phase, before getting all hung up on running away. Nowadays it’s all about harkening back to the good old days, whilst injecting some modern sensibilities.
Listen To The Song Of Horror
Song of Horror tries to evoke that classic feeling of dread only found in the fixed camera perspective classics of the ’90s. It even manages to succeed – for a while. Unfortunately, loads of technical issues, frustrations, and lack of conviction really harm the overall experience.
The game is set over several episodes, with each episode introducing new locations, characters, and story beats. Episode one has you tracking down a missing person who was last seen in the house of, well, another missing person. Episode two has you waddling through an old antique shop. It’s all very varied, and each Episode feels very distinct.
The main draw of Song of Horror is its inclusion of pseudo-perma-death. Each episode will give you a handful of characters, each with a connection to a character, or the location itself, and if that character dies, they are dead for good. You then pick up the story from a new perspective and go on your way.
Narratively, this is a really cool mechanic. It adds a layer of tension, stress and even dread, which only enhances the horror. The way each character integrates with the story is interesting, and, whilst exploring a location, each character will give unique insights. On a surface level, it’s great, and had the game been a smidge less trial-and-error, it could have worked wonders.
The issue with this system is simply that it has a tendency to be a bit bullshit. Characters can die in an instant, and whilst in some cases it’s totally fair, in others, it feels incredibly arbitrary and as if the game is trying to punish you. If all of your characters die, you need to start the whole Episode from the beginning, and this is nothing but tedious.
Basic And Cryptic
Thankfully you can turn the difficulty down to remove perma-death, but then the horror feels drastically less effective. A line has been crossed with this system that can completely derail the experience and, honestly, made me want to quit more than once. Once you’ve seen 90% of the spooks in an area, those spooks stop chilling your spine.
This also ties into the gameplay, which is both basic and cryptic. This is a puzzle game at heart (as is often the case), so you will be pottering around looking for bits and bobs to rub across fittings and fixtures in the vain hope that progress is achieved. The first time around, this is pretty interesting. It’s satisfying to pick away at the secrets hidden away in the dark.
Not to beat a dead horse too much, but replaying these puzzles is a malaise that eats away at one’s will to stay conscious. Episodes also tend to drag on a bit, and some puzzles are a tad obtuse. Throw in backtracking, slow movement, speeds, and frequent interruptions (we’ll get to those), and everything goes to pot.
The most disappointing aspect of Song of Horror is how quickly it abandons its horror When you first start playing there is a thick, palpable ambience that rolls in from every creak, crack and crevice. It had me on edge, and then the game threw it all away after about 30-minutes. This is a game that has no idea what to do with the suspense it builds and blows its load on unsatisfying jump-scares way too often.
Fumbles Its Atmosphere
This plays into the mechanics too. Every now and then some beastie will try to break down a door or try to eat your face. You then have to try and hide or keep the monster at bay. They are simply not scary. These are quick-time events that ripped me out of the moment. They actually threw me into a segment that had my eyes rolling from the very first encounter.
At least the game looks and sounds the part. The game’s textures aren’t fantastic. The animations, in particular, are pretty damn weak, but there is enough darkness to hide most of the blemishes. The game’s diegetic soundscape is seriously impressive, however. Had the game not been so reliant on jump scares, it would carry the horror perfectly.
Unfortunately, the game is pretty unstable. Playing on PS5 I encountered several crashes whilst playing, which was not exactly pleasant. On top of this, there were plenty of visual bugs and hiccups, such as characters getting caught in the environment, or sprinting at a set of stairs – not up them. For a game that’s already frustrating to play, throwing in needless irritation doesn’t exactly help matters.
Song of Horror is an OK horror game. It can be interesting, it can be spooky, and honestly, I’m a sucker for fixed camera perspectives. It just doesn’t wow in any particular way, and so many of its ideas are left unfulfilled, or are executed poorly. If you are dying to play something new, and you’ve exhausted every Horror great, then I guess this might be worth a play. Outside of that, it really doesn’t do enough.
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