For a game that was never released outside of a delisted tech demo, PT has had a massive influence on the horror gaming scene. It could even be argued that the cancellation of Silent Hills and demo removal directly added to a desire for a game that will never see the light of day. Since PT’s removal there have been many titles that have attempted to offer its mix of domesticity and terror, ranging from shot for shot remakes to original takes on its themes. Unfortunately these have mostly been either disappointing or not much more than demos themselves.
With Visage, however, we finally have a full-length game experience that promises to expand on everything that PT offered. How did my time facing terror shape up?
Visage begins in the most shocking way imaginable, opening with a cutscene showing (in first person) your player character shooting their family and then themselves, before cutting to a later shot of them lurching zombie-like towards the door that leads to the rest of the house. It’s a harrowing opening that will only be explained by finishing the game, but even then it is deliberately left somewhat ambiguous. It’s obvious right from the off that Visage is not a game for the faint hearted. This is a game that focuses on some very dark and disturbing content so player discretion is seriously advised. If it sounds like your kind of game, though, make yourself comfortable and read on.
The majority of Visage takes place in a single house, though this takes a number of forms as the game develops. Getting to know your way around is the most crucial first step as it is not long before your exploration is haunted by deadly enemies. The house is a well designed environment, with a maze like basement that proves particularly challenging to navigate when you are rushing. I initially felt the lack of a map was an oversight, but it does mean that you are forced into learning your way around rather than following icons.
Graphically the rooms and contents are full of detail and everything looks good, although on first loading up I had to correct the auto-detect to get a more appropriate resolution (an RTX2060 playing at 640 x 480 is a horror that I wasn’t prepared for). Much of the time your surroundings will be in darkness and Visage makes good use of lighting to build its atmosphere.
As is often the case with horror games, the audio is where Visage really stands out. Combining it with digital 7.1 positional audio was as terrifying as it was impressive. Being able to quickly locate the direction of strange bumps and groans really added to the experience, even if it often wasn’t enough to save me. Visage opens up with a warning that it is a difficult game requiring careful resource management and, while resources didn’t really seem an issue, I certainly died plenty of times.
In a manner highly reminiscent of Amnesia, you must make use of whatever light sources you can find. Sometimes this is simply turning on light switches and lamps, but it also takes the form of lighters, candles and a torch (flashlight for US readers). Candles are effective when left in place, while the fuel in the lighters is limited. Being left in the dark rapidly decreases your sanity and leaves you open to increased attacks from the supernatural forces. There are pills to collect that can help you to replenish your sanity and it is crucial that you always have these on hand.
Inventory management is a mixed bag here. You have four slots for usable items, as well as your two hands. At first I found myself using pills in hand when I didn’t intend to due to the fact that they are mapped to the same mouse button as investigating things in the environment. This did become less frequent once I adjusted, but it was still an annoyance. There are also occasional two-handed objects that require you to put away any light source to use, but these are generally restricted to specific story moments or puzzles.
Progression through the horrors of Visage is linear to a point, but you can choose which chapters to play in which order. Each one is activated by interacting with an object in the house and the game clearly warns you when you are about to begin one. There are four chapters in the released version with the fourth being a scavenger-hunt of sorts only available once you have finished the first three. The first two are very effective ghost stories set in the house, although the second really suffers from a lack of clarity as to how to proceed. You unlock a series of mysterious mirrors that you have to travel through in a set order, but there is far too much trial and error involved in working this out. The third chapter is by far the weakest, most of it taking place in a local hospital and involving some particularly frustrating stealth mechanics.