Phew, I’m getting loads of games coming my way for review at the moment. Right here, I have a survival horror game from developer Protocol Games, and publisher Raiser Games. Song of Horror tells the story of an ex-publisher, Daniel Noyer, who begins to investigate the disappearance of a famed horror writer called Sebastian P. Husher. Husher was researching a story about a piece of music (a Song of Horror you could say) that is said to cause people who listen to it to witness horrific hallucinations. Playing as Noyer, you get dragged into a world of nightmares featuring an entity known as The Presence.
Right from the off, from the second you play Song of Horror, you’ll get instant Resident Evil and Silent Hill vibes. The game uses fixed camera angles like those classic survival horror games of the nineties. Sadly, the game also suffers from some of the same issues as those older games. Navigating the areas in the game does get a bit annoying when the camera suddenly flips, the perspective suddenly changes, causing you to get a bit confused. This is especially annoying in tight corridors, even more so if you’re in a rush and being chased. If you’ve ever played one of these fixed camera horror games then you’ll know exactly what I mean. Then there are the controls, which for the most part, are perfectly fine. But when you’re trying to get your character into position to pick up or use an item, it can get a bit too ‘fiddly’. There were times when (as an example) there was an item on a table I needed to pick up, but my character was just a degree or two facing the wrong direction, I couldn’t grab it, even when the character’s hand was right next to the item. There is a look option to help highlight and collect items, but that is just as fiddly and stubborn to use.
The graphics are a bit of a mixed bag too. Generally speaking, the graphics are perfectly fine for an indie title, even pretty damn impressive and thoroughly atmospheric too. The locations that the game takes place in are wonderfully detailed and (quite often) downright creepy. However, it’s the character models and animations that fall short. This is very much a stand out when it comes to facial animations, seriously, the faces of the characters in this are (unintentionally) scarier than some of the scares. Still, fiddly controls and slightly scary face animations are only minor niggles and the reason I started this review off bringing them up is that I just wanted to get the minor negatives out of the way. Because minor niggles aside, Song of Horror is a really effective and very enjoyable survival horror game.
So let’s talk about the good stuff. One of my favourite features of the game is that it has a permadeath mechanic. Yup, if your character dies in the game, then they are dead for good. There are no checkpoints to fall back on, no saves to load up. Dead means dead. Thankfully, there are other characters to play as other than the previously mentioned Daniel Noyer, he’s just the central character. Think of these other characters as ‘extra lives’ and you do only have a limited amount. If all of your characters die, then you have to start the entire episode from the beginning. Now, I did say that if a character dies, then they stay dead and that is true, but it doesn’t mean they are out of the game completely. I kind of don’t want to say anymore as this is one of the best parts of the game and it is so much more ‘fun’ to experience it yourself. This permadeath mechanic really gets you caring about your character, knowing they could be gone, you end up wanting to ensure they survive. Now, you can turn the permadeath off, but you’ll be doing yourself a major disservice if you do.
The game is split into five different episodes, and each episode is set in a different location. Such as the classic spooky house, an abandoned mental hospital, a disused abbey and more. All five locations really are great and offer plenty of variety as the game progresses. Your eyes will be busy as they dart around trying to take everything in, with each location offering plenty to take in. Plus there are more than enough references and little Easter eggs to the genre in general that will keep you busy in each of the five episodes. Also, depending on which of the characters you use (they all have various strengths and weaknesses), the episode you play will alter as some characters will have a direct connection to the location. This encourages you to play each chapter multiple times if you want to see everything the game has to offer. Different characters even have different reactions to different scenarios and the five different environments. It’s not just a case of a basic model swap, each character is just that, a character.
The main evil you will face in the game is the previously mentioned The Presence. A black entity that chases you through all five episodes. There is no combat in Song of Horror, so all you can do when The Presence comes after you is run and hide. The Presence changes forms and can spring itself on you with little to no warning, this very much keeps you on your toes and very much on edge. When The Presence does chase, you’ll have to find somewhere to hide, this leads to a mini-game where you have to hold your breath and calm your heart rate. This itself can get a bit tense as the game does it’s very best to throw your timing off as you try to steady your heartbeat. Another mini-game will see you trying to stop The Presence from bursting in through a door. These mini-games really are nothing more than QTEs, but they work well enough and can often get quite anxiety-inducing.
The thing about Song of Horror is that death can come fast and often without pre-warning. There are a few instant deaths that will occur just for examining an item or part of the environment as an example, and these really are not very fair. Given the fact the game does have that permadeath mechanic, a few of the deaths that you will have (and you will), Song of Horror can occasionally feel a tad unjust. But there are also times when it is your own hastiness that will kill you off. There’s a mechanic in the game where you can listen at doors before you open them, if you hear something behind the door… Don’t open it. So don’t go running around just opening doors.
I very recently reviewed another survival horror game called Maid of Sker. In that review, I said how the game was perfectly fine, but didn’t really do anything to stand out from the crowd of survival horror type games. Thankfully, Song of Horror does stand out. Yeah, it is certainly inspired by Resident Evil and Silent Hill, but there is another game that has clearly been an influence. Back in 2002, a brilliant (and overlooked) survival horror game called Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. In Eternal Darkness, there was something called a sanity meter and when this emptied, the more inane your character became and the more crazy things would happen. Here’s a video that shows all of these ‘sanity effects’. Anyway, Song of Horror doesn’t have a sanity meter… But it does have a random scare thing where little things will happen through the game from big jump scares to much smaller and more subtle effects. These effects really do add to the scare factor of the game and I got creeped out many, many times and often from little details that I just caught out of the corner of my eye.
Overall, Song of Horror is a very playable and effective horror game. The permadeath mechanic really adds a layer to the title and gets you caring about the characters. The scares are great and often random, so you’ll never get the exact game twice. Add to the fact that the different characters also make playing each chapter alter in their own subtle ways too, there’s plenty here to encourage you to play more than once, and you really should too. Quite clearly, a huge love letter to classic survival horror titles from the past, but Song of Horror still manages to do its own thing and really gets under the skin. A few niggles aside, Song of Horror is a wonderful survival horror game that may not be wholly unique, but it is certainly very, very effective with some brilliant scary moments that are truly refreshing. Priced at £34.99 for all five chapters, very much recommended.