Often times, the most terrifying things are the ones we can’t see. The true terror in watching Jaws wasn’t what you saw, but rather what you COULDN’T see. You never fully see the man-eating great white shark until the final minutes of the movie, leaving your mind to wonder just what lurks in the waters below. This has pyschological roots stemming from humankind’s innate fear of the unknown and unfamiliar. This is what made P.T. (released on the Playstation Store in 2014) so effective in completely terrifying players. It’s also interesting that P.T. – a short demo for an enigmatic game that never saw the light of day, would be such an inspiration for so many.
Visage is a first-person psychological-horror game developed by SadSquare Studios and released October 30 2020 on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. The game is heavily influenced by Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro’s work in P.T. as you make your way down the dark, eerie corridors of a dark suburban home, searching high and low to piece together the former resident’s encounters with the macabre and paranormal. The allusions to Konami’s cancelled Silent Hills project in Visage are not just a coincidence as the developers at SadSquare stated in an interview that the cancellation of Silent Hills and subsequent removal of the P.T. demo were the inspiration for creating the game. As a result, Visage is essentially a spiritual successor to P.T. and feels very much like the closest thing to a full version of Silent Hills we will likely see. Disclosure: review copy of Visage provided by SadSquare Studios
The story of Visage revolves around Dwayne Anderson as he awakens to find himself trapped within the house and must search for clues to discover the fates of the previous inhabitants. The game is mostly non-linear and is divided into four separate chapters, each one telling a different story. The introduction of Visage shows Dwayne as he murders his wife and two children before turning the gun on himself. He then wakes up, lying on the floor of an empty room(just like P.T.) and ventures into the hallway before discovering he is trapped inside the home as you spent the rest of the game interacting with objects like drawers, doors, and keys in order to access all areas of the house. With the exception of a select few functioning light switches, the house is shrouded in darkness and will require you to search for items such as lighters, candles and replacement bulbs to provide visual assistance.
The puzzles contained within the game consisted mostly of finding your way through the house and searching high and low for keys to unlock doors. There’s also the occasional object such as a camera or sledgehammer which will allow you to solve some of the environmental puzzles. The camera when used will very briefly illuminate the area with its flash and will allow you to see the markings on the walls and floor as you follow the trail of breadcrumbs. In another chapter you will find a sledgehammer in the garage which you can use to break various mirrors that act as shortcuts between different areas of the house.
The controls can feel a little unintuitive at times, but I never found myself too bothered by that in comparison to the constant anxiety of my ever-draining sanity(still talking about the game, btw). I opted to play the game on my PS4 as a nod to my time spent playing P.T. a few years ago, though perhaps a mouse/keyboard setup on PC may have suited my tastes slightly better
The biggest drawbacks of the game for me were the sanity meter used in-game, as well as the simple fact I was simply unable to see much of anything at times. The game features a sanity meter, which is drained whenever you’re somewhere not illuminated by light fixtures or candles. A brain icon will show in the lower left of the screen whenever your sanity is being strained, with a bloody red symbol appearing when your sanity is dangerously low. Once your sanity is depleted, whatever monsters lurking in the shadows turn up right behind you….and lights out. Sanity meters have been used in other games, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem being one of my favorites featuring this mechanic, but this is compounded by being able to see so little due to what feels like 85% of the game being shrouded in darkness. Visage encourages you to use patience and thoroughly search the area as you solve puzzles in each of the chapters(it says so right as you begin the game), but the sanity meter feels as if there’s a timer continuously counting down as you wander down pitch black hallways. At one point, I even resorted to turning the brightness on my tv to near max setting as the only options in the game is for Gamma Level, which creates a gray “hazy” appearance on the screen and doesn’t provide much of an improvement in visibility. Regardless of how frightening something was, it seemed to give way to frustration a little too often. I find myself comparing sections of Visage to waking up in the middle of the night to make your way to the bathroom(or fridge) with your arms stretched out, stumbling your way there as your eyes haven’t adjusted to the darkness.
The strengths of Visage, as with most horror games, lie in its atmosphere and ambience. Just like the P.T. demo, Visage creates a menacing environment where you never quite know what lurks around the corner or at the end of a dark hallway. The lighting in the game, where visible, is quite impressive and deserves mention when discussing the way the game is effectively terrifying. There’s also very little music, making the dark, foreboding house even more creepy as the empty silence is oftentimes, broken only by a loud crash or thud coming from the room right behind you
Despite some frustration with a sanity meter that always seemed dangerously low and my difficulty in seeing much of anything in the game, which is a shame as what you can see is visually on par with the P.T. demo. I feel Visage does still accomplish what it intends to do – scare the living hell out of you. I don’t usually consider myself to be easily scared, but Visage is one of the scariest games I’ve played in some time; certainly in the past few years. It has everything from an eerie, unsettling atmosphere to some well-placed jump scares…followed with a streak of obscenities. For those looking for a good fright, Visage is more than capable of providing one.
Thanks for reading!