If you spoke to me a few years ago about reviewing a horror game I would have laughed in your face, because, although I am such a huge horror movie nerd, there was something about horror games that were a huge ‘nope’ from me. It was the notion that I had control of what was happening, that full immersion just was that step too far. After diving into the deep end with Alien: Isolation, I’m finding it a lot easier to dip my toes into horror games, and Song of Horror, whilst it was scary in parts, I found myself breezing through it with relative ease (…mostly).
Spanish developer Protocol Games put a lot of work into getting the survival-horror game, Song of Horror out there. After an unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign back in 2015, the team pushed to get it made, eventually releasing the first two episodes in October 2019 on Steam, with the fifth and final chapter being released in May 2020. Now the horror has been brought to consoles in one package, with all five episodes in one collection.
Song of Horror tells the story of an esteemed writer who mysteriously disappears from his home, and after his publisher sends an assistant to his home to investigate, he also disappears. It is your job to find out what exactly is going on. All you really know from the start is these mysterious happenings have something to do with an ominous music box that contains a dark entity only known as The Presence.
As you explore areas, The Presence makes itself known through creepy noises, and most notably the black marks that creep on the walls and the wild tentacles and hands that lash out from behind the doors. It’s a constant fear throughout the game, that often strikes when you least expect it.
Throughout the entire game, there are thirteen character options and each chapter gives you a different set of characters for you to choose from, some new some old. At the start of each episode after the first, these options may change based on who died in the previous episode. That’s right, this game has perma-death, but it isn’t too bad, once you die you then choose another character, who can then pick up your backpack with items and you can carry on your task. However, if you end up killing off all of your characters you have to start the episode all over again, with, what I like to call ‘perma-perma-death’.
I’m never usually a huge fan of perma-death in games, it makes me anxious and I simply don’t have the patience or attention span to have to do things over and over again. However, I do think it works well in Song of Horror. Mainly because you are given chances. However, despite four chances in the first chapter I ended up getting the dreaded perma-perma-death and I had to start all over again. This is where I think there are some minor flaws in the game and how you can die.
The game gives you plenty of warning, giving you mechanics to help avoid dying, for example, listening at the door, the abundance of hiding spaces and the frantic fighting against The Presence as it tries to force its way through the door. However, there are some instances where the game almost tricks you into the warm embrace of death. Take for instance a moment in the attic where you approach a crying girl, who, when you interact with her, gives you a collectable and vanishes, leaving you unscathed. Skip to a few minutes later in another room a crying man appears, but this time as you interact with him, bam you are dead.
Now, I both really enjoyed and was slightly irked by this mechanic. No matter how careful you think you are, there is something that will most definitely get you. For purposes of reviewing this game in a timely manner, after my first full-blown perma-death, I had to use a walkthrough, and I am glad I did because there are a few instances like this where something so unassuming will lead to death.
I guess the biggest question I had coming into Song of Horror was, ‘will this be scary’, and you know what, yes and no. The entire game has such a creepy soundscape, working especially well when you can hear your character’s heartbeat after just a slight knock or sound. Even though there isn’t anything particularly scary happening, it really amps the tension up. The general feeling of unease from things found in the environment is also excellent, there is a particular moment with a photograph that made my hair stand on end.
But one thing I do have to say in regards to the scariness of the game is that there are a good few jump-scares and I historically really hate jump-scares, I think for the most part they are cheap and lazy. However, I will say that I think the majority of the jump-scares in Song of Horror are used well and have some pay-off.
As for the actual gameplay itself, it is pretty much Resident Evil from the fixed camera right down to the ‘get this object to do this thing’. It works for the game and for the story it wants to tell, there is a lot of wandering around realising you need to be in another area, which keeps the tension high as there’s an eagerness to get the tasks done to get out of this creepy place. The puzzles are also quite good, if not a little bit cryptic at times, but I think anyone who is used to games like Resident Evil will find the overall gameplay a walk in the park.
Song of Horror has room for improvement, especially in the facial animations, which are pretty poor and the voice acting, which, at times feels so stiff and amateurish. But considering this is an indie game and it’s not exactly full of cutscenes or dialogue, I can forgive them for this.
There were also a few bugs, like the torch in a character’s hand hovering around their shoulder, and one instance where the wall texture jumped out across half the screen. But aside from this, the rest of the game looks great, the environment design is very well executed, with a lot of detail that can go unnoticed. The lighting works incredibly well with the horror setting, even when lights are on in the places you explore, there are dark shadows and you can’t quite see everything clearly; leaving your imagination to run wild, and often jump at your own shadow.
Overall, Song of Horror is a lot of fun and kept me on my toes, there is a constant feeling of tension as you play it due to the ominous Presence that lurks all around you and also the fear of perma-death is its own threat. Whilst there were a couple of bugs and the graphics (especially the faces) could be improved, Song of Horror is an extremely entertaining and solid indie horror game.