Currently slated for: PC – October 31, 2019
A delightful throwback to the first-ever survival horror game, Song of Horror wears its status as an Alone In The Dark homage on its sleeve, secure enough in its setting and premise to understand that extreme horror can come from creeping dread, rather than a constant struggle for life.
The game opens with a clear goal — an author has disappeared, as has the publisher’s assistant sent to his house to look for him. The player’s mission is infiltrate the author’s creepy manor and solve the disappearances.
Four different characters can be selected at the start of the game (only two appeared in the preview build) and each one has a different reason to be at the house — some professional, others personal. It’s not a permanent commitment, however, as I discovered when I opened a door and found the woman I was controlling sucked into a rip in the fabric of reality.
Each time a character dies, the player is free to select from their remaining roster and continue the story. The character choices aren’t simply cosmetic, either — each one brings a different skillset, as well as a new point of view on the items that can be found strewn about the house. The characters’ various stats also factor in, impacting the minigames that crop up whenever a creature appears.
For example, stronger characters can hold doors closed more effectively as something tries to push through from the other side. Stealthier characters get a bonus on the hiding minigame, and speedier characters are better at fleeing to another room and hoping the house’s dark forces can’t be bothered to follow.
These simple variations also make each character control differently enough to affect the way players approach threatening situations, ensuring that the frustration of getting a character killed and starting with a new one feels like an invitation to play differently, rather than registering the loss as nothing more than failure.
Modern lighting effects allow Song of Horror to finally fulfill the dream of the original Alone in the Dark, which, despite the name, took place in a shockingly well-lit mansion.
Here, players are trapped in an oppressively dark house with just a candle or lighter to illuminate the way forward. Every step of the journey is tracked by looming shadows that shift around them, implying horrors that always stay just out of sight… until they come bursting through doorways, that is. The knowledge that the enemy either lives in, or actually is the darkness that surrounds the player forces them to remain forever on edge, never certain where the next assault will come from.
Song of Horror‘s puzzles and exploration work well — the player is armed with a comprehensive map that’s updated every time they find a new object or location they can interact with, so they’ll never be stuck attempting to remember which door they haven’t tried yet. While the location I played wasn’t huge by any means, every room was dense with detail and felt like a real, lived-in area.
There was one issue I encountered, however — Song of Horror is completely hostile to anyone with hearing issues. A key mechanic involves characters pressing their ears up to doors to listen to what’s on the other side. It’s often the only way to tell whether opening the door will lead to a new room or instant death.
There’s no visual cue to replace the audio cues, however, which is hugely inconvenient for anyone unable to hear or listen. Likewise, the hiding minigame functions by having the player tap triggers with perfect timing to slow their heartrate, but the cue to tell them when to tap is audio-only, which makes the the sequence much harder for anyone who can’t hear.
These accessibility issues aside, Song of Horror is a great example of slow-burn horror of the kind that’s perfect to play late at night in a pitch-black room so that imagination and anticipation can do half the work. It’s an eerie, scare-filled experience, and I’m excited to see what secrets the house hides when the full game is released later this year.