The darkness is coming. She’s coming…this is was what my subconscious was telling me as I paced anxiously through the chilling, pitch-black corridors in Visage — one of this year’s most horrifying games, and currently in Early Access on Steam. The hand over my mouse perspired with sweat and my heart frantically raced as dread enveloped me in an empty house filled with the melody of irregular footsteps not of my own, and flickering lights that would, eventually, give out, leaving you in a cloud of blackness. I would quickly cycle through my inventory to pull out a lighter that would eventually run out to give me a false sense of hope that whatever was out there in the darkness would remain at bay. I was wrong.
The start of the game throws you into a barbarous emotional trance as you fixate on a man, who you assume is the protagonist, slowly — and carefully — loading a revolver with bullets scattered across a table. In the background, there is a woman bound to a chair with tape covering her mouth, barely muffling her screams that can audibly translate to pleading. The last bullet now in the chamber, the man gets up and casually walks over to the howling woman revealing another figure next to her. A young male, probably in his early teens, is also tied to a chair quivering and pleading with who you assume to be his mother for mercy; his sounds of despair blending with the woman’s own cries as they both come to the realization that they’re going to be killed. You center on this moment praying that the man with the gun – you — has some semblance of compassion. Or, at least enough to not follow through with the act of murdering a mother and her child.
The gun is now pointing at her. The first shot goes off and her screams come to a sudden halt as her body slumps forward, blood pooling onto the floor. He moves on to the next victim and a third figure next to the whimpering boy joins in the orchestra of screams and panic. It’s a little girl — younger than the boy — joining in the fray of helpless cries. The screams get louder and the little boy’s visibly distraught jolting body sways from side-to-side as he fails to free himself of the inevitable death approaching him, with squeals that can only be thought of as prayers to a neglecting god or the begging for mercy toward his executioner.
The second shot goes off and the boy’s cries are silenced by the thundering clap of the gun as it goes off. The third shot ends the final whimpering from the little girl that permeated the dark room. No more screams: silence and darkness around you – a common theme in this game. The man turns the gun under his chin, pulls the trigger and black furnishes the screen.
This is the atmosphere that Visage sets up: an atmosphere of tension and perpetual hopelessness. There is no slowing down from this ambiance of anguish and dread as you play Visage. It will literally haunt you throughout the game.
At its core, Visage feels like what P.T. could have been had Konami decided not to cancel the anticipated Silent Hills. You wake up in an inescapable house littered with eerie memories of what you assume is your past, with an overpowering feeling of isolation, in a house consumed with paranormal activity, with every corner of the house brimming with an alarming sense of fear. Moments of spontaneous paranormal occurrences that will raise the hairs on the back of your neck; moments where you will be so scared, you will be paralyzed with cowardice and dismay.
You start the game and, immediately, an overbearing feeling of uneasiness blankets you. A chill of apprehension fills the air as your eyes lock onto the world placed in front of you. You stare into the dimly-lit room down the stairs from where you’re standing with your senses firing off warning signs that something isn’t right. That’s where the visual appeal of this game grabs you, in the first shot of playable content as you prepare to journey down an unfamiliar, murky staircase secreting intimidation.
I was instantly enamored by the photorealism that Visage radiated as I made my way through the first room — a living area. Minuscule details like scuffs on the walls and tarnished furniture brought a real feel of authenticity to the environment, something that gives you, the player, a convincing, immersive experience. Every object, which can be inspected by the player, and placement of furniture has been etched with careful consideration.
Visually, Visage is one of the most alluring games that I have played this year. Every specific aspect of the setting – from lighting to textures – appears to have been delicately-crafted to give you the lifelike house you’ll spend your time walking through. And while the graphics were top-notch, it was the sound design incorporated into the game that gave Visage the frightening, unforgettable flavor of panic that will consume you throughout the game.
You slowly tread through this dark house praying that there is nothing waiting around each corner. As you’re exploring your surroundings, however, trying to figure out clues of what to do next and where to go, you randomly begin hearing sounds that houses shouldn’t make when you’re alone; sounds that you wouldn’t want to hear when you’re alone. You hope it’s the sounds of your own footsteps, but it doesn’t necessarily explain the footsteps above you, or the footsteps and thumping behind you, as you sit still staring at the blackness ahead. The marriage of both sounds and graphics here truly create a pure mood of terror. I found myself feverishly walking to any source of light I could see or conjure up to shield me away from the darkness and ghostly sounds around me, even if they were momentary.
You see, in Visage, light – just as you would hope – is your only source of protection from the specters looming in the shadows. It’s your comfort zone and one of two sources that keeps you sane throughout the game, along with pills found around the house. As you trek through the barren, dark areas of Visage, your character begins to lose his sanity. An indicator (an image of a brain) on the lower left-hand side of the screen slowly fades into clarity as your character becomes uneasy. With this, things begin to happen that surges your personal sense of fear through the roof.
You begin to hear things, not things like random footsteps around the house. No, it’s something more terrifying and consistent: it’s the lifeless moaning and gasps of a little girl haunting your very existence. As your sanity level continues to deplete as you roam around looking for any semblance of light or pills, her moans and her gasping become louder. The howling musical sounds of violins and cellos bonding with the moans and gasps of the dead girl saturate your ears, doors begin to slam shut on their own, lights begin to flicker and blow out, and the darkness gradually comes for you. Once you’re engulfed in obscurity with your heart beating wildly and your eyes trying to adjust to the darkness of the game to soak in whatever little light is permeating through the screen, the little girl – without warning – grabs you from behind. You stare in shock and bewilderment as you watch her jawless corpse hover over you and deprive you of life as she rips something out of your body. Then you ask yourself “Why the hell am I playing this?”, it’s because we enjoy the scare, regardless of how daunting it may be.
We play horror games for the sheer feeling of the adrenaline rush. While our minds tell us it isn’t real, the actual thought of being secluded in a haunted space with limited resources, in absolute darkness, is horrifyingly satisfactory because it can feel real. Call me a masochist, but I enjoy it even though I’m screaming at the top of my lungs and cursing profusely at my screen, questioning as to why I’m putting myself through this sort of trauma. It’s because it’s rare that I come across a horror game so scary and so realistic-looking that it makes me feel as if I’m genuinely a part of the experience — sharing the fear, the isolation, and the helplessness of the character I’m responsible for.
What makes Visage stand out early on is its difficulty. As the game starts, you’re warned that the adventure you’re about to embark on is relentless and unforgiving – traits that hold true during gameplay. The game gives you free reign to explore the parts of the house the developer has allowed you access to, barring that you’re able to use the clues found to unlock other areas. The items you’re given are scarce, which means you need to put real effort into managing your resources and you need to use your intuition to survive. A light blew out? Find a lightbulb and replace it. Can’t find lightbulbs? Use candles to provide some light. Your lighter ran out of fluid? Use your camera’s flash to light areas of the house (which, by the way, is a truly unnerving experience). Can’t find your camera? Well, good luck.
Your survival here will earnestly depend on your ability to think on your feet and how you govern your resources adequately in the direst of situations, as you come to the realization that nothing in your possession lasts forever. As you’re racing through the dark with a lighter that does nothing but provide a false sense of protection, you will hear the haunting child’s groans chasing you at every turn. You won’t have pills to equalize your normality during these moments and, as her voice gets louder, you will need to either succumb to impending death, or find somewhere with light to recuperate some of your sanity.
Visage is truly unrelenting and will unquestionably challenge your perseverance like no other. This, with its hair-raising scares, is what makes the game so good. The first chapter of Visage released by SadSquare Studios was enough for me to easily label this one of the most terrifying games I have played in my 30 years of gaming. The fact that they were able to deliver this kind of experience in a single chapter leaves me craving the additional content releasing in the coming months, anticipating what other abominable events we can look forward to.
If you’re looking for a nightmarish experience, I cannot recommend Visage enough. It’s an unfinished game, but with enough complete polish and content to paint you a picture of what to expect. What I can promise you is that an empty house and dark corners will never again feel the same after this.
Visage is currently available through Steam Early Access on PC, and the full game is expected to release in early 2019.