Game: Tormentum: Dark Sorrow
Developer: OhNoo Studio
Available on: PC, Mac
Anyone who has watched a single film in the Alien series will be at least somewhat familiar with the work of surreal artist H.R. Giger – whether they realise it or not. Most famously responsible for designing the titular Xenomorph in the Ridley Scott original, his entire portfolio of work consists of ghastly organic-cybernetic monsters and nightmarish environments. These fascinatingly detailed works of art have long inspired other creative minds – including the disturbing 1992 graphic adventure game Dark Seed and it’s subsequent sequel. It is no surprise therefore that another adventure game has chosen to take inspiration from his artistic horrors, as the aptly-named OhNoo Studio has done with its first ever release: Tormentum: Dark Sorrow.
It may not be the most revolutionary graphic adventure ever put together in terms of its puzzles design and gameplay, but few other titles could match the unsettling tone that has been created in Tormentum. There is little in the way of story set-up – you take on the role of an unnamed and hooded figure, whom we cannot see their face. Awaking to find yourself in a cage, suspended in mid-air, being carried by an airship to an unknown destination, things aren’t off to a good start. A fellow prisoner tells you that your captors kidnap those that they think have “sinned”, under the auspices of punishing them to cleanse their soul of their misdeeds. You are soon alone, locked in a cell, and must use any means necessary to escape before you too are tortured and cleansed.
Although you don’t know much about the protagonist to begin with, one immediately feels the urgency of their escape, heightened by the horrific surroundings and human remains scattered through almost every scene. Although this is a more thoughtful, puzzle-centric game – there is a definite feeling of being on the edge of your seat and wondering what terror may present itself next. Interestingly, the game actually includes a selection of moral choices that present themselves throughout your play-through. Few of these are obvious choices, where you know what is wrong and what is right – and often picking what you believe is the righteous choice may have undesired consequences – some of which are quite horrible. This will keep you guessing if you are doing the right thing, and will all have an impact on the final outcome. This is such a rarity in traditional adventure games, but a very welcome one here that plays directly into the themes of good and evil found within the story.
The gameplay is very straight-forward and consists of a series if point and click inventory-based puzzles, as well as more complex brainteasers such as the sliding tile ones you might find in a Professor Layton title. There is a good variety of these and each one you come across feels significantly distinct, so that there is never the feeling that OhNoo were recycling puzzle ideas. None of the puzzles are overly difficult – which is either a blessing or a curse. At times it feels like you are coasting through from scene to scene with little challenge – which is a little disappointing – but it also means that when one of the slightly harder sequences rears its head, that it won’t be frustrating to the point that you will be tearing your hair out. More often than not, if a challenge is proving too hard, you will be able to find a note or an item somewhere close by that will offer a hint.
There is no built-in help system or hotspot locator, so at least your hand isn’t held to such a great extent. It is easy enough already, without that added help. The control system is implemented through a simple one-button system as well, so there is no cycling through different interaction icons, or picking a different verb for each action. The inventory is also well-integrated into the action and won’t obscure what is going on – simply popping up at the side of the screen. You will also be able to speak with some of the other inhabitants of the strange land you find yourself in, and although these conversations are often necessary to proceed or to obtain a pointer of where to head next, these are very simple and don’t give the player any dialogue options to make things more interesting.
The visual presentation is of course the real unique selling point of the package. This is where the team really excels and the Polish developers have obviously spent many hours studying the work of Giger. The game not only emulates it style, but perpetuates the atmosphere of dread that surrounds his art. Each scene is incredibly detailed and a work of art in its own right – the only downside being the lack of animation. Indeed, your sprite is stationary in most scenes, the only animation being small environmental movements and effects. This minimalist animation somehow seems to work for Tormentum however, as it lets you interact quickly with any area of the screen, not having to wait for your avatar to move into position before performing an action – but it may have created more immersion into the game if all of the character models weren’t just little more than static images.
The camera does pan left and right through scenes when you move your cursor, but this does become a little annoying, and I would have rather had slightly more zoomed out environments which could be shown in their entirety on-screen, rather than a jumpy panning motion that sometimes doesn’t move correctly when you want it to. It is a minor flaw however, and perhaps the decision to keep each backdrop as large as possible was intended to maximise the impact of the artwork. There is little in the way of audio to complement the visuals though, with only the odd sound effect punctuating the action, and music that rarely rises above simply being a background element. Perhaps a better implementation of atmospheric music could have further heightened the frightening tone of the title.
That said, Tormentum: Dark Sorrow is thoroughly successful in its attempts to build a disconcerting world to play through. Its tendency towards being somewhat on the easy side doesn’t detract from the experience – by having puzzles that can be figured out through logic or trial and error, OhNoo allow even the most unskilled point and click players to progress through their twisted tale. Being a low-budget, independently published release, there are understandably a few short-comings – yet its simplistic animations, and forgettable music don’t dampen the engrossing quest to escape a horrific fate. Although it is very easy to feel safe in a graphic adventure – because instant death is a rarity in the genre and you hardly ever need quick reflexes in order to progress – OhNoo have crafted something entirely unsettling, yet strangely compelling.