For anyone who has ever wanted to step into the world of survival horror but felt their underwear draw was not sufficiently stocked, we may have found the game for you. Originally released for PC on Halloween 2019, Song of Horror is an episodic survival horror that is now available on consoles as a complete package featuring all five chapters. Created by Spanish studio “Protocol Games” this fright-fest has been a labour of love as the team originally failed to gain fundraising on Kickstarter but like any protagonist thrust into a tough situation, they persevered until their dream became a reality. If that’s not a motivational story to get you through the creepy events ahead then I don’t know what is, so let’s take a look at what’s on offer in Song of Horror.
We all know the feeling of hearing a song or jingle that gets stuck in our head no matter how hard we try to forget it, sometimes it’s a catchy little tune and sometimes it’s the worst dam thing you have ever heard that makes you wish your face would melt in searing pain as if you have just opened the arc of the covenant. In the case of the protagonists in Song of Horror, it’s a mix of both. After a famous writer “Sebastian Husher” mysteriously vanishes, his publisher calls upon Sebastian’s assistant to head over to his house and investigate, before long a strange tune begins to echo throughout the house and the assistant, “Daniel Noyer” also vanishes, we can only assume he heard Cardi B on the radio and made a run for the nearest black hole.
This is where the game really starts as each chapter provides us with a selection of up to four characters, each with their own background, connections to the plot and stats. For example, one character might be good at staying calm under pressure while another one has a flashlight which will make exploring the dark locations easier. Whichever character you choose to tackle a chapter with you must bear in mind one thing, permadeath is in effect, meaning that if that character dies, they stay dead and you will need to choose one of the remaining characters to take over, if they all die, you must restart the chapter from the beginning. Think of it as a loose cross between Until Dawn and Obscure and you’ll be on the right track. Each chapter features its own set of characters though certain ones will make a return here and there providing they are still alive.
This may sound like a Groundhog Day affair but fear not, at least in this case, if one of your characters does cop an unfortunate one you will not have to start your investigation from the beginning straight away, by switching to a new character you can find where your previous character died and pick up their backpack which will contain all their accumulated items allowing you to carry on from where they left off. This is a handy feature and essentially gives you four lives with which to complete a chapter though bear in mind, if you are playing as Daniel (the main character) if he dies it will be game over, though considering he is the main character and the narrator of the story, he doesn’t appear that often.
A Puzzling Mystery
The core objective is to uncover the mystery of the disappearances and the connection to the strange music box. The story is enjoyable and keeps things interesting by throwing in the odd twist and turn along the way. Each chapter will focus on a different location starting out in The Husher Mansion before moving onto Antique Shops, Asylums and so on. Each location is contained enough to provide a good dose of claustrophobia but large enough to give you space to explore and familiarise yourself with the layouts. Puzzle-solving will be the key to progression and the puzzle complexity can vary between location but rarely becomes frustrating and generally common sense will see you through, so it’s actually a miracle I managed to finish it. Combining items and using the right tools will be familiar to fans of Resident Evil and Alone in the Dark, one example is finding a door with a snapped key stuck in the lock, managing to find a steel ring and some superglue to combine will enable you to create a makeshift key head and open the door.
Obviously, puzzles aren’t the only thing that will be keeping you on your toes as you will be constantly persued by an ominous entity known only as “The Presence” a dark power that will not only stalk you but also adapts to how you are playing. The pace is slow for Song of Horror and it needs to be as death can come instantly to any who let their guard down. The Presence will haunt and attack, often without warning but there are a few things you can do to help yourself. By investigating and interacting with as many objects as you can, you will identify hiding places such as wardrobes, cabinets and even good old-fashioned tables, keeping their locations in mind will aid you when the presence strikes. Other times The Presence will try and burst through doors to get you, your key to safety will be to embrace your inner Hodor and Hold the Door! to block its entry. Both these scenarios start a tense button prompt mini-game, when hiding you are surrounded by the darkness creeping in on you and must press RT and LT in time with your heartbeat to survive when holding the door, you must build up your strength by tapping A before hitting RT to try and slam the door, both these elements are surprisingly intense given the fact that if you fail you die instantly. All this combines to create an experience where you never feel safe and adds a great sense of foreboding throughout the whole journey.
For those accustomed to being choke slammed through floorboards by a nine-foot-tall vampire lady or whacked with a six-foot blade by a dude with a funny shaped head only to drink some herbal tea and brush it off, forget about it. Death is instant in Song of Horror and as frustrating as that may sound, it works so well for making encounters and situations feel like they have consequences. It forced me to play more thoughtfully, paying attention to my environment, not running around making unnecessary noises. To give yourself a better chance you are able to listen through doors for signs of The Presence, if it is nearby then your heartbeat will start racing and strange sounds will be heard on the other side of a door indicating it is not safe to enter, you can either wait for it to pass or find another way around.
I really enjoyed how this cat and mouse element kept me on my toes throughout a playthrough and at times where I was either too hasty or wasn’t able to react quick enough, it was a genuine sense of loss I felt for my character and my current progression, getting really far in a level through methodical gameplay only to croak it due to a silly mistake is a real kick in the plumbs even if I did have a few backup characters. I must admit, it took me a little while to become accustomed to the slower pace even though I grew up playing every survival horror I could get my hands on, but once I was in the zone, I became truly immersed in the experience.
Roots of Evil
Long-term Horror fans will feel right at home with the games return to fixed camera settings which give a solid dose of nostalgia but modernise themselves enough to be more accessible. I have always enjoyed the old school camera’s as they do a great job of adding tension and a hint of dread at the unknown to a setting and although the ones used here are not as rigid as say Resident Evil, they work well and are complemented by the great use of lighting and designed clunkiness of the characters. The camera and clunkiness do however come with a caveat which can cause frustration. For example, you may find yourself in a branching corridor when The Presence starts bursting through a door, the music will kick in and panic ensues, but it can be hard to see which door you need to block due to the camera angle and the slow reaction time of the character means you may not be able to activate the required actions in time. Fortunately, these occurrences are not overly common, but they can be annoying especially when losing a character as a result due to it feeling like an unfair loss instead of an acceptable loss due to an error on your part.
Overall the presentation is really good, as mentioned the level designs and locations themselves are varied and enjoyable giving a nice range across some classic horror cliches. There are plenty of subtle notes here to keep you creeped out, from freaky things in the background that will make you stop and think “did that just happen” to well-executed jump scares. The lighting works really well, and darkness plays such a huge part that I’m surprised Jackie Estacado didn’t drop by for a visit. The one area the presentation does fail in is the character designs, particularly the faces. Now we all understand animating realistic faces is no small feat and at a glance, most characters look ok until they start talking, then each character has a bizarre grimace and terrifying-looking teeth that really stands out against the immersive backgrounds. Voice acting is also a mixed bag, it’s not terrible and we all love a bit of overacted dialogue in our horror games but at times the voices really don’t go with the look of the characters and while investigating they will deliver a barrage of “hmm’s” and “aahs” as items of interest are discovered, this can become a bit grating especially as some characters sound like they are about to break into a rendition of Crash Test Dummies if they find one more note.
I’m happy to say that in all other areas Song of Horror work well, load times were swift running on the Series X and although the controls were purposefully clunky, they were not overly complicated, and a simple inventory system made keeping track of and using key items a cinch. There was occasionally the age-old issue with having to stand in exactly the right place at exactly the right angle before the game allowed you to interact with something, but it certainly wasn’t as bad as other titles I could mention. I am glad the developers kept Song of Horror episodic in format for the console version as it makes the journey a bit more accessible to newcomers of the genre, each chapter is its own little narrative that connects to a wider story as you progress, and this will help gamers who like their horror a bit more bite-sized especially as both the intensity and difficulty ramps up quite severely between episodes. It also makes it’s a great choice for people who need something to break up their current catalogue, maybe you are deep into a huge open-world adventure or been hammering away at a multiplayer title and want something to dip into here and there. Five episodes of Song of Horror might be just the thing to work through between hefty sessions though hardcore horror fans will no doubt want to power through the whole experience, especially as there is plenty of replay value here.
Song of Horror is a great experience that packs in the nostalgia but doesn’t rely on it to carry it through. It has plenty of its own identity and ideas mixed in and despite a few annoyances along the way, I had a great, albeit terrifying time and this truly felt like I had once again stepped into the world of Survival Horror.
Review code provided
Format: PC, Xbox, PlayStation
Genre: Horror, Adventure, Puzzle
Developer: Protocol Games
Publisher: Raiser Games
Download link: Microsoft Store