Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Tormentum - Dark Sorrow - Review

Platform: PC
Developer: OhNoo Studio
Publisher: OhNoo Studio 

World of Warcraft is the primary modern influence for fantasy art design. Blizzard’s brightly coloured behemoth has turned many a fantasy series into similar imitations, with impossible-to-wear armour and cartoony designs being the norm. If there’s one thing to thank Dark Souls for (and I can thank it for plenty), it’s that its more mature, surreal approach to fantasy will be used as inspiration for future games.

That’s definitely the case with OhNoo Studio’s Tormentum – Dark Sorrow, a morose, point-and-click fantasy/horror game. Playing as a mysterious hooded figure dressed in what looks like the Pyromancer armour from Dark Souls, you’re left to try and escape from an ominous torture-filled castle and attempt to find out clues about your life.

As a typical point-and-click adventure game, Tormentum tries to make the most of its slim budget. Puzzles and challenges are fairly simple affairs, requiring some minor working of the old grey matter in order to solve. If you’re here for a challenge, Tormentum is likely to disappoint. No, this is a game that clearly wants you to get to the end and experience what it has to offer.

It’s all thanks to the wonderful doom-laden atmosphere that the developers have managed to soak the game in. This is a land scarred by fiery meteors and dominated by hulking skeletal statues, making each screen of the game look like it belongs on a death metal album cover. The artwork borrows equal parts from Dark Souls' Lovecraftian-inspired fantasy alongside some of H.R. Giger’s work, with every screen having something new and interesting to look at.

Rather than simply resign itself to being a fancy interactive art gallery, Tormentum attempts to craft an interesting story around its surreal world. Whilst the plot itself remains much of a mystery for most of the game, you’re frequently tasked with making moral choices, usually deciding whether someone lives or dies.

Initially, it sounds like the usual childish “good side/bad side” moral systems that have been in similar games for years now, but Tormentum keeps it interesting by not making the choices so obvious. Sometimes the “good” choice isn’t so blatantly clear, or, in many cases, you’re left with trying to pick the lesser of two evils, which again ends up being more difficult than it sounds.

It makes for some interesting decisions and the simple puzzles ensure that the game skips along at a decent pace. In many respects it’s more reminiscent of Telltale’s recent efforts than it is classic adventure games of the past, with a focus on the ebb and flow of the story and gameplay, rather than to challenge the player too much.

It’s something of a shame then that the ending feels like a complete cop-out, and threatens to undermine what the rest of the game set out to do. After spending time considering the morality of your decisions throughout the game, the ending effectively tells you what you should have done in order to be a good person. It’s a childish, rather silly way of ending a game that, up until that point, had seemed to stress that the world is made up of shades of grey.

It doesn’t help that many of the rather easy puzzles end up being little more than sliding tile games or matching pairs of symbols. Nothing pulls you out of a nightmarish hellscape like having to put together a damned jigsaw.

With a fairly short runtime and some breezy gameplay, Tormentum is very much one of those titles you play for the experience rather than for any trying challenge. It stumbles at the final hurdle, and it never really knows what to do to create interesting puzzles/challenges, but its focus on atmosphere somewhat makes up for that.


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