By Ronald Gordon
Not many horror games leave me in a state where I feel like a child afraid of the dark. Those that do end up being a terrifying experience all around. To be honest, I’d rather be locked in a glass tank full of spiders than experience more of the fright that Song of Horror brings.
Song of Horror, a survival horror game developed by Protocol Games and published by Raiser Games, brings forth a creepy path indeed. In it, you play as an array of different characters, desperately trying to solve the disappearance of a man named Daniel; a journalist, a divorcee, and a recovering alcoholic, who was the character you play as first.
Daniel was supposed to find a man named Sebastian P. Husher, a famous writer who, along with his family and housekeeper, recently vanished from his own home. Daniel’s investigation quickly turned into a spine chilling tale, as he got himself trapped in an unknown realm with no escape, and no sound other than the maddening tune of a music box that was once in Husher’s office. The music box’s purpose is a mystery, but its tune has summoned something unearthly, something that trapped Daniel in an otherworldly prison and that you now have to evade while you try to find and free him.
Song of Horror is uniquely terrifying since that monster isn’t even the scariest thing you have to worry about. It’s the game itself. Having some random nightmarish creature like the Alien from Creative Assembly’s “Alien Isolation” that chases you every now and again can get repetitive, so Song of Horror has a monster you don’t always come in contact with, but it is in the house and will most certainly murder you if it sees you. You can listen through doors to hear what’s on the other side; when the monster is near, you hear an unholy squelching accompanied by the sounds of something slobbering, hungry for human flesh. You’ll also hear random jarring noises like an old TV turning on before turning off abruptly, the loud thump of something hitting the ground, glass shattering, heavy, clunking footsteps, and plenty more unpredictable things that shock you, leaving you and the character you play completely on edge.
One of the most intriguing things about Song of Horror’s approach is that most of the fear you feel comes from your characters’ reactions. You can choose to play as Sophie, Daniel’s ex-wife; Etienne, Daniel’s supervisor, who sent him on his mission; Alexander, one of Husher’s housekeepers; or Alice, a technician who was called in to investigate a strange power problem in the house. Each character has his or her own stats for Speed, Strength, Stealth and Serenity, which means each character reacts differently to any given situation.
For instance, to hide from the monster, you must complete a sort of minigame in which you have to keep your character’s heartbeat steady and do your absolute best to not look behind you at the hands reaching out from a black pit of something horrible. However, once you finish the minigame, you find that nothing is behind or around you except for your character and the space they’re hiding in. Depending on the character and how much Serenity they have, that minigame can be easy or difficult. These mechanics are easy to understand which is made even easier by the state of focus brought on by the insurmountable terror of the game, forcing you to remember what you learned in order to keep your character alive.
The five years this game spent in development is clearly on display in the intricate details. The structure of the house makes you feel lost, despite the fact that you have a map and know where to go. It’s a spacious mansion, so there are many rooms to explore and an unknown horror could be lurking in any of them. The stress and anxiety caused by the random jump scares and noises puts pressure on you to be extra careful, because unless something happens in your line of sight, you can’t tell whether the monster is close or far away, in front of you or behind you, above you or below you.
Song of Horror is a frightening experience and one I unfortunately had trouble adapting to. Sadly, I lost Etienne because I made the mistake of entering a room, despite being warned against it by the sounds of children crying I heard through the door. But that’s bound to happen with a game that forces you to be constantly on top of everything and to stay alert no matter what. But, putting aside my regrets about letting a character die, Song of Horror is a great game I’d recommend to those horror fanatics who want a good scare that’ll keep them awake at night.
Sophomore intern Ronald Gordon is creating the City Tech College chapter of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.