Visage wears its P.T. inspirations like a badge of honor. It takes place in a creepy house haunted by spirits that can jump-scare you if you’re not careful, has you solving puzzles with the environment to proceed and slowly unlock rooms, and is focused almost entirely on psychological horror and tension. Although it’s not a perfect horror game, more than anything else Visage is proof that this kind of horror can absolutely work at a bigger scale and can be genuinely terrifying to boot.
You take control as Dwayne as he explores a house that is haunted by the spirits of those who previously inhabited it. The story here really is about the previous owners. Each chapter of the game focuses in on one of them and tells their story. Saying what they’re about would be spoiling things, but each story is tragic and haunting and does some really interesting stuff with both the house and the characters. The house acts as a hub-world of sorts until you start a chapter by choosing a specific item in the house. Although this felt like a weird way of telling the story at first, I quickly settled into it as it does leave more time to focus in on each specific tale. It also allows the game to do some pretty weird stuff with the map like changing rooms entirely or using mirrors as gateways to different timelines.
The atmosphere is held up very well by some great looking visuals and sound-work, which really do create an air of dread and tension. There were times when I wanted to just mute the game to prevent myself from quitting entirely, which is definitely a sign of something being done right. Much like P.T. before it, there’s a lot of detail put into the house and it’s various objects which really does enhance the experience, as you’ll essentially just be moving between areas for most of the game. The only time when the visuals falter is on the human characters, which all look bizarrely underpolished and last-generation (or rather, two generations ago, now). It somewhat ruins the mood of getting jump scared when the model in front of you looks like something from a PS3 game.
Once you’ve selected a chapter in Visage, you’ll be exploring the house for clues and trying to progress the story. As you explore the house, you’ll find keys to unlock new areas and tools that’ll help you get a better understanding of the house. Each chapter does different things with the mechanics, one making you smash mirrors to open gate-ways, whilst another has you using a camera as a light-source. Visage is at its most interesting when it really messes with the layout of the house and has you exploring completely different locations. Although the house itself is scary, you eventually learn how it works and about your actual risk of being jump scared, so getting to explore other areas is a lot of fun.
Visage Review – Pointing and Clicking
Gameplay is actually very reminiscent of point-and-click adventure games, and a lot of what you’ll be doing in Visage is finding items strewn about the house and figuring out how each one will help you progress the story. Sometimes it can be pretty intuitive and give you just enough information or visual clues to progress, and other times it feels like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Some of the solutions to puzzles will have you breaking out Google more often than you’d like and it can sometimes feel a little too focused on trial and error.
When Visage is at its best, it can be genuinely terrifying and full of tension. There are so many clever moments that play with your expectations, or some that just force you into doing stuff you really don’t want to do. The various locations you visit are all interesting and spin the main gameplay in different ways, and the few occasions where you run into physical threats are really scary. There were several moments where I had to psych myself up for opening a door or running away from what was possibly behind me. I hadn’t grown used to the fear until the final hour of the game, which is pretty impressive for a six-hour journey. I felt the whole thing was very well-paced thanks to the chapter system but there’s also a fair amount of content for the invested player here too, with plenty of Easter eggs and more complicated puzzles if you really want to do them.
After you’ve finished the first three chapters of the game, you’ll unlock a fourth chapter by using the VHS tapes that you collect throughout the game. Personally, this is where the game felt the weakest, as it relied a lot more on finding random objects about the house, rather than the modicum of logic that is used for the rest of the experience. Smashing mirrors to figure out the map is one thing, but finding a frame hidden on the ceiling in a random room for one part of the puzzle is another altogether. This section is very reminiscent of the Resident Evil 7 Teaser Demo that had players searching all over for weird clues.
Visage Review – What’s in the Box?
My biggest issue with Visage is that it has far too many items that aren’t worthwhile, and too many locations that don’t have a purpose. When you’re trying to find that one item that’ll progress the story, it’s really annoying to keep interacting with boxes that never have anything in them. One chapter has you in a hospital with at least 60% of the doors not being unlockable, which is fine but I wish that they’d not been interactable rather than me trying to open every one of them. It wouldn’t be such an issue if the game wasn’t so focused on finding a specific item for a specific door, but it really does get a bit annoying.
Another issue is the weird controls and inventory management. Visage gives you an inventory that includes dynamic items such as lighters and pills to decrease insanity, as well as key items like room keys and puzzle pieces. That part works all well and good, but the dynamic items are a mess with limited space to keep a hold of more than a few things. Once you select an item, you then put it in your hands as active inventory, but figuring that out is a pain and really doesn’t control well. It doesn’t help that some items, like the sledgehammer and crowbar, should be counted as key items since you have to use them for puzzles, but instead you’re forced to drop them and pick them back up at a storage room. God help you if you want to drop the item you’re currently holding, as you’ll have to hold a specific button to view the items in your hands and then press another to drop them. It’s the sort of problem that you do eventually get used to, but it doesn’t stop it being a pain.
One element of the gameplay that doesn’t really seem that balanced is the sanity meter. Much like Amnesia, any time the player stands in a dark place you’ll see your sanity decrease, which will eventually lead to being jump-scared and put into a game over state. Annoyingly though, the game doesn’t always recognize whether or not you’re near a light source which can make it seem unfair. At other times it seems like it’s not even really a factor at all, and the few times where I was caught out didn’t really feel like my fault. It’s a good way of raising tension, but I can’t help but wonder if the game would have been better off just focusing on the psychological horror and the idea of something chasing you.
Visage isn’t going to be for every horror fan. It’s slower pace, difficult puzzles and lack of direction are going to make many struggle, but that’s also kind of the point. For every moment where I didn’t know what to do and felt like I was on a wild goose chase, there was another moment of gratification for finally figuring it out. Throughout all of those moments, I was scared and that’s indicative that even if I didn’t, Visage knows what it’s doing.
Visage review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information, please read our Review Policy.