Ever since Resident Evil 4, the classic Survival Horror franchise has never been the same since. As the games focused more and more on becoming an action-packed third person shooter, the atmosphere and tension of the original Playstation era of games would drift further and further away like a long forgotten nightmare. While the newer generation of games feature mechanically better controls and gameplay, the tank-like controls and limited inventory space were a small price to pay for a tense atmosphere and limitless jump scares.
While Capcom currently struggles to regain some of its survival horror roots, Indie games like Amnesia have proven that there is still a market for games that rely on immersion over action. With BlackSoul, developer XeniosVision is hoping to make an even closer distinction by basing their game entirely around the original RE games; the tank-like controls, the cinematic perspectives, the limited ammunition – everything in BlackSoul is a deliberate love-letter to classic survival horror down to the last detail. Or at least, a love letter written by Homer Simpson after a day spent at the beer festival.
Set in the 1970s in England, the game follows two a brother and sister duo, Sean and Aya, as they traverse a mysterious manor in order to uncover the truth behind a mysterious infection that turns its victims into zomb-uh, psychopathic killers. Ignore the wailing and shambling undead flesh, that just comes with the territory. In addition to not-zombies, the duo will also have to deal with arbitrary puzzles, locked doors, and maddening camera angles in order to discover the great secret hidden under the house…which is about as mundane as the rest of the story.
Nearly everything about this homage to Resident Evil is an unpolished mess. The visuals are an inconsistent mix between decent looking interiors, empty and repetitive outside environments and character models so undefined it makes it difficult to tell who is the brother and who is the sister. Much of the aesthetics could be forgiven were it not for the random camera angles, many that are so far zoomed in that either your player character or the enormous shadow they cast will obscure most of the screen. The game also borrows its camera angles from two classic horror games, Resident Evil and Silent Hill, which offers a mix between still and dynamic camera shots. In theory, this could have resulted in a proper look for a traditional horror game, but in practice it becomes as inconsistent as the rest of the aesthetics.
The puzzle solving gameplay is even lazier. More often than not, the solution to each puzzle is literally spelled out in front of players, but the arbitrary obstacles (again, mostly the result of the messy camera) make these pointless puzzles positively mundane. One instance requires you to investigate underneath a carpet that looks no different from any other background object in the game, and without any visual cue or hints to do so either. There is also a puzzle that requires manipulating a set of globes in a certain order, but if you were to manipulate a couple of them incorrectly, they would spin past the screen’s area, making it impossible to interact with them again. Unpolished moments like this lead up to the overall mess of BlackSoul, and if you think that the scare factor makes up for the poor gameplay mechanics – it does not. Enemies are wholly generic and uninspired, and the lack of proper gamepad support make the tank controls even worse than they were during the 90’s.
Recreating a nostalgic homage to classic Resident Evil games is a sound idea under the right team of developers. As far as BlackSoul is concerned, all that XeniosVision has managed to retain are the worst elements of classic survival horror without any of the good to balance it out. There is nothing at all worth recommending about this game, especially when there is no shortage of free titles that do a far more effective job of scaring gamers out of their wits instead of their wallets.