A shocking game of puzzles and scares.
Song of Horror is a terrifying episodic puzzle game in which you race against a lurking darkness to uncover the mystery laid before you. In Episode 1, you start as Daniel, sent on an urgent task to find a missing author on a Friday night. When he also goes missing, you get to pick from a team of would-be rescuers.
Each of the characters has their own strengths and weaknesses. Some are quicker and better able to flee from the dangers you’ll surely face, while others are more serene and better able to hide from those dangers. Your choice doesn’t seem too important at this point, as you’re very likely to end up back at the character selection screen as you succumb to the darkness and pick your next sacrifice to the house.
As you first enter the house as Daniel, you get your first taste of Song of Horror. You learn the controls, start to piece together the house and find that something not quite right is going on. You begin with a very pared-back version of the game, but as you progress through the level, you’re slowly introduced to new aspects that add depth and intensity.
One of the first things you’ll notice is that the game’s mechanics aren’t perfect, particularly the character controls. The way you move around the house is clunky, and very reminiscent of an old Tomb Raider game. I found myself becoming frustrated by trying to shuffle my player into the exact right spot to open a door, confused by the occasional invisible wall blocking what should have been a clear path and perplexed when they moved in a direction I wasn’t expecting.
While not ideal, you do get used to these problems and the touches of brilliance in Song of Horror make up for it. You may intend to only play for half an hour but it rarely ends up that way. As a horror mystery game, it does so much right. The soundtrack is sublime. The creaky sounds of the old mansion and the ominous changes in music create the perfect hair-tingling atmosphere.
The camera angle has its charms, too. Quick cuts between playable areas of the level seemed at first to be a bit jarring, but it’s a lot easier to shock you with a monster or an apparition in your path if your view keeps changing.
The scares in Song of Horror come in plenty of different forms. The slow build of anticipation type, and the kind that makes you sit upright in your seat. The sound of footsteps that shouldn’t be there, the child you see out of the corner of your eye and, of course, the jump scares that strike you when you feel like you’re making progress. You are there for a reason, after all, and you’ll soon get engrossed in working out what’s going on in this cursed house.
Take away the creepy side of things and you’ve still got a solid core of a game with puzzle after puzzle that you have to solve. From the classic clues that are easy to solve (but only once you’ve found the right parts along the story) to the ones that actually take some thinking. It took me a few minutes with pen and paper to work out how to get the power back on in the house, and I was pretty proud when I did.
Not all of the puzzles were to my liking, though. One seemed simple but unachievable, to the point where I emailed the game devs, certain that I’d found a bug. After a few more tries I managed to get past that spot, but the same game mechanic killed me not long afterwards. Partly because of me, partly because of my character choice.
While the puzzles make up a big part of the game, it is the terrifying side of Song of Horror that makes it stand out. Playing just before bed wasn’t my greatest idea, and everyday things like putting the bins out at night aren’t as straightforward as they were last week.
Still, I always came back for more, and I’ll continue to do so. Song of Horror has been divided into short episodes. There are currently two available, with the next three scheduled for release in December, January and March.
[Reviewed on PC]