Visage is a 2020 indie survival horror game developed and published by Sad Square Studios, who started to work on it back in 2015.
I got the opportunity to play the game now in its fully released state, so thank you very much to Sad Square for this opportunity, I myself am also an indie game dev and I greatly respect the craft that went into this game. That being said, let’s get into the (mostly) spoiler-free review.
Visage was the effort of a 5 person team over 5 years of development
Visage sets the tone pretty early with its opening cutscene, having a first-person view of a man slowly shooting his entire family to death and then himself. With an opening like that, you should know the somber haunting tone the game wants to set for itself. The first things that strike you about Visage are how close to triple-A these visuals are and how on point the sound design is, everything sounds incredible and with a good pair of headphones this game almost sounds too good at times.
You will be completely immersed in the soundscape of every environment in Visage
Visage brings the horror of familiar spaces, recognizable places in unfamiliar situations, and this brings some truly interesting mechanics. In Visage, it’s important to stay in the light. Darkness makes your character lose sanity, akin to the Amnesia series, and you can use resources like lighters, candles, camera flashes ( which lead to some great scares ), and lightbulbs to fixing light sources, to place new light sources, and keep things lit. This is a great game mechanic, it combines the real-life fear of the dark with the metagame aspect of losing sanity, it’s a great idea.
Where this game really started losing me a bit was when you got into the bigger gameplay loop of it. Essentially this game is separated into chapters that focus on a specific character. The first chapter I played focused on a character named Rakan, and the gameplay loop in this section to me felt really weak compared to the mechanics they set up before, you go into these hospital scenes/flashbacks, that takes away your inventory and resource management, and put you into a more standard first-person horror scenario, the gameplay loop then becomes:
- Load into environment
- Search for the key to the next area
- run from the bad guy
There are clever moments of deviation from this loop. For instance, a note I found on a wall told me about a key I needed to get, but also that the elevators have a weight limit, so later on I had to deal with the elevators weight limit in a creepy and creative way, but doing the same gameplay loop several times in a row it truly felt a bit like padding the runtime. Other chapters introduce some creative things like using a camera flash to reveal your environment in the dark, which is really creepy and leads to things being revealed by the flash that was not there normally, but then it’s back to searching around a room for a key, running from a ghost that you either can easily dodge, or just randomly kills you.
The game could have benefited from a faster pacing or rethinking of repetitive moments
So a bit of full disclosure here: I really appreciate the work put into this game, the visuals and the surreal imagery are incredible, but frankly, it failed to pull me in, nothing about the story was really fleshed out or expanded upon besides simple premises for each chapter and variations of certain horror tropes. The gameplay loop like I described felt too repetitive for me to become engaged, and introducing a resource management system to periodically just not use it felt a bit counterproductive to me. On a technical level the game is great, with very few visual bugs and some questionable design choices. I don’t think an autosave icon was a good idea, especially when the game autosaves before dangerous moments, as it ruins the surprise a bit.
The game also features random dynamic scares, such as lights turning off and doors slamming shut and this feels very good sometimes but also very forced at other times. Feeling trapped in a room that was well lit before is creepy, but having to turn off the same radio 10 times is not.
If you don’t mind the grind, Visage has a lot to offer in terms of visual and audio atmosphere and creativity
In conclusion, I won’t go too much further into this game, I truly believe that if you are a fan of this genre and this style of game, you will love Visage. If PT or Devotion are games that appeal to you, you will for sure like Visage and feel like it is worth its slightly high price point of 29,99 EUR, but if you are a casual observer of the genre and more a fan of Horror movies like me, Visage isn’t really doing anything to change your mind. I tend to prefer Horror as a subgenre in games, but if you live for the scares and the creepy atmosphere, Visage has that in spades. A truly great effort from a fully indie team, just sadly, not the game for me.