Spending some time on a secluded island never sounds like a bad idea, but for our protagonist Jess, after losing her sister Angela, the opportunity to be with her friend Kim, the only other person who shares her tragic memories, sounds like a perfect way to come to terms with the past.
There’s the small issue of the cult-like “Prismic Spiritual Retreat”, but this is the survival horror genre, so what could possibly go wrong?
The Chant starts out with a brief introduction to the movement mechanics, your new location on the mysterious island and the handful of characters you’re going to be spending time with for the duration of the game.
You’re friend Kim seems a little high-strung, but her hearts int he right place, there’s then Sonny and Maya who might seem background at first, but will soon play a bigger part in the story and finally Tyler, the “Guru”
cult leader, and his understudy Hannah, who looks like butter wouldnt melt in her mouth.
By the conclusion of the first chapter, things swiftly move from calming introduciton with a few flies buzzing around, to all out bedlam, as things go from bad to outright bizarre and the secrets of the Gloom are unleashed.
The Gloom is a mysterious darkness that interferes with both body and mind, using the energy of the prisms our protagonist and her new friends wear around their necks.
Unfortuantely, it’s not just mist and shadows, the gloom has a tendancy to drive you a little nuts, as well as cause manifestations of evil creatures and physical beings which will deliver haunting messages and memories as well providing the need for combat.
The gameplay feels very similar to more traditional survival horror titles, there’s the free movement of a modern day third person game, but the layout, presentation and puzzles are all reminiscent of the late 90’s.
You’ll generally stick to a fairly linear path which is for the best, because the few times I didn’t have a guiding hand, I ended up wandering around aimlessly as I missed that small passageway I was supposed to enter, there is a completely pointless fast-travel system, which I entered accidentally, then never touched again, but you’re generally best served sticking to the well-trodden paths.
For the first half of the game, the main gameplay loop is to find an item (or three) to unlock the next area, and before each item, there’s usually a handful of enemies to defeat.
This is done in true spiritual fashion by waving your sage stick around in the air, and flinging salt in the eyes of anyone who looks at you funny.
The problem is, combat isn’t all that engaging, there’s a simple dodge-counter mechanic, where you keep hitting the right trigger to attack, and then dodge when the clear visual clues let you know you’re about to get slapped.
This does take a little fun out of the battles, weapons and enemies, but theres a handful of boss battles that require a little more tact and attention and go a long way to salvaging the entire combat system of the game.
To keep healthy, there’s 3 main areas you’ll need to pay attention, your Mind, Body and Spirit.
You can ease your mind by holding A to meditate, which leeches energy from yout spirit to replenish your mind, but each “energy bar” can also be refilled by picking up lavender, ginger or spirit caps which are often conveniently lying around before enemies are going to jump out, but never in high enough quantities where you have a stockpile for security.
You’ll also find some resources for crafting the handful of weapons, with the Sage stick a good all-rounder, the Witch stick, stronger against enemies in the Gloom, and the Fire Lash which is better against physical enemies.
As well as these, you can craft essential oil and fire oil, which join Salt as the projectile based weapons. Unfortuantely, with supllies so limited, you’re likely to run out and one a couple of occasions I had to resort to the default push/slap 10, 20 times against a single enemy, when I’d gone through the limited supllies.
There’s also a skill-tree, which can improve the effectiveness of healing your energy bars, as well as allowing the storage of more healing Lavender, Ginger and Spirit Caps, but most of it feels uneccessary when even on the easiest difficulty, I never found myself with enough resources to spare.
It can certianly be seen as a positive, that you’re not rolling around in sage and lavender, but even when checking every nook and cranny, I would have enjoyed it a littl emore if my earchign efforts had been rewarded with a few full energy bars at least half of the time.
It almost feels criminal to keep calling The Chant a survival-horror game, because it’s not scary, it’s best to think of it more as a supernatural thriller, and there’s plenty of supernatural thrills to keep you entertained.
Throughout the duration of the campaign, there’s enough twists and turns to keep the story intruiging and involving, and while I think alot more could have been done to add a little more fear, the overall presentation fits perfectly, even if it does take a while to really grasp the storyline after the story progresses so quickly at the end of the first chapter.
Obviously graphics and presentation are always going to play a large part, and these are areas where the Chant starts to shine, locations look great, there’s always an eerie feeling of unrest and characters are mostly very well done, sadly it’s not all perfect as there’s some janky animations at times, and the character face’s can look amazing in one scene and then artifical and unrealistic seconds later.
It’s often said that visual and audio presentation are major factors in any video game, but with the survival horror franchise, it’s more important than ever, and while the graphics are almost great, the overall sound quality is fantastic.
Voice acting is incredibly good throughout, the ambience of the island adds a level of realism and the atmospherics around the gloom all add considerably to the experience, the strength in the audio more than makes up for a few shortcomings with animations, and that gives The Chant presentation similar to much more than a small indipendent game.
It’s easy to overlook that The Chant is developed by Brass Token, a developer you’ve probably never heard of before, but if this is the quality of their first major title, I honestly can’t wait to see what’s next.
The storyline will take most people 6-8 hours to work through, but achievements do encourage multiple playthroughs concentrating on each of your mind, body and spirit to unlock all three endings, there’s also alot of collectibles and lore to discover which add welcome depth to the island and your fellow inhabitants, though many of the collectibles are quite easy to locate with over 80% of lore entries and all film reels found on my first play-through.
The chant isn’t a perfect game, but it does alot of things right, firstly at £35, it’s pretty good value, I’ve played far too many games costing £50 or more and enjoyed them far less for the same timeframe. Graphically it’s more Xbox One than Series X, but the great sound helps lift the overall presentation above it’s indie roots, and while combat, the skill-tree system and some design choices aren’t the best, the overall package is likely to please survival horror fans, while providing a not-quite-horror entrypoint for newcomers.