Developed and published by the Canadian indie studio SadSquare, Visage is a first-person survival / psychological horror game, the first title from an incredibly talented team. Taking influences from the brilliant – and forever unavailable – P.T., the cult-classic Phantasmagoria, and the terrifying Amnesia: The Dark Descent, this game places you in a house with a terrible history. A story that you are about to relive over and over again.
But before we delve further into this review, let me give you a heads-up: this game isn’t for kids – and not for all grown-ups too. With a dark atmosphere that frequently sends shivers down your spine and moments that will terrify even the bravest of you, this game is not for the faint of heart. If you are courageous enough and want to know what is so special about this studio’s first game, go ahead. Just don’t say that I did not warn you.
What we liked!
- Terrifying visuals: With some of the most immersive and believable worlds I’ve ever experienced in a game, I can say that SadSquare did some magic with this game. Using the powerful Unreal Engine 4, the studio created impressive scenarios for you to explore. Your interaction with it is restricted to opening doors, drawers, and wardrobes and picking up a few items and consumables, but it’s still amazing. The house where this gruesome adventure takes place feels so real that it will intimidate even the bravest players. Add to this already terrifying atmosphere a magistral use of light (which plays a significant role in your sanity and survival… but don’t worry: we will talk more about it later) and you have one of the most frightening games of the year!
- Sound design: It’s ok if you disagree with me, but I believe that a horror game without a great sound design falls flat on the floor. It lays in the music – or its absence – the most terrifying aspect of any game created to frighten the player. For instance, in many horror movies, the music and sound lead the public into the right feeling – be it safety or total despair. The best films and games play with this scale in the right measure, oscillating between security and desolation – and so does Visage. The sound design here is superb! Your footsteps echo in the empty house. You can hear whispers, breathing, and mysterious sounds all around, always making you uncomfortable. And it has a fantastic voicework – used in the right measure. And music too, let me not forget about it – although the silence is much more present. SadSquare team truly delivered a masterpiece in what concerns the audio in this game.
- The randomness of events: One of the selling characteristics of Visage is the randomness of events in it. Supposedly, the game throws random events like a door opening, the radio turned on, or a light is going off at random and when you are not expecting it. I must admit this aspect of the game, although simple, works great. Even when you know what can happen, you will always be surprised. Keeping this element of surprise alive in a game is challenging to achieve. I remember playing some other horror games that, when I understood its scary mechanic (the triggers that indicate the game will throw something at you), the adventure became boring. But it doesn’t happen in Visage: even after comprehending its triggers and how to avoid them, these random events were still there to make me uncomfortable in each new room. And for a story with independent chapters, keeping things always fresh is a huge accomplishment!
- About your gameplay: Trying not to spoil too much of the game to you, this house you find yourself trapped inside works like a hub for the game’s chapters. You can freely explore the hose, but some areas will only be accessible once you start a chapter, restricting your access to some other places. Each chapter explores one of the many stories this house keeps – from murders to suicides and much more. You will relieve fragments of those memories that will slowly uncover the truth behind this house. I hope you have enough diapers to relive all these memories and find the truth behind the pain all those families suffered in this grisly place. And to sum up this already disturbing ambiance, the game has an interesting always-changing scenario that reveals new rooms and doors as you progress in the story, abolishing any possible comfort and safety feeling you could have while revisiting areas already explored.
- Hello, darkness, my old friend… As mentioned above, the light plays a crucial role in Visage’s gameplay. It is not exactly a new thing since light is vital for survival in most horror games. Lanterns, flashlights, torches, candles… all these items have already been used as sources of light in horror games. In Visage, you will use lighters, candles, and light from light bulbs and other electronic devices to illuminate your way. What makes it so unique is that your light sources are minimal – even electricity can sometimes let you down. And when you spend too much time in darkness, our character’s sanity starts to fade away: he starts to hear and see things that can eventually break him. The only way not to get your pants dirty (if they are not already) is to take some hard-to-find sedatives — the character, not you, please.
- Timed gameplay: One aspect of its gameplay that I didn’t like is its timed gameplay. While in one of the chapters, you may eventually become lost, not knowing where to go or what to do next. It’s normal and happens a lot. And when you start to wander around, the random events occur more frequently – to the point you can die even though your sanity was ok. And it doesn’t happen while you are progressing in the story. So, instead of pointing out your next step, this game prefers to kill you and make you go back to your last checkpoint. In my opinion, a little unfair, considering how many times I didn’t know what to do or where to go next, and I had some… ahnnn… visitors eager to introduce me to the game over screen. It’s interesting, but I’m not a fan of this mechanic. And it’s connected to one of the aspects that will feature in the What we disliked session.
What we disliked
- Quo vadis? Although the game clearly states this is going to difficult, it doesn’t mention this will be one hell of a ride. And when I didn’t know where to go or what to do next (may it be because the indications were too subtle or because there were no indications at all), I frequently found myself roaming around the house, spending all my resources until the panic took over my character. Some more hints about where to go or what to do next would have been more than welcome.
- Bugs, glitches, etc.: Yes, this game looks and feels marvelous, but it’s still not free of bugs and glitches. I’ve seen items getting stuck, re-appearing after I’ve already picked them up (especially in the kitchen), and other minor problems. They do not compromise your gameplay – but as a reviewer, I need to mention them. Maybe these apparent bugs only happened because the house was playing tricks with me. Who knows?
Visage is one of those titles with everything to become an instant classic: a dark and mysterious story, a disturbing atmosphere, and a scenario that will have you always in extreme discomfort. Add to this formula a scary and incredibly realistic scenery with excellent sound design. You now have an idea of what Visage has to offer to you. I’m not a big fan of some of its mechanics, and I still believe some more guidance would be welcome, but maybe it’s just me. As a mix of survival and horror games, Visage has everything you could ask!
With a history of gaming that goes from his old man’s Atari 2600 to his Xbox One, Rafael or RAF687, our Brazilian editor, has a love for games as old as he can remember. He has already spent countless hours in many consoles (Mega Drive/Genesis, Sega Saturn, PS1, PS2 and Xbox 360) and is always ready for more (as long as his wife is asleep). Raf has been writing for LifeisXbox since 2017, with a passion for games of almost all genres – though we know he has a special place in his heart for RPGs, racing games and anything that includes pixel art. Writing about games has always been a childhood dream to Raf, dream that he has fulfilled reviewing games for you here. You can drop him a message at Twitter, Facebook or Xbox Live at any time.