If you don’t fancy peeping around every corner in your house or jumping at a lamp swinging innocently, stop reading now. will make sure you never see your house in the same way again. The haunted house horror game is due to appear sometime soon as its release date is Q2 2017. I can’t wait. Set in a house that has seen multiple deaths - some violent, some benign - your only task is to figure out what the hell is going on by reliving “fragments of history” to uncover why the entities haunting it have it out for you. To find out more I had a chat with Jonathan Gagné, the co-founder of SadSquare studios, who are doing their best to make us quake with fear at the sight of our own home.
It’s hard to create a house-based horror game without citing Allison Road or PT as an influence. Not that the SadSquare team try to dodge this - in fact, they’re very upfront about it. The “pacing, tension building, atmospheric uneasiness and frightening climaxes” all echo those in PT, as well as the “hyper-realistic look” of the house which looks like something straight out of an ordinary suburb. Complete with half-washed dishes, crumpled tablecloths and newspapers scattered on a sofa, its realistic nature is uncanny. It’s not going to be a carbon-copy though, as I was told that “the interactivity and depth of gameplay elements, the story and lore of the world, will far outstretch the short and intense gameplay of PT”. Visage is all about psychological horror, so although you’ll feel an overwhelming sense of dread, pacing is important. “There will be moments of nothingness, exploration and discovery,” Gagné explained. Meaning you’ll never be quite sure what’s coming next. Terrific.
Judging from the Allison Road gameplay, Gagné told me it looked like it’s “going to be more narrative, which Visage [...] won’t be”. As a non-linear, almost sandbox game, the story isn’t as rigid as Allison Road’s. Instead they’ve borrowed a little from another horror titan: Amnesia. Just like the game that had YouTubers looking over their shoulders long after the camera was switched off, Visage is going to be “interactive”. Opening doors inch by inch, choosing your own path, not being taken out of the action by cutscenes - Visage has a sizeable debt to Amnesia. It looks like parts of the story will only be obvious if you take the time to look around you. No word yet on whether there’s going to be any dialogue, though, but from the demo it’s clear you won’t be spoon-fed narrative.
Visage certainly has its own identity, though. As you play you’ll get a decent dose of the story, but its randomly-generated events will make each playthrough different. Some sequences will be triggered by picking up specific objects or using them in a certain way, but there’s no guarantee it’ll be the same every time. By the sounds of it, the only way to get the full tale of what happened is to replay Visage until you encounter each and every entity, piecing together the story yourself. Exploring the house is a key part of unlocking the story, as you’ll have to open drawers, cupboards, and use the items you’ll find (ranging from leaves to videotapes) on other objects to unlock their secrets. It’ll be completely down to you how much you uncover. Gagné revealed that right from the start you’re “left in complete darkness with very little information”, so expect to feel “powerless and confused” at first. Standing on the sidelines isn’t Visage’s style, as despite having no idea what’s going on you’re “no spectator”. Finding out why you’re there and who you are is just a big a part of the story as figuring out why the house has so many entities haunting it.
The issue with a scare-a-minute jumpscare-fest game is that you expect to be petrified. But at the heart of Visage is an “atmospheric eeriness composed of both the banality and normality of a typical, yet disturbing 80's house”. Designed to make you feel “watched from every tight corner and long hallway”, the house’s layout is meant to be hard to visualise. You’ll find it hard to “get used to the layout” but “most spaces are connected together”, Gagné told me. “You’ll rarely just enter a room and get out from the same door”, so exploration will flow nicely rather than having you backtrack through the same rooms.
So, house: check. Entities set on making you miserable: check. Horrifying events around every corner: not-so-check. Despite the fact that the house is malevolent in certain aspects, most of its terror comes from the sheer banality of your surroundings. A video falling down from a shelf, a swinging lamp, a radio pausing between songs - none of these “benign” instances are threatening, but amidst the silence of the house they suddenly become possible signs that something is trying to scare you. Or maybe you’re just imagining it. Through making your paranoid brain ascribe meaning to random events, Visage shows that part of its genius is giving you room to breathe. But you don’t know that you’re being given down-time until it’s too late and another entity is tracking your footsteps.
Prowling through the house behind you are various entities. Gagné revealed that each one has “its own personality”, with its state of mind influenced by how much “confusion, desolation, sorrow, and hate” it feels. These aren’t Slenderman-ish horrors, though. One figure with bladed hands was originally the sole antagonist, but was dialled back. Having long knives for fingers was deemed just too “surreal”, which goes against SadSquare’s vision of Visage being “as real as it can get”. Now he has a “smaller role”, though they’re keeping it tightly under wraps. Spreading out the potential for scares into multiple antagonists, just one “wouldn’t cut it”, so there are quite a few in the game, though finding out just how many is tricky. The demo shows at least three: a small girl in a dishevelled dress, a hanged woman, and a naked, gaunt man in a dark room, muttering something to himself. He has a tendency to disappear, popping up again as a bright-eyed, twitching figure who blinks in and out of existence.
This chap is a nice metaphor for Visage. One moment recognisable (albeit slightly unsettling), the next absolutely horrific. You won’t be getting just the one glimpse of him either, as it has multiple endings so Gagné told me that you won’t be “done with [it] after the first try”. As an extra incentive, it seems that you can only get the good ending after walking around the house more than once. Out on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and VR (PSVR, Oculus Rift, and Steam VR) in Q2 2017, I’ll leave you with one final word from Gagné: “we're going for a feeling that will last and follow you, nestling itself just under your bed”. *Shudders*.