Soul is the latest artistic offering from indie developers Kydos Studios. You begin in a disgustingly gritty hospital (which looks like something akin to a horror film set in Chernobyl) where it becomes apparent from a long beep emitted from the life support that someone has died. His soul, a blue glowy blob, ejects itself from the body, and the only instructions that are issued throughout the game appear: Use the left stick to escape.
The game is supposed to be scary and in many ways succeeds. The narrow camera angle leaves much of the screen dark, forcing the player to focus on the centre of the screen, meaning that it’s terrifying when the screaming dead girl flashes on the screen, which occurs after a certain amount of times your soul is destroyed – it happens just enough to keep you alert, but not enough to make it predictable rather than scary. For my own humility, I’m glad I was playing with the light on and I wasn’t wearing headphones – but if you like a scare, turn the lights off, plug in, and enjoy.
Through trial and error, I learn that you cannot touch the ceiling, walls, anything, or your soul is destroyed, and you must begin the level again. In this sense, Soul plays like the board game Operation, except that instead of a buzzer going off, your soul is banished to hell for all eternity – or something like that.
The original grit only becomes grittier as you traverse the hospital, meeting gnashing ghouls that lurk in the ceiling and floor, whose sole aim (get it?) is to prevent you from passing the level and getting closer to your goal – St. Peter’s pearly gates. Touching these biting oddities also sends you back to the beginning of the level; there are no health bars here.
Much of the game is about learning patterns. You have to remember where the enemies appear from, and where you have to move to avoid them. This makes completing a level on the first attempt nearly impossible; there will almost always be a few sacrificial souls before a zone is cleared. Although most of the game encourages small, precise movements with the left stick, occasionally speed is called for, for example, in a level where you must beat the rising water out of the sewers.
The sound and visuals are excellent. Sometimes indie developers have a tendency to try and make a project bigger than their studio can cope with, but Kydos have achieved the right scale here superbly. Although there are no voices, a background growl and the dripping of an unpleasant tap somewhere provide an apt acostic backdrop. The few-cut scenes are exceptionally pretty and their gothic nature is befitting of the rest of the game.
Despite this, I have my complaints. I had no connection with my ‘soul’, and although it was a short game, the character could have been developed better, either with a few words from the dying man, or making the soul a bit more personal – perhaps a few noises from it or some sort of reaction for finishing a zone. As it is, I lacked any empathy with my blue glowing blob and because of this the game had a tendency to feel like a collection of mini-games rather than me and the soul off on a big, linear adventure to heaven.
The game is also far too hard. I assure you, I am not just whining because I was no good – a game has to strike a good balance of achievability to be fun. The player (unless you have many, many hours of Operation under your proverbial belt) will spend a lot of time on one or two of the harder levels, which leads to frustration. What would have been better is to have more easier levels, so that the feeling of relief at having passed a level is less sporadic, and the frustration does not build up into a blind rage at the misgivings of a blue blob. I consider myself a good gamer, but I had to drop down from medium level to ‘Wimp’ after a couple of hours of clawing at the walls, cursing the people who designed one level.
Eventually, though, I was able to complete the game as a wimp. If anyone can do it on hardcore and prove it, they can have a big gold shiny star from me. The game is definitely worth £1 from Xbox Live, and is a lot of fun if you like challenges of precision, or if you’re a horror fan. And getting to heaven was definitely an experience. What’s heaven like, you ask? Well, you’ll have to find out for yourself.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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