Visage is a first-person horror game that wears its inspiration plainly on its sleeve, namely PT, the now-infamous playable teaser for Konami’s canceled Silent Hills game. It’s also the scariest game I’ve played in quite some time. Fun story: I wasn’t the one initially doing this review; it was passed on to me after my fellow reviewer (whose name shall be redacted to protect his honor) found it too stressful to handle. With a situation like that, how can a horror aficionado like me not be curious? Once you boot up the game, you are treated to a warning: “Visage is hard. Patience, thorough investigation, and good resource management are your best friends. Good luck...” This only served to stoke my enthusiasm even more! Fair warning: Visage is a disturbing game. If you’re the sort that gets easily put off by violence, stop reading now.
A lot of the narrative in Visage is told passively throughout the game, with a few cutscenes sprinkled in. The intro begins with a first-person view execution of a family of three by your character, who then blows his own brains out. You promptly wake up in a pool of blood in another room of the house, much like the beginning of PT. You aren’t quite dead, yet you aren’t quite alive. Welcome to purgatory, bitch. You are now thrust into the game with no other instruction. You are free to explore a bit, but most areas of the house are locked off. The game does give a short text tutorial as you encounter things for the first time, like your ‘progress room’. The progress room is a special room that holds the unique story items that you come across as you beat chapters and the super-important Mirror Mask (more on that later).
Once you explored a little, you will come across three special items. These items belonged to previous victims of the house’s brutal past; Lucy, Dolores, and Rakan. Once you click on one, a prompt will appear to warn you that you will be locked into the chapter until you beat it. Most of the game takes place in the house, but this is an important distinction to make because the house is not a static thing; it is constantly shifting and changing in clever and unexpected ways. This is why you are warned at startup that the game requires patience and thorough investigation. You will need to keenly observe the changes in the house that often subtly guide you to where you need to be, and special items will only appear after certain intervals. These small tells can also be used as a warning. My favorite example of this is one time where I wasn’t quite paying attention and running through a narrow corridor and I saw a bit of blood pooling near the base of the door I was about to pass by. I didn’t notice the music had gotten slightly more ominous and I swung the door open and stepped inside the tiny room. That’s when the music fully kicked in and I realized the room was covered in blood and viscera. I wasn’t even sure what was about to happen to me because the second I saw a flickering shadow just a shade darker than the room I did a 180 and ran for my life.
These ghosts don’t play around, that’s for sure. Whichever one is hunting you down depends on the chapter. As you play through each chapter you will slowly puzzle together their tragedy, with the chapter culminating on one final cutscene to show their untimely demise. Lucy is your typical creepy ghost-girl in a tattered nightgown until you realize she’s missing the entire lower half of her jaw. Oh, and did I mention she also has a horrifying dark specter as a friend, who also likes making the big murder?!? Kids these days, you really need to watch who they hang out with. The inhabitants don’t always chase you, but when they do you better get away quick because it’s instant death when they catch you. Dolores is the worst of the bunch, in my opinion. She’s a creepy old lady with multiple mental illnesses and she acts a lot like that fake grandmother with Sundowner’s syndrome from the 2015 M. Night Shyamalan horror movie The Visit. She scared the hell out of me once just by simply poking her head out from around a hallway corner when I wasn’t expecting it, only to stare and run off. And Rakan? We don’t talk about Rakan.
You will also need to watch out for your own sanity. Standing in the dark will cause you to lose sanity quickly, which sucks for you because the house is so oppressively dark and gloomy. Visage boasts both top-notch visuals and a grim and foreboding atmosphere. We’re talking about a scaredy-cat’s deadliest combination: claustrophobic environments and darkness so thick you can barely see in front of you. This can make for situations where you’ll want to inch slowly down the hall because there may be something horrifying at just an arm’s length away. Standing near a light source calms you down and restores sanity. There are plenty of light switches around the house, which you may think is a good thing but the game likes to use it against you. Paranormal events occur every so often and much more often the lower your sanity. These events can be anything from random electronics turning on, doors slamming, lights flicking off, or in some cases even breaking entirely. You do have a few items to help you out, however, which leads me to my biggest complaint about Visage.
Inventory management. Usually not an issue but Visage has somehow made it awkward and uncomfortable. There are two types of items: dynamic and key. Key items are important things you find around the house that are important and cannot be discarded until they are used up. This involves things like house keys and the VHS tape collectibles you will need to find in order to get clues on how to find the mirror mask (no, not yet, we’ll talk about it later). Dynamic items are where the frustration lies. I’ll try to explain but it’s hard to get an idea of it until you try it for yourself. A dynamic item is usually a type of consumable, like the pills that restore your sanity, a lighter to help you see a bit, or a lightbulb used to repair broken light fixtures. You can carry one item in each hand and hold up to five items in your inventory. Instead of a simple button press to discard items or whatever, you usually end up needing to hold a combination of buttons to maneuver them. Two-handed items make it a bit more annoying because you can’t store them or use them one-handed. At least using them requires only a simple button press. One other note: opening a door requires you to hold the trigger while holding the analog stick in the direction you want to slowly open it in. This seems like a cool idea but it is functionally useless. If a ghost is coming, you’ll definitely want to high-tail it out of there ASAP. Luckily, you can change the setting to ‘simple’ in the options so you can open it quickly with a single button-press. My advice is to do that right away to save yourself needless aggravation.
Once you beat all three of the self-contained chapter stories, you find yourself back in the house, unsure of what to do. I thought the game would have been over but I was sorely mistaken. I call this the Dwayne chapter since now you will have to fully explore the house and experience fragments of the protagonist’s personal descent into tragedy. Exploring the house triggers weird events, which upon completion, rewards you with a piece of a mirror mask. Each scene chronicles Dwayne’s depression and addiction to drugs and alcohol. Anyways, I won’t go into more detail due to spoilers but you will need the completed mask to finish the game and trigger the actual ending. I’ve said about all I have to say, so to sum it up:
Visage is an insanely tense and pervasively dreadful experience that seeps into your subconscious and refuses to leave. I’ll be thinking about this one for a long time.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 9/10
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