I'm excited. I'm not just on board the hype train for Protocol Games' Song of Horror, I'm eating snacks from the first-class carriage. In this third-person horror, described as a return to the classic horror of Resident Evil and Silent Hill, with 16 playable characters and permadeath, it is hard not to be. Even more so when it delivers on everything it promises in its Kickstarter campaign.
In the press demo I played, Daniel Noyer, the game’s main character, has travelled to Husher Mansion, where renowned writer Sebastian P. Husher lives. Daniel works as the Assistant to the Sales Director at Wake Publishing, responsible for publishing Husher’s writing. The only problem is that Husher hasn't answered the phone in weeks. Daniel was sent to find out why. Finding the front door ajar, he heads inside, and promptly regrets the whole thing.
Standing in the hallway, I couldn't help but notice that the game was visually impressive, and the unnerving ambient music emphasised what was to come. The shadows played their part, too. Protocol Games has perfected the game's lighting, and shadows lie in wait everywhere you look, potentially hiding things you won't want to find. Torch shining into the darkness, I already didn't want to take a step forward.
The camera angles used are pulled straight from classic horror games, and always have you wondering what is waiting just out of the screen. These camera angles are also used to great effect when listening through a door, which Daniel can do before going through, if you so desire. Not only is the feature quite powerful in its own right (what might you hear?), but the camera closes in on the player. As they listen, the half of the screen behind them is empty, and they're left wondering if something is on its way to fill it. This is how classic horror works, both in games and movies, and it's refreshing to see it done so well in a modern game.
Adding to this sense of unease, and to the game's narrative, are notes and drawings found around the mansion. These include disturbing children's drawings, creepy haikus, and letters between people, giving the player an idea of what took place before they arrived. In addition, little references show the studio's love for horror. For example, a piano is branded with "Himuro," which is clearly a reference to Himuro Mansion, a real-life location just outside of Tokyo, said to be haunted, and then made famous as the setting of Fatal Frame.
That isn't to say that Song of Horror borrows everything from the old classics; far from it.
The game will have 16 playable characters upon release, and with permadeath in place, any of these 16 characters could die, taking the narrative along a different path. I didn't get to experience this in the early build, but I still discovered something new.
In some horror games, once you've been scared by something once, you won't be scared by it again, should you revisit or replay an area. Not so in Song of Horror. Even if you revisit an area, the scares may change. One small room had already scared me once, when a ghostly hand reached through the door behind me. Having already seen this, I was ready for it. Nothing happened. Thinking I'd bested the room, I went to leave, only to be startled out of my arrogance by two booming knocks on the door. It was plain cruel. Fortunately, that's exactly what I want from horror.
I was sent into yet another unexpected panic when the walls began to ooze and rot, and I was told to "run or hide." The soundtrack ramped up and added to my blind terror. I ran through the house, found a table, and crouched beneath it until the house turned to normal. Well, as normal as Song of Horror gets. Not even a minute later I walked through a kitchen and listened at a door. I heard scratching. Curious, I opened the door and was enveloped by "The Presence," a dark entity that swallowed Daniel into its blackness and left me with a message: “Daniel did not make it...” I hadn’t survived. With 16 characters, this might not have been too much of an issue, but as Daniel is the main character, and the only character in the early build, dying meant failure.
Though I may have failed, I am struggling to think of an area where Song of Horror did. My laptop struggled with it, and there were a lot of keys to remember, but that all comes down to the fact that I’m not a natural PC gamer, and neither my laptop nor my key memory is up to scratch. Controller support is available, though, and I’d be using my Steam AlphaWare to play the final game. Problem solved.
It may be early in development, but I'm really excited by Song of Horror. I mean, I already was, but having played it, I can see that Protocol Games is really onto something. If you haven't already, I recommend - nay, beg - that you check out the game's Kickstarter campaign. If you've been wanting to return to the days of suspenseful camera angles, an interesting narrative and clever scares, Song of Horror is how you get there. In my opinion, this game needs to happen. It will be good for horror gamers, and potentially even good for the genre as a whole. Keep up to date with everything you need to know by heading to the website, Facebook or Twitter. Just do it.