Review: Tormentum – Dark Sorrow

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I have to assume most horror fans are familiar with the works of H.R. Giger and/or Zdzislaw Beksinski, and if so are always pining for games that feature similarly disturbing and creative art. Wistful looks back at Dark Seed and cautious optimism for the upcoming Scorn tell me that much, so I have to also assume fans were pretty pleased with 2015’s Tormentum. The art style is really everything you could hope for, from twisted nightmare creatures to massive living castles. And the gameplay makes good use of it for a pretty standard point-and-click romp, though the relative ease might clash a bit with the grim, hopeless trappings.

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You awaken in a cage, slung beneath a flying machine en route to a particularly ominous castle. There you are to be tortured to death, to purify your soul of some nebulous sins you’ve committed. No motivated adventure protagonist is going to let that keep them down, though, so you set about breaking free of your cell and exploring the castle. As you navigate the many traps and threats these terrible halls offer, you find yourself compelled to an altar set atop a distant mountain. This is where your journey leads, far beyond the confines of the castle and across the blasted nightmare landscape of a world so very unlike our own. But what awaits you at the end of such a macabre tale?

That’s a good question, actually, and I wouldn’t really recommend this game for folks more interested in the destination than the journey. Tormentum’s story is mostly relegated to the background, focusing on the novelty of the setting like a Heavy Metal or 90s MTV animated short. You won’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing until the very end, and it’s a rather cliche bit of moralizing especially coming out of a land of torture castles and cannibal monsters. Fortunately you won’t need to pay that much mind as you puzzle your way from hellhole to hellhole, and the legs of your journey at least offer plenty of interesting world-building and scenery.

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The focus here should absolutely be the art and presentation, because whoever came up with the designs for this game channeled Giger and Beksinski as if possessed. Living walls of sparking metal and stretched flesh glower at you, titanic statues of glowing conduits twisted into alien skulls float just out of reach, and that’s just in the first thirty minutes or so. There is no mistaking the nightmare world you find yourself in, and the atmosphere it creates will please any fan of dark surrealism. What might impinge on that atmosphere are the puzzles, which ape standard adventure fare almost to a fault. None of them will present you any challenge, and I say this as someone who’s had to consult walkthroughs for the majority of the point-and-clicks I’ve played in my life. Puzzles here are never complex and are honestly rarely creative, settling for sliding block puzzles, gear assemblies, and other standards of the genre.

The only thing that really provides any variety in the gameplay are the moral choices you get on your road to Tormentum’s good and bad endings. These aren’t the usual binary save-or-eat-the-kitten choices, either. Your options are often to heed the words of two opposing characters, which lead to different puzzles depending on the path you choose. This complicates matters by both giving you options out of tricky or tiresome puzzles and obfuscating which options are truly good or bad, as helping someone who seems good may require harming or killing an innocent. Honestly it’s the kind of morality system that’s going to bother the kind of people who insist on perfect pacifist runs, and while I find this murky sort interesting I was sort of annoyed when I killed a perfectly nice character because I didn’t fully understand the buttons in front of me.

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Overall it’s a solid adventure game, a little bit more dense in content and design at the front than the back, and held back only by its lack of challenge and nearly non-existent story. None of these factors will affect your enjoyment of the art all that much, and realistically that’s what you’re here for. Games that look this striking and evoke such specific horrors are rare, and none of the quibbles I’ve trotted out should detract from that appreciation. As a short, simple point-and-click Tormentum is merely passable, but with that incredible presentation it becomes something that really deserves to be seen.

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