Visage is a terrifying, and painstakingly detailed, first-person psychological horror game that was an absolute delight (not literally) to play. If you haven’t checked out our review, take a look here. In this article, I will look at influences from P.T., the characters in the game, and how they tie in with the protagonist’s story. I also explore various themes present in Visage, and its take on purgatory and forgiveness.
Trigger Warning: Visage is a story with plenty of disturbing moments, including suicide and depictions of addiction. Brief references to these incidents present below.
Spoiler Alert: This article discusses the events of Visage in detail – heavy story spoilers follow!
The P.T. Influence
It is no secret that Visage directly draws inspiration from the cult-classic P.T. SadSquare Studio, the developer behind Visage, sought not just to replicate the sense of terror that P.T. was capable of, but expand upon the intriguing idea of being trapped in a personal purgatory and deliver a story from start to finish, which Silent Hills unfortunately could not due to its premature demise.
This inspiration from P.T. is prominent in the game. After a gruesome cutscene where you presumably commit familicide and eventually suicide, the player wakes up in a room with a single door leading out, much like P.T. Hobbling on broken legs, the player wanders out into a hallway, following this the game puts you in control, free to explore the house. From Lisa’s awful scratchy breathing to the radio that bursts into transmission as you approach the front door, the list of P.T. references goes on. And it’s not just P.T. that Visage pays homage to. I also spotted a couple of Silent Hill references with a painting that looked suspiciously like Pyramid Head and doors barred with chains during a specific chapter, a direct reference to Silent Hill 4: The Room.
As I briefly mentioned in the review, Visage’s three chapters deal with the tragic end of three specific individuals who lived in the house before Dwayne, the protagonist. Though you’re free to play any chapter first, I’ll mention them in the order I played them.
First up is Rakan Al-Mutawa, an ex-rugby player who descends into paranoia. Rakan’s chapter primarily revolves around being watched, symbolized by eyes. One of the puzzles even has you searching the house for paintings with an eye poking out of them (‘gouge it out!’), showing how Rakan felt he was being watched all the time. During another chase sequence, you need to stab a giant eye with a knife to clear a pathway. From the TV screen to scribbles on the walls, these silent observers surround you, staring back at you.
Another point that we’ll get to later is Rakan’s insistence that Dwayne ‘ruined his life.’ Where is this accusation coming from? What did Dwayne do to Rakan to invite such hatred?
Lucy is the youngest victim in the game. After she starts hearing a voice from the TV and radio asking to be her friend, her mental state steadily declines to the point where she is pushed into killing her pet bird Peaco. Her parents seek psychiatric help, and Lucy is eventually put on a treatment that includes regular injections, adding to her misery. Unable to put up with the voices and the pain the treatment brings her, she commits suicide by ripping her jaw out.
The last chapter I played was Dolores’, who lived in the house with her husband and their baby. She slowly spirals into ever-worsening schizophrenia after hearing a strange pattern of numbers repeated over the radio (another reference for the P.T. fans out there). As time passes, Dolores begins to dissociate, failing to recognize her baby and becoming paranoid that her husband is trying to poison her. She stabs him to death with 7 knives (a recurring number in the game, perhaps a reference to the seven deadly sins?), and unable to bear her guilt, she hangs herself.
The Dwayne Connection
So how do these people tie in with Dwayne? This is where the extensive environmental details and the post-game chapter comes in. Once you’re done with the three chapters mentioned above, you can hunt down 7 VHS tapes (3 of which you should have picked up already at the end of each chapter). Every tape is appropriately labelled with a negative action or emotion, such as Pride or Indifference.
It is through these mini chapters that we piece together the rest of the puzzle, and learn that Dwayne was addicted to alcohol, which he used to quell a ‘void’ in himself. This came about after he signed an unethical contract to work at a research facility and caused suffering to multiple people – including those who haunted him in the previous chapters. This wasn’t always in the form of overt experiments on the people themselves, but also through ones conducted in secret like spiking their water with drugs (like the bizarre yet very real Project MKUltra).
Guilt and Addiction in Visage
The themes of guilt and addiction are central to the overall plot. What Visage hints at is that feelings of guilt bottled up in oneself can, and often do, become a pathway to addiction which brings supposed relief by numbing the senses. Anxiety and depression added to the mix only make matters worse. It adds to a growing rift with the ones who truly care for you, as evidenced by Dwayne’s wife’s appeals to confide in her, and the resulting frustration when he constantly chooses not to do so. Ultimately, overcome by the horror of his actions and his soullessness, he ends his life and his family’s, entering his own purgatory.
Forgiveness: The Good Ending
Dwayne suffers plenty of scares throughout the game. He is chased down by haunting apparitions of those who suffered at his hands, often murdered in a gruesome fashion, forced to start over and relive this nightmare. Which brings us back to the question that started this all: how much punishment is enough? And who can be the judge of that? This is where the final section of Visage comes into play. There is no forgiveness for Dwayne until he forgives himself first. And that comes with a reckoning.
The house can be thought of as Dwayne’s personal purgatory, and it is only by coming to terms with his sins and acknowledging them that he can be ‘free’ of them. Visage has two endings: the “good” ending is unlocked after collecting the 7 tapes I talked of above, each of which represents Dwayne witnessing the consequences of his actions, be it the pain he caused countless people who were experimented upon or reliving his cruel indifference towards his family. It is only through acknowledging the harm his actions caused – and repenting them – that Dwayne can forgive himself.
This self-awareness brings us to the end of Visage: it is no longer night, as sunlight streams through the windows. Time in purgatory has been served. He walks down to the basement – to the room where it all began, where he murdered his family – and on the other side, at least in his mind, they await the reunion. And this time, Dwayne does not push them away. The light swallows them as he is reunited with his wife and children. Self-forgiveness, or whatever version of it exists once you’re dead, has been achieved. Cut to credits.
Limbo: The Bad Ending
Which leaves us with the not-so-good ending. Fittingly, if you choose to ignore Dwayne’s crimes – and resort to shooting yourself repeatedly using the gun in the basement to escape it all (7 times), you end the game at the bottom of a dark well, trapped for eternity. Suicide here is shown as a way for Dwayne to shy away from facing his actions and doesn’t serve any good. In fact, he ends up in a worse position than he was in.
And this is the point where Visage completely diverges from P.T. While I feel that P.T. strongly hinted at supernatural forces exploiting underlying feelings of inadequacy and shame to drive fathers to commit domestic homicides, Visage considers that to be an easy out that Dwayne does not deserve. In its final act, Visage unequivocally points its finger at Dwayne – he is ultimately the only man responsible for driving innocent people to their deaths by experimenting on them with hallucinogenic drugs and killing his own family after he couldn’t bear to live with the guilt of his actions.
The supernatural is present in healthy doses to scare you straight, and for most of the game I believed that there was in fact a malicious entity preying on the residents of the house through the decades, but that’s too straightforward an answer. In a house full of ghosts, it is you who is the most terrifying monster of them all.
What are your thoughts on Visage? Do you have a different interpretation of the story? Let us know in the comments below!
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