If there’s one thing that I’m skilled at – where I don’t have to give it a second’s thought before doing it – it is walking around the house in pitch darkness. Waking up hungry in the middle of the night, I will walk to the kitchen without turning on a single light, navigating by memory and the shafts of light flowing in through the blinds in the living room. I stubbed my toe over a chair or two at first, but after a few days every piece of furniture was burned into memory.
All of which made me confident that I would be able to breeze through navigation in Visage – a game where you walk the haunted, and often dark, hallways of a mansion to try and piece together your own story. Sadly, the ability to memorize a room’s layout intimately didn’t help me in the slightest when being chased by a ghost hellbent on stabbing me to death.
Ghosts of Residents Past
These are no random ghosts. As Dwayne, you wake up in a seemingly deserted suburban house with no recollection of your past. Soon, you cross paths with paranormal events occurring at random around the house – doors closing on you, lights turning off – you know, the usual stuff. The real meat of the game, however, lies spread out across three chapters, each one recounting the lives of people who lived in the same house before you. During each chapter, you often view events from their perspective. The ghost of that individual can also spawn at random times to hunt you down and kill you in a gruesome manner. For a deeper analysis of the story, its influences from P.T., and the characters, check out our piece here.
For a brief overview, the residents include:
- Rakan: an ex-rugby player driven to extreme paranoia and an unnatural fear of being watched
- Lucy: a girl who befriends a mysterious entity that speaks to her through the radio and TV
- Dolores: who hears a strange pattern of numbers repeated on the radio that heralds her spiral into schizophrenia
There are several gameplay mechanics inspired from beloved horror classics that can be found here, the most notable one being taking pills to maintain your sanity, much like Amnesia. Your sanity also decreases the longer you stay in the dark. The lower it drops, the higher the chances of you catching glimpses of truly terrifying apparitions. Lighters (with a generous portion of lighter fluid) are used to light your way around the house, and I found them essential to clearing several sections, especially Lucy’s chapter.
Visage is as much a puzzle game as it is first-person psychological horror, and many of those puzzles are outrageously difficult. The game demands thorough inspection of details all over the house. I had to keep a walkthrough open on my phone as I played, in case I got hopelessly stuck (which was more often that I’d like to admit here). If you have the time (and the patience) I would suggest trying your best to solve the puzzles and figure out a way forward yourself, as the resulting dopamine rush from doing so is unlike any other.
Attention to Detail
Visage is a game that prioritizes narrative; however, unlike traditional exposition provided through dialogue or collectibles like journal entries, vital pieces of the story are communicated to the player through the environment. The onus is now on the player to explore and keep an eye out for details in their surroundings that expand on the story of Visage. That is not to say that there is no dialogue in the game at all. Whenever present, it is carefully measured and doled out in small portions, providing key insights into the story, such as detailing the deterioration of Dolores’ mental health or providing hints for some of the more difficult puzzles.
I personally feel that attention to detail is increasingly becoming an uncommon art, as expansive maps in games necessitate reuse of assets and in turn make environmental storytelling all the more difficult. How can each room tell a unique story when there are hundreds you could jump into in the latest Assassin’s Creed? Open-world and attention to detail come at the cost of time (and unimaginable human effort), as is apparent in the case of Red Dead Redemption II which took nearly a decade to reach completion.
Visage manages to achieve this level of detail due to two main reasons: the scope of its map (while still large, it is constrained within a single mansion) and its first-person perspective, which allows players to zoom into details that would otherwise be lost with a larger draw distance. This made it possible to incorporate multiple details in the environment – from sculptures to framed family photographs – that make the house seem lived in and familiar, increasing the terror you feel when you see the ghost staring back at you from across the unlit hallway.
That is the secret of Visage’s horror – turning the familiarity of it all against you by violating what would largely be seen as a safe space. It could be any home, even yours. So, the next time you go out in the middle of the night, please turn on all the lights. I sure do.
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