Back in 2015, the world first experienced PT, the playable teaser for the now cancelled Silent Hills by Hideo Kojima. PT was a short but terrifying experience, managing to turn a single hallway stroll into a horror masterpiece, with some clever scares and a shocking amount of backstory. There’s been countless games that have tried to recapture this horror but have failed. After a long time in early access, Visage is upon us and is the best attempt we’ve had to a PT successor.

Just a normal house… nothing to see or fear here

After a brief cinematic scene where a character commits something tragic, you wake up in a bathroom. Upon leaving it,  you are free to explore the house you’re in, and discover the events that transpired there. Split across four chapters, you will delve deep into the house’s history, which tackles your typical horror themes, but in a pretty interesting manner, with less focus on dialogue and more on the imagery and visuals. It feels very much like the mystery that took centre stage in PT, and it’s very hard to talk about without spoiling it.

“Be mindful that it is a difficult game in unconventional ways”  is a direct quote pulled from the game’s Steam store page. I was confused by this statement, thinking it would be a simple resource collecting game. But no, this is a uniquely difficult game. Not everything you do in Visage makes sense, because not everything needs to make sense. You find your own way around the house, completing chapters in whatever order you want, but the consequences are something you will live with. There’s very little to guide you through the game and you will often have to figure everything out on your own.

Usually this level of confusion is a negative, a way to drag out a game’s run time if it’s too short. Here in Visage, however, this is a strength. The game will subtly guide you with clever imagery and hints telling you where you need to go. You might encounter a puzzle before even getting a clue, or find a clue that won’t be relevant to the story until much later. It’s an organic feeling to a game that is designed to confuse your senses. Even simple navigation of the house can be confusing with a layout that will occasionally shift. For example, getting from the main floor to the basement is straightforward, but if you want to go from the basement back to the main floor, you need to take a totally different route that doesn’t make sense at all.

Looks a little familiar.

From the very minute you boot up the game, there’s a sense of dread and fear, recapturing the terrifying hallway experience of PT perfectly and building it up into a full house and beyond. I was always on edge, looking behind me constantly whilst freezing if I thought I saw something up ahead. The game will dynamically mess with you in interesting ways: light switches will flick off, doors will open and close randomly, and footsteps can be heard across the map. I was fully immersed into the experience, and this kind of horror is seen throughout the entire game. Even when nothing was happening I was always cautious of what could be around the corner.

Controls are also a bit finicky and can be problematic. Opening and closing doors can be a weirdly awkward process. I found myself just walking into doors to close them. Maybe I’m used to the unique feel of Amnesia, where I never had that problem. Another issue I’ve had is with the sanity mechanic. Much like the Amnesia games, as well as the millions of Lovecraftian titles released at a weekly basis, the longer you stay in the dark the lower your sanity goes. It’s a bit of a forced mechanic, but Visage fails to implement this properly when your sanity can drop even in the light. There’s been countless moments when staying in a light area of the room would still cause a drop in sanity, even more irritating during unskippable cinematic sequences.

Yup… a totally normal house.

The game is split into three major chapters. Each chapter explores a one of the residents of the house, being able to choose any of them right from the getgo. It’s a genuinely unique and interesting approach to story progression. It’s also not clear what you are supposed to be doing in these chapters, as not everything you do will directly take you through that chapter’s story path. There are multiple endings to go for, and your first playthrough can take anywhere from 6 to 10 hours, the perfect length for a horror game.

Visage was developed on Unreal Engine 4. It’s an absolutely stunning looking game that propels its atmosphere to the next level. The house where the vast majority of its runtime takes place looks and feels real, and downright terrifying, with some amazing texture work and lighting that propels it to the next level. It’s not perfect, however, as some awkward depth of field and awkward presentation issues during scripted cutscenes boil things a bit down. Sound design, much like the visuals, elevates the experience and delivers some of the best scares I’ve seen in years, but an occasional overreliance on loud noises can be annoying after a while.

Visage isn’t just a simple a PT clone, but an evolution of that concept. Its scope is significantly bigger and it doesn’t feel like it’s just trying to copy it, as it clearly tries to implements its own ideas and become its own thing. Visage is a homage to countless survival horror games and movies that came before and it’s utterly terrifying and challenging. This is a horror game for horror fans and doesn’t hold back. As SadSquare’s debut game, I’m most certainly looking forward to their future.

Running Unreal Engine 4, Visage recreates a haunted house that fully immerses you and makes you tremble whenever you enter a new room. Mechanically-wise, Visage gets the job done, but it just doesn’t hold up due to some bugs and an annoying sanity system that will drive you nuts.
Sound design that truly immerses you into the horror experience. Despite the occasional hiccup, Visage is one of the most terrifying games I’ve played in a long time. Successfully capturing the essence of PT and transforming it into a full game.
Final Verdict: 8.5

Visage is available now on PC, Xbox One and Playstation 4.

Reviewed on PC with a RTX 2060, Ryzen 5 3600X and 16GB RAM.

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