Among the horror games of 2022, The Chant has particularly caught the attention for the subject it deals with, quite unusual in the video game landscape. Does the title manage to convince as much as its intriguing trailers?
Published by Koch Media’s Prime Matter label (sorry, it’s Plaion now), The Chant is developed by the young Canadian studio Brass Token, which signs its very first game here. A small team of around twenty people made up in particular of veterans who have worked on video game productions such as Canis Canem Edit (bully) Where Sleeping Dogs. A good surprise?
Welcome to the Skippy Guru Sect
Still devoured by the death of her younger sister which took place years earlier, and weary of her work in biomedicine, Jess Briars, the heroine of The Song, needs to let go. Not knowing what to do to climb the slope and drive away the visions of dread of which she is the victim, she ends up agreeing to join an old friend for a peaceful spiritual retreat on the island of Glory. Welcomed by her childhood friend, Jess will have to comply with a local custom during her weekend: dress in white in order to “focus on a single energy”. Between that and the name of the place where she landed, the young woman quickly understands that there is something fishy and that she may be setting foot in a sect. An intuition that will quickly prove to be correct when meeting the other participants of this new-age conference, including guru Tyler. People who are also there to exorcise old demons and elevate themselves spiritually. A whole program reminiscent of the recent series Nine Perfect Strangers of Amazon Prime with an inhabited and agonizing Nicole Kidman.
Things quickly turn sour during a sacred tea ritual that gives Jess hallucinations. Between his accomplice Kim who spins completely and the vision of a creature resembling the Demogorgon of Stranger Things, the trip is brutal. Is all this true? Is there a connection with the flashback of the beginning? This is what our heroine will try to understand while saving her skin because the little incantation seems to have opened a door to another world. The story and the subject dealt with are part of the title’s success factors from the outset. Brass Token has chosen a very unusual theme and approaches it thanks to an encouraging mastery for a first game. We are caught up in the story until the end. The atmosphere also plays a big role because even if it’s absolutely not scary – it’s more of a psychological horror thriller – there are some good psychedelic scenes. The fears of the different characters feed the environments and the narrative. What is all the stronger is that the main idea of spiritual retreat, sect, occult science is perfectly reflected in the gameplay.
Good ideas from The Chant
Upon arriving on the island, Jess receives a color prism. A crystal to cross dimensional pockets of Darkness, which have taken possession of the island and in which supernatural creatures live. By crossing these energy barriers, the mind of our expert in biomedicine will be damaged to the point of having a panic attack. In this state, impossible to fight. Only leakage, to lower the pressure, is possible. Mental as well as physical health and spirituality are the three essential mechanics of the game. We have explained the first and the second speaks for itself but what about spirituality? It is a component that serves to regain the mental by meditating and also to trigger skills. It will be necessary to constantly monitor these three points and absorb certain resources collected (lavender, ginger, hallucinogenic mushrooms) to fill their respective gauge. This is what Jess’s survival depends on, who will also have to defend herself in certain cases where there is no escape.
Here again, The Song is very consistent with what he tells us. During our journey, we come across a whole host of creatures such as masked men with torn skin, plants, large toads, etc. A rather cool bestiary that goes a little off the beaten track of survival-horror. To do battle with them, we have homemade weapons to craft such as the Incandescent Whip (flaming branches that do additional damage outside areas of Darkness), a sage stick to repel insects or a witch’s stick to maximize the damage and recover spirituality (in Passages of Darkness). But also objects such as salt, essential oil or petrol which can be thrown or conversely left on the ground like traps. Stunning, rooting, slowing down enemies, the properties differ from one item and from one use to another.
Perfectible because of a generous dodging, light / strong blows which it is difficult to tell the difference in terms of damage or lack of finesse, the combat system, on the other hand, transcribes this feeling of urgency of a survival-horror , even if the title is quite action-oriented. As said above, Jessica also has abilities that depend on color prisms. “Stasis” can, for example, slow down opponents. With “Repel” and its shrill cry, opponents will be knocked back and mortally wounded if the ability is combined with other attacks.
A little taste of old
Far from the open worlds that abound today, The Chant is a narrative action game that pulls towards survival-horror. Its linear structure made of round trips – with keys to find, to assemble, new dimensions to explore by going back and a few puzzles to solve -, and the feeling of vulnerability reminded us of the resident Evil of yesteryear without being a copy. During this new-age excursion, Jessica gains experience based on all her actions, from simply gathering resources to choosing dialogues. Without much interest, these discussions make it possible to modify the end somewhat in three different ways. This earned XP will help unlock skill slots that will need to be activated through Prismatic Crystals. We can thus improve his dodge, his life bar and other elements directly related to the Mental, Health and Spirituality mechanics.
If the game is a good surprise in itself, all is not rosy for all that. The audio mix is quite approximate with sounds that attack for no reason, the animations with the heroine are weird and often too abrupt (eg when you open a door) and there is a lack of more creepy sequences. Youthful mistakes that do not erase the good surprise and the rest.