When it comes to atmosphere, there are very few horror games in recent years that have managed to capture and instil such trepidation as effectively as Protocol Games has here. One of the best elements is that it doesn’t rely heavily on jump scares, instead the game creates a perpetual sense of dread and apprehension, so you never know when you’ll need to fight for your life, which means that when the game does throw a jump scare in, it is used effectively and doesn’t feel cheap. The atmosphere is enhanced by an incredibly apt soundscape. There are times when it’s quiet with only the environmental sounds accompanying you, while other times the game will be backed by a haunting piano score. It’s hard to convey in words just how good this game’s atmosphere is, but I’d easily say it’s one of the best horror atmospheres I’ve experienced.
Backed by fixed cameras and puzzle mechanics that harken back to the formative years of survival horror, Song of Horror is a game that doesn’t hide its influences or overcomplicate its gameplay nuances. Players will walk around and explore locations, interacting with items, whether at a cursory level or a deeper level as some items may have a use beyond their initial design (such as acquiring a syringe for its needle), as well as doing your best to keep your characters alive, which is far from easy.
In order to stay alive, players will need to listen to what’s behind every door they enter (done so by holding the mapped button), audible cues will tell you whether it’s safe to enter or not – sometimes you simply need to wait for the danger to pass, while other times rooms may be permanent death traps. Once you’ve entered a room that is deemed safe, the listen icon will vanish from that door and will only return if it becomes dangerous to enter again – which is usually for a brief period after one of the minigames. A lack of awareness can easily lead to a frustrating death, something which I was guilty of more than once.
The minigames are essentially a brief battle with The Presence, and each episode introduces a new variation that throws up a new challenge. In the earlier episodes these include things like having to force a door shut by pushing a bottom combo, finding a hiding spot and controlling your heart rate, or controlling your breathing to keep quiet, while the later episodes will require you save yourself from being dragged into the abyss or consumed by a reaper. These are largely where your character’s traits will come into play. For example a player with higher strength rating will shut doors faster or a player with a higher stealth rating can potentially trigger less minigames. For the most part the minigames are spaced well enough apart that they don’t feel overused, but in the later episodes the novelty starts to wear off as the challenge becomes a bit easier, and as a result they can end up becoming more of a pain than a tension-inducing mechanic if you get one of the easier ones.
Knock knock, who’s there?