With the sheer amount of games that are released on Steam every week, it can be hard to break through the clutter. Sometimes all it takes is a distinguishable art style to catch my attention, and that’s precisely what convinced me to investigate Tormentum- Dark Sorrow. Like me, the first thing you’ll likely notice is the absolutely stunning artwork in the screenshots and trailer which recall H.R. Giger and other dark and twisted painters and artists. The game is a point and click adventure set in a dreamlike, nightmarish world that places players into the shoes of a faceless man who is trying to escape from a hellish prison and discover more about the world around him. Developed by Polish studio OhNoo Studios and boosted by a successful IndieGoGo campaign last year, Tormentum certainly makes an immediate impression with its graphical style but does it have enough substance beneath the surface?
The game begins with the main character being dropped into a castle dungeon via airship in an environment that looks like it has been ripped right out of people’s nightmares. As you might expect, the first order of business is to figure out a way to get out of the dungeon before the scary looking torturer gets a hold of you and from there further explore your surroundings. Rather than moving your character from one position to the other, everything on screen is static with limited animations on certain screens. Instead, your character is shown at one point on the screen and you move the mouse around to navigate the screen and click on objects to investigate them and solve puzzles. Arrows allow you to move from one room to the next, and it’s fairly easy to tell where the hot spots are and what you are able to click on. As you continue to explore, each room brings new puzzles and exciting and terrifying new sights and sounds to take in. You can think of Tormentum as equal parts narrative adventure and puzzle game, as each screen has specific puzzles that need to be solved to progress while offering dialogue from inhabitants and the main character of the world that provide some additional clues about the world and makes you wonder just what twisted monstrosity you’ll find next.
What I like about OhNoo Studios’ approach is that they have really attempted to bridge the gap between the casual and hardcore sides of the adventure game genre. They have gone for a very clean interface, with all of the items you can pick up contained in an easy to access knapsack. There is no combining items within the knapsack, and you must click on hot spots on the screen to zoom in before you can take items from the environment. The puzzles tend to be a mix of inventory combination and logic oriented ones where you are tasked with sliding tiles in the right order or pulling switches in the right order. If you’ve played a decent amount of adventure games over the years the puzzles in Tormentum may not seem quite as challenging, but that’s part of what makes the game bridge the gap because those who are usually driven away by some of the maddening “adventure game logic” should be able to complete these while taking in the sights and sounds. There are usually hints available via the in-game notebook should you need them, and what works to the title’s advantage is that all of the puzzles make sense within the game world. Whether you’re placing pipes in the right order in what looks like the innards of a H.R. Giger type creature or poisoning meat to take out a dangerous entity that’s blocking your path, each of the challenges that OhNoo throws at the player makes sense within the world they have created. Additionally, there is typically some kind of puzzle to be solved on every single screen and the player can choose what order to solve some of them in, moving Tormentum away from being the type of game where you might get stuck for quite some time and be unable to progress at all because of one specific puzzle.
Adventure games that have a heavy emphasis on puzzles with narrative threads in between tend to be fairly static experiences, keeping everything fairly linear from beginning to end. This is why it was a bit surprising to find that at key points, Tormentum presents players with a choice. These are moral choices that allow the player to be good or evil. Early on the main character encounters a jester in a throne room, who tells him not to trust the woman in the next room who has been imprisoned in a cage and asks that he kill her when the opportunity presents itself. Later in the game you are given the choice as to whether you want to free her or kill her as the jester requested, and the decision you make ultimately impacts what ending you will get at the end. These moments give Tormentum some additional depth and some replay value, as once I made my way through with one set of choices I was curious what would happen if I went the completely opposite direction. Admittedly the setup is a bit limited and the choices do tend to fall squarely into good/evil, but given the scope of the narrative this does make sense. I would like to see OhNoo further expand upon this type of system in the future though, as having that little bit of extra bit of freedom in a darker fantasy world was quite engaging.
I have to hand it to the artists behind this game, as they have been able to deliver one of the most interesting worlds to explore that I’ve played through in recent memory. Every single screen brings something new to take in, and the H.R. Giger meets every element from your wildest nightmares aesthetic sucks you right into the world and makes you want to search every inch to see what pops up next. Although quite a few of the areas are static, the level of detail that has been put into each of the backdrops and characters that players encounter is impressive and it feels as though a lot of thought went into each and every screen. Some locations have limited movement that occurs as you move the cursor from left to right, which is a neat effect, though I found myself wishing that there was just a little bit more of it. Combined with the clean interface, it makes it easy to focus on all of the astounding sights that you will experience throughout the game. Admittedly, despite some movement that has been added into some of the areas for additional effect, the artwork is fairly static, but Tormentum never heads into full-on hidden object territory. It’s hard to fully give an idea of just how stunning the macabre art style is until you play it for yourself, as the screens and trailer that are out there don’t reveal all of the sinister and intriguing things players will come across.
OhNoo could have easily let the artwork stand on its own and phoned in the audio, but instead they chose to include over 40 different background songs that perfectly fit the mood of the game. As you’re exploring these creepy environments and solving puzzles that involve moving alien looking figures and bones, there is ominous music playing in the background that is able to create a sense of unease. There haven’t been too many point and clicks over the years that have been able to properly create a sense of unease and dread considering the static nature of the genre, but the audio/visual combination goes a long way in accomplishing this. The same is true of the sound effects, and overall the team seems to have considered that the audio would play just as an important role as the game mechanics and artwork. Some players may be disappointed to find that there is no voice acting of any kind, but I actually preferred this as I made my way through the game. Although there are certain titles that do benefit from some proper voice acting, ones like Tormentum where the majority of the dialogue comes from deformed creatures, talking doors, and other grotesque living objects it seems best for the player to imagine how they might sound.
It took me around four hours to play through Tormentum- Dark Sorrow the first time, and the choices the game presented me with along with the stunning dark fantasy world and creatures compelled me to go through it a second time to see what would change by choosing differently. OhNoo Studios has delivered an enjoyable point and click adventure/puzzle game that revels in the macabre that’s definitely worth checking out if the artwork catches your attention and you’re not afraid of some slider puzzles here and there. With that being said though, there were moments throughout the game where Tormentum seemed to be hinting at more and the choices seemed just a little more limiting than I initially anticipated, as sometimes the scenes still played out similarly and the developers only showed me the aftermath of my actions rather than the full gory details. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but if OhNoo were to tackle a sequel and branch out the choices and scenarios just a bit more along with some additional animation I think they’d be capable of something even more astounding. In the meantime I highly recommend throwing your support behind this though, because it’s rare for efforts from smaller studios to be this polished and deliver an engaging experience from beginning to end.