We tried Stray Souls, an old-fashioned survival horror game created by Artur Łączkowski’s Jukai Studios for PC and consoles.
Stray Souls is the first project of Jokai Studios by Artur Łączkowski, a Polish developer who has mainly devoted his career to (trying to) terrorize gamers. In fact, Łączkowski has a past on Bloober Team, working on projects like Medium and Blair Witch, but his obsession with terror also extends to his spare time. A few years ago he decided to emulate the demo of Silent Hills on PC, that PT that Konami, after Hideo Kojima escaped and closed down the project, ditched the PlayStation digital stores, confining them only to the hard drives of those who had downloaded the files. His version of PT is It is still available onlineEven if the latest update, dating back to 2021, is reserved for Patreon backers.
Now, as mentioned, Łączkowski is working on his new game with the team at Jukai and at Game Developers Conference 2023 we have come to Try Stray Spirits.
Welcome to adulthood
In offering wayward souls, Jukai aims high, without false modesty. Said reference models are The Last of Us, Alan Wake, and Silent Hill 2 (for which Łączkowski’s former studio is also working on a remake). To be honest, these are three games that are very different from each other, united by a certain feature, which interests us here: the search for Psychological tension and the horror that, while not evading monsters, blood, downright, tries to disturb you by getting under your skin.
In Stray Souls, you take on the role of Daniel, an American teenager who, upon turning eighteen, inherits the house of a grandmother he barely knew he owned. Another thing she doesn’t know, however, is that there is a reason she never saw the grandmother in question and that she lived isolated from living family members. My dear grandmother was (or maybe still is) at the head of a very dangerous sect, devoted to sacrifices, provocations and other bloody nonsense, whose activities are intertwined with the history of Daniel’s family. In short, find out that you have a beautiful house of your own, go and visit it, photograph yourself on a beautiful weekend surrounded by nature, in a wonderful forest, but no one warned you that you are the hero of a horror movie, you are in trouble Moreover, since the family is involved, it will be It is very difficult to get away from her. Poor Daniel.
Good survival horror someday
How does all this translate into gameplay? Well, apart from the aforementioned models, the impression we got from our encounter with the game is an impression Back to the golden age of classic survival horrorThe era between the first two PlayStations is populated by many Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Siren, Project Zero, and so on. Obviously this is a reinterpretation in an existing key, which relies on Unreal Engine 5 to offer dynamic visual management, a fluid control system and a modern experience, but the sensations are exactly those of returning to a gender specific approach.
Perhaps the best example of this is how Stray Souls is presented fighting. One of the defining aspects of horror games of those times was the way they tried to stoke tension by complicating the player’s life through complex and often deliberately clunky control schemes and gameplay, to curtail the fantasy of video game-typical force and enemies. the horror.
Characters that moved like they had serious back problems, improbable key combos to get to things, weapons that only hit the target on a Tuesday with a full moon… Examples abound and they all make sense in context but then that kind of end up being ignored. Today it is perhaps an anachronism.
What matters, after all, is the feeling they will generate. And how do wandering souls try to remember her? Through a partially random generation system and combat mechanics defined by the developers, for convenience, in the “souls style”.
Stray Spirits will contain a series of “random” systems It can manage the nature and placement of objects, enemies, supernatural events, and even weather conditions. Obviously it will only be partially random generation, because a certain amount of control is required in terms of consistency and balance, but the idea is to have an unpredictable game, which can generate ever-changing challenges and adventures and fuel the fun. of rebooting as well as comparing different experiences. Beyond that, the combat system wants to avoid the “voluntary follies” of the past and aims instead to generate a sense of effective stakes.
The various monsters and apparitions are often in great numbers, powerful, overwhelming in strength, and trying to shoot them all is rarely the right choice, though Daniel, as a good American teenager, does have some familiarity with firearms. By “souls style” approach we basically mean this, you should face engagements with attention and a little tactical sense, avoiding being in danger and always keeping an eye on resources. Hell is clearly paved with good intentions but this system needs to be tested. Unfortunately, due to lack of time, we did not have the opportunity to experience the part of the demo dedicated to fighting monsters, so we will talk about it in the future.
Suggestions, concerns and puzzles
Instead, we played a more adventurous section, focusing on the story and its resolution Puzzles. Daniel has arrived home relatively recently and is engaged in mundane activities such as collecting the clothes he has already scattered around. Meanwhile, he has a computer chat with Martha, a girl who lives nearby who is very friendly but seems to be hiding something, or at least knows very few details about Daniel’s house. Exploring the different floors of the house, including the cozy studio in the attic, Daniel discovers interesting objects, books, and documents, and finds clues that then lead him to a first puzzle related to the adjustment of the pendulum clock and the appearance of strange graffiti on the walls. All of this is developed through the interface of a classic third-person game, with a story that runs in a linear fashion and a saga of exploration linked by making one familiar with the environments and interaction dynamics. The sequence is taken from the initial stages of the game and is also quite simple for this reason, so it remains to be understood if Stray Souls will remain tied to the linearity that arose from the demo (which tends to characterize Bloober Team games) or will haunt more complex and exploration-related situations, as it is. The case for example in Silent Hill 2 mentioned above.
Certainly, the feeling we elicited in our testing made us think above all about Alan Wake, with its popular American cinematic story playing out in familiar settings, at first making you feel at ease letting the horror slowly and then slowly slip through the folds of its story. The realization seemed to us to be a good level and the progression of the story follows a good rhythm, relying on the dynamics of telepathy between two characters, which always do a good job of creating tension through waiting and build-up. In short, even if there is a lot to check out, first impressions are positive, among other things also in terms of creating infographics that offer good ideas and interesting hints, while paying the price for some rather clumsy animation. But we’re still talking about one Independent production, with a not too high budget and which, moreover, aims to present itself to the public at the price of 39.99 euros. It’s due out next fall on PC and consoles, and there’ll definitely be a way to talk about it again.
Stray Souls is proposed as a contemporary reinterpretation of the old school survival horror, which focuses entirely on psychological terror and adventure setting based on puzzles, storytelling and little combat it takes. The premises and promises are all there, the atmosphere is there and the setting does its job.
- Visually, the game looks pretty good
- Random generation will help restart
- The atmosphere is solid and the approach to the puzzles is convincing
- To evaluate the combat system
- Some of the animations are embarrassing
- Will there be some exploration or will everything be linear?
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