I consider myself a fan of first-person horror. Going into Visage, I assumed I would be pulled into another dreadfully nerve-wracking experience that would be as equally riveting. I had no idea that I would discover a game so unsettling I would barely be able to play it. No more than thirty minutes in I already had one of my headphone cups off my ear, the volume turned very low, and an extra desk lamp flipped on. I had to keep this game away from me.
The game starts with a disturbing and bloody scene in a dark room. Right after, it transitions to an oddly normal contemporary house. Lights are on. All the furniture you’d expect is setting about. Rain patters against the windows and looking outside you can see houses next door and the street and yards outside. The phone rings from a neighbor who’s just checking in to see that everything’s alright. But there is something dark and horrifying lurking in the abode, and for you there is no getting out.
So into the depths of this empty home you go. If you were ever alone in a large house as a kid, you may remember that once inviting homey objects suddenly became sinister when you were alone with them. Visage perfectly captures this dread. Clothes, blankets, chairs, stuffed animals, and all the objects you’d expect to see in a family home greet you at every corner, either watching you or set in just the right way to look like a body at first sight. Sometimes it took me 10 minutes to walk a few steps. A large grandfather clock’s sudden chiming increased that to about 15 minutes. The lights in the bathroom turning off while I was looking around in there led me right back to my PC’s desktop. Visage is terrifying.
The audio ambiance is brilliant. Vague whispering will fill the air as you approach a closed door. A horn noise will play in the background intermittently. Sudden scares are marked by high-pitched strings. Visage never lets you at ease.
The designers at SadSquare knew about people like me. They know there are some people who pause more than they progress in first-person horror games. I call it “escaping to the pause menu,” and I do it quite often. But in Visage I noticed an insidious setup where the menu is in real-time. To pause, you select a “pause” option in the menu. It doesn’t pause immediately – no, that’d be too comforting. It takes three seconds – three terrifying seconds, perhaps the scariest three seconds of your life – to fully pause. If you must suddenly quit, you have to select that option amidst a potentially frantic event in the game. There is no easy out if things get too much for you.
Given how my sanity was challenged, it’s appropriate that there’s a sanity meter. This is similar to the one in another first-person horror game, Amnesia. The more you stand in darkness, the more you lose sanity. If an unsettling event happens – like a door swinging shut or a radio turning on – you lose sanity. This is represented by a little red smear in the lower left corner of the game screen, and when it’s substantially high a brain symbol appears there and remains on screen. To restore sanity, you’ll need to take some pills you can find lying around. You’ll want to do this quickly, because, once insane, scary events happen. I typically just reloaded an earlier save when my insanity rose. I didn’t have any pills and was too chicken to see what might take place.
Progression in the game is based on different character’s chapters. Each character was presumably a member of the family that had lived in this house. You begin one of their chapters by picking up an object – like a child’s drawing of a panda bear or a key that’s hanging in the house’s entryway. Chapters have delightful titles like “Dolores’ Chapter – A twisted dream” or “Lucy’s Chapter – An insidious friend.” To complete each chapter, you will need to be meticulous in searching the house and putting clues together. Combing over objects and items in the environment is much more difficult when you’re also on edge.
I don’t think there will ever be a moment in Visage when you are not on edge. If you can take a highly unsettling first-person horror game, then you need to play Visage. It’s a horror masterpiece and the most terrifying game I’ve ever played. Do note the warning at the start of the game, though: this game can be very disturbing, so be prepared for that.
TechRaptor covered Visage on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer. The game is also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One