by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
I love surrealism in artwork, but I only discovered H.R. Giger last year after his death. His work revolves around dark, nightmarish themes, and it’s no wonder that he was part of the special effects team that won an Academy Award for their work on Alien. Tormentum: Dark Sorrow is a point and click adventure that has an art style heavily influenced by Giger. As such, I really wanted to like it, but as is the case with many adventures, it became bogged down in all the familiar trappings of the genre.
The first thing to point out, however, is that the themes and style are outstanding. You play as a hooded, nameless protagonist, who remembers nothing except for a vision of sculpted hands reaching towards the sky. The game begins with you hanging from a zeppelin-type flying machine in a cage. Beside you in a separate cage is a huge, talking, armoured rat. It appears you are being taken to a castle dungeon and it’s unlikely you’ll ever see the light of day again.
That is, unless you escape. For as dark and horrific as everything around you looks, as soon as you’re given control you’ll be in safe, classic point and click territory. You’ll click on objects to either pick them up or interact with them, and click on the sides of the screen to move to the next area. Your character doesn’t visibly move around the screen, instead you can scroll to either side if the area is larger than your viewport.
Soon you’ll escape your cell and be roaming around the castle. Thankfully, the guards don’t seem to mind too much and, in fact, most of them will even have a little job for you to do. This quickly opens up to the first of several moral choices you have to make during the game, which usually involve life and death. You’re given a key which also doubles as a shiv and it’s up to you to decide whether you free a woman in a cage or kill her like you’ve been instructed to. You’re going to be able to progress either way, but these choices accumulate over the course of the game and will affect your ending.
Having these choices adds a little something to the standard formula, but for the most part you’ve seen everything here before. Sliding blocks around to complete puzzles, searching for the objects you need in order to uncover new areas. It’s all a bit tedious and samey which is a shame considering the style is fairly unique for a game of this type. We’re used to some whimsy or light humour in point and click adventures, but in Tormentum you won’t see anyone cracking a smile unless they’re criminally insane.
Lost in a dream
To make matters worse, it’s not always clear what you have to do. There isn’t any spoken dialogue, so you’ll be doing a lot of reading, and the characters rarely give you much in the way of hints. “Have you spoken to my brother…” wasn’t particularly useful after I had already killed him. You’ll find vague diagrams depicting how to solve certain puzzles, but more than once I found a diagram after I’d already solved its associated puzzle. Too often, I was left floundering and walking back and forth between areas to find what I had missed. A small hint system would’ve gone a long way towards streamlining the game.
The inventory system is a little clumsy too, especially when you’re trying to switch items. Your bag closing when you select an item is a nice way of clearing up the UI, but it’s frustrating when you try and choose something else. This happened a few times when I was stuck and trying to use everything on everything, as usually happens in point and click games. Even when you do know what you’re supposed to be doing, there’s a lot of backtracking. Tormentum is seemingly made up of a world where everything you need is conveniently (or inconveniently) far away from the thing you’re supposed to use it on.
Eventually, you’ll escape the castle and move on to new environments and locations, although the style remains throughout. Sadly, the puzzles remain largely the same too and the zones just seem to get bigger. Thankfully, the game is fairly short, unless you get stuck too often, so it falls short of outstaying its welcome. You’ll discover nightmarish surrealism and medieval styles mixed with modern technology, and you’ll slowly unlock knowledge about the places you’re in.
I love the look and themes of Tormentum: Dark Sorrow, it’s just a shame that the ideas are restricted by the use of a stale genre. The addition of moral choices does little to overcome the problems that have plagued point and click games for many years now. It has a great, unique style, but overall it is let down by the often clumsy and convoluted game design.
Fantastic style based on the works of H.R. Giger. Some moral choices add much needed variety.
Same old point and click trappings. Sound design doesn’t live up to the art design.