Rarely do we think that the product of twisted dreams can be any good, but an artistic vision is uncompromising. That impression permeates throughout the point-and-click adventure Tormentum – Dark Sorrow, a genre which has been coming back like a ghostly memory from gaming’s 80s and 90s. Even still, this one stands out instantly with compelling visuals and more hands-on gameplay than many of its predecessors. Tormentum is a dark feast for fans of such games and newcomers alike, and going through it is a cathartic, even if sometimes bumpy, journey.
OhNoo Studios starts players off with amnesia, and the forgetful, nameless protagonist finds himself caged, suspended below an airship. He speaks with a fellow comrade-in-cage, shortly after landing in a gloomy castle engulfed by armageddon — falling meteors and hellish landscapes. An armored knight sternly tells the hero about misdemeanors and crimes for which he’ll suffer in the dungeons. With nothing more but a faint memory of a woman surrounded by a statue of hands and faint hope of redemption, gameplay soon commences.
Rather than clicking around in spaces to lead the character, Tormentum feels more like interacting with landscapes. Anything usable generally has a pretty obvious light surrounding it, so key items are hard to miss for the most part. The first screen helps players get comfortable with finding objects and figuring out how to use the little backpack that contains their findings through quick and easy clicking. There’s never any punishment for just clicking around the screen and finding interactable objects, and the protagonist almost always offers some helpful or informative commentary.
Without much trouble, the first interactive puzzle has players putting cogwheels in the right places so that they all begin to spin off of each other. The only problem I have with the UI is that it’s hard to see if there is ever any more room to go left or right. Especially for a newcomer, the arrows that emerge at the edges of the screen are a little too subtle. I got stuck for a while once, circling in rooms I knew, because I didn’t notice I could keep going to the right in one of them.
One deterring aspect from the start is the lack of options. Slower computers will note lower framerates as early as on the menu screen, which has a flying blimp show up on the screen. The options menu is extremely bare, and most amiss are any graphics options. Even on my quite smaller laptop, which is nearly 16 inches, the game doesn’t fill out the whole screen (although it does display in widescreen). But there aren’t any ways to decrease the quality of visuals or change resolution, perhaps to fill the monitor a bit better. Linguists and international players will be happy to see six different options from the menu screen available for enjoying Tormentum. There’s no voice-acting though, and that’s fine: There isn’t all that much dialogue, and most of the time is spent concentrating, figuring out what to do next. Often, the music fades into the background, playing a relatively small role, but when it does emerge, it is haunting and beautiful.
Dark Sorrow could easily fill an art class curriculum on dark, gothic fantasy. From castle victims which look look their skin has burned off and ever-present statues depicting deities and otherwordly creatures, to creepy paintings which bring perverse pleasure to veer, Tormentum itself feels like a living painting. Even the main character permanently stands as a hooded figure in the scenery, which is frequently filled to the brim with phantasmal, wraith-like skeletons peppered throughout. A golem is embedded into a mountain, permanently grimacing due to the pain of holding it up; a carving knife helps retrieve an important object from the bowels of a monster; one of the knights tortures a victim endlessly, hypocritically speaking of pain and suffering. Tormentum exudes suffering and decay embedded within a fantasy world using stunning visuals.
One slight break from the immersion, however, is the dialogue. The protagonist encounters many colorful characters along the way, like a rat with a family, a jester, guards, and so on. Many of them are morally ambiguous and present choices that can decide their fate. A jester asks players to finish off a helpless, trapped woman, whom can be freed instead. Later on, players can gift a powerful object to one of two people. But overall, the dialogue feels a bit too contrived, a bit too “game-like.” Sometimes they feel too conveniently placed, ready to divulge information to the player. Obviously, that’s the point, but when a guard goes into six little paragraphs explaining everything about the broken sewage systems and the reasons, it feels a little forced (incidentally, the story excuses this partially, but I won’t spoil it). Furthermore, the characters throughout the game speak in similar tone, giving off the feeling they were written by one person.
Moral choices propel different endings, though despite thinking that I played as a good person, it didn’t turn out that way completely. While I partially felt this was unjust, perhaps that is part of the developer’s lesson, that morals and our choices for good and evil are cloudy, and we may inadvertently turn out a different person than we ourselves perceive from within. Still, if nothing else, the branching choices offer good reason to replay the game, which is always a plus. The story turns out a bit cliché in the end, but the journey still resonates as worthwhile.
The puzzles, which make up the majority of gameplay when not admiring the thematically cohesive visuals, could be occasionally frustrating. While they steadily increase in difficulty. I greatly favored that not all of them revolved purely around logical thinking, and that many were in fact a bit more hands-on, feeling almost like mini games. Frequently, there are rotating disk puzzles which requir arranging images. The infamous “sliding puzzles” were fairly doable and sparse. I thoroughly enjoyed solving them, but I was frustratingly stuck a few times; though it would be tough to blame the developers, since most puzzles have hints scattered in the surroundings. Overall, the puzzles are varied, smartly crafted, and fit well in the painted, visceral world of Tormentum.
Ultimately, Tormentum is a must-see. Literally, because taking a few quick looks at the screenshots should weigh plenty on anyone’s money scale for the game. Unless one finds this art style disturbing (not implausible), the deliciously dark fantasy setting with haunting music remains memorable for a while. Its visuals speak stronger than its words, and all-together packages an experience that’s hard to miss, even if slightly imperfect.
Tormentum – Dark Sorrow is available now through Steam, for Mac and Windows.