A short but enjoyable slice of cosmic horror
Reviewed here on the PS5, but also available on PS4, Xbox Series X/S, and PC, The Chant is a third-person horror title with Lovecraftian vibes and a suitably sinister atmosphere.
The game, which is the debut title from developer Brass Token, puts you in the shoes of Jess, an anxious young woman who travels to an island retreat for spiritual refreshment. On arrival, she meets up with her friend Kim who, like Jess, is on the island to receive healing from a past trauma.
What should be a relaxing weekend becomes anything but when matters quickly get out of hand. As Jess is taking part in her first meditation session with Kim and the other members of the island’s New Age group, her friend starts to act aggressively. After causing a scene, Kim runs off, with some of the other group members trailing behind her. It’s at this point that Jess passes out.
When Jess awakens, she discovers all is not well on the island. It would appear that the group chant has opened a rift to an otherworldly dimension called The Gloom which has brought forth monsters that feed on trauma and negative energy. As Jess is prone to panic attacks because of the traumas she endured in the past, she naturally becomes a target for the creatures that have crept into our realm!
Jess is more vulnerable than most horror game protagonists because of the panic attacks that she endures. While she does have a variety of plant-based weapons to fend off her attackers, she often finds herself unable to fight when her mental health takes a bashing and her anxiety sets in. Her only option at these moments is to run to a safe place where she can meditate and bring herself to a place of calm. After escaping and re-centring her scattered senses, she can then continue on her missions to close the rift that has opened and find a way off the island.
The fact that Jess isn’t particularly strong, either physically or mentally, provides a few innovative moments to the gameplay. Unfortunately, this innovation proves to be frustrating, as there are moments when Jess’s inability to fight causes panic attacks that happen at the most inconvenient of times. When surrounded by monsters, you will arm yourself with the relevant weapon you need to take them down. But when Jess’s panic sets in, she isn’t able to use her weapons, which is a major problem when there is no other way past the creatures that are trying to kill her.
Thankfully, you can dodge some enemy attacks, especially when facing off against just one or two enemies, but you’ll struggle to manoeuvre away from your attackers when they overpower you in number. This isn’t to say you won’t be able to get away but as there are times when you’ll escape one creature and inadvertently run into the arms of another, your chances of survival can become slim. The fact that Jess runs quite slowly doesn’t help matters either.
When Jess’s heart meter reaches zero, after taking too many hits from enemies, she dies. Jess also dies when her mentality meter reaches zero, which is a consequence of wandering inside a Gloom area for too long where she is most likely to panic. To heal Jess, you have to gather ingredients from around the island. These include ginger, which can heal her wounds, and lavender, which is a way to mentally stabilize her.
You must also look for items which can be used to attack Jess’s enemies. These include salt and essential oils that can be thrown at the creatures to stop them in their tracks. If you fail to look for these items and forget to craft the ingredients needed for the game’s weapons (such as fire sticks), you will become unstuck and invariably fail.
Exploration and combat are the game’s main gameplay elements but there are a handful of puzzles to solve too. One of these includes traversal around the island to manually shift large crystals so they reflect off each other. Another puzzle involves sliding coloured orbs into their correct positions to open a large door. These puzzles are a little taxing but they aren’t overly complicated once you know what you have to do.
The game’s graphics are competent enough but they don’t take full advantage of the PS5. The island is pretty to look at (when it’s not surrounded by the hazy fog of the Gloom), with detailed foliage and some nice scenic views. The character models are pretty good too, for both the humans on the island and the game’s antagonists, which include twisted toad-like creatures and weird plant monsters.
But the visuals don’t provide the wow factor that you might expect from a current-gen title, so while the game isn’t ugly, a lack of graphical bells and whistles (such as ray tracing) means you won’t be holding this game up as an example when showing your friends what the PS5 is capable of.
In terms of game length, you’re likely to finish this one within 6-7 hours. The game does have 3 different endings so there is some replayability value but you’re unlikely to want to return to the island once you have reached the end credits scene. This isn’t because the game is lacking in the fun department – it is largely enjoyable, despite a few frustrating gameplay elements – but because the story isn’t gripping enough to experience a second time around.
The Chant doesn’t revolutionize the survival horror genre and it will never be regarded as a classic. But if you’re looking for a rental game you can finish over the weekend, there are far worse horror games than this one. Just don’t expect a clear resolution to Jess’s story, however, as this game ends on a cliffhanger that suggests the possibility of a sequel.
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Verdict - 6/10