Tormentum: Dark Sorrow

Ahhh, the point-and-click adventure -- once a dominant force in PC gaming, it practically disappeared from existence for the better part of a decade.  As people grew tired of the games’ stubborn illogical thickness, they migrated to other genres capable of telling strong stories.  The point-and-click adventure withered on the vine and was all but dead five or six years ago.  Now, thanks to crowd funding and digital downloads, the genre has seen a revival with point-and-click titles being released regularly on Steam.

This revival has been a good thing, because there are games made by developers who grew up with the genre, learned from the lessons of the past, and can offer their own unique take on it.  One such developer is OhNoo Studio, the Polish outfit who recently released Tormentum: Dark Sorrow for Steam. Tormentum: Dark Sorrow is a dark, gruesome adventure.  It is one that puts all of its efforts into storytelling, style, and atmosphere, while offering just enough gameplay to challenge you as you move from point A to point B.  It doesn’t take a lot of chances and it errs on the side of being easy, almost to a fault.  Nevertheless, the game’s imagery and overall feeling of despair hit the mark very well, making the game well worth your time.

Perhaps the least unique aspect of Tormentum: Dark Sorrow is its premise – the protagonist with amnesia.  You wake up in a cage with no memory of who you are or how you arrived there, and the goal of the game is to recover your past.  By now, you have probably experienced the amnesia setup numerous times, so you may be finding it a little tiresome.  To its credit though, the game doesn’t try and pass itself off as completely unique in that regard.  You first escape from your prison, and then you adventure out into the rest of the world, going through three major hub-like areas before reaching the game’s conclusion.  Along the way, you solve some very simple inventory-based puzzles that involve giving a character what he needs or putting a part into a machine.  You also solve some mechanical device puzzles by pushing buttons or arranging pieces in the proper order to get a device working.  The game’s style is unique, but the puzzles are lacking in originality.  The mechanical puzzles, in particular, are all variations of puzzles that you have probably solved in other games many times before.

Tormentum was clearly designed to keep the player moving through the story.  The elements that can make point-and-click adventure games a tedious chore have been kept to a minimum.  Objects that you can take from the environment are almost always glowing, bathed in light, or so prominent in the environment that there is no way that you can miss them.  NPCs who need a special object or task make their demands obvious.  You are rarely carrying more than a few inventory items in your pocket at a time.  Mechanical puzzles that require a special combination of buttons or arrangement of symbols usually have the solution lying around somewhere etched into a wall or scribbled onto a piece of paper.  Areas that you no longer need to visit sometimes close off when you leave them so that you won’t waste your time re-exploring them.  Because of these conveniences, you will rarely, if ever, get stuck on a puzzle for more than a few minutes.

Consequently, the story moves at a very brisk pace, taking you through its three large areas in only about five hours.  The game may be short, but it is densely packed.  An adventure game with a more old-school difficulty level may have stretched out those five hours into ten.  Whatever flaws you find with the game, you probably won’t get bored with it.   The ease of the game does have its downside, however.  Namely, it undermines the story by spoiling the illusion that you are solving huge problems and overcoming great challenges (such as escaping from prison).  Tormentum: Dark Sorrow is a good game for content tourists, but those seeking the emotional highs of solving tough problems won’t find what they are looking for.

Tormentum: Dark Sorrow doesn’t make much of an effort to differentiate itself with its gameplay, but it truly stands out with its visuals, music, and Lovecraftian atmosphere.  It is a dark, gruesome adventure that communicates death, despair, and suffering at every turn.  Everywhere you look is either a corpse, a torture device, a hideous beast, a captive, or someone in severe pain.  There is nothing in the game that makes you feel good.  You will to want to finish it as soon as possible, not because it is a bad game, but because you don’t want to linger in this horrible world any longer than you have to.  The game’s artwork, arguably its best feature, is downright repulsive.  Inspired largely by the works of H.R. Giger, there is an organic look to almost everything.  Flesh makes up many of the game's environments, often covering the walls, ceilings, and floors.  The visuals are as imaginative as they are disturbing.  Next to nothing in the game looks conventional or normal, from the corpses that don’t look quite human to the abominations that have extra eyes and teeth.  It is easy to imagine Hell looking like this.  Unfortunately, the game fails to take full advantage of its horrific beauty, because it runs in a box that leaves a about a quarter of the screen unused.  It looks like a game that was made fifteen years ago and recently dusted off without updating the art to make it fit modern screens.  The visuals are good, but they would have been even better in full 1080p.

The game’s score also rises to the occasion, providing a huge variety of moody tracks to fit the macabre scenery.  The music changes whenever you transition to a new area, which is impressive given how many little areas there are to visit.  The only flaw with the music may be that it changes too often, cutting itself off before you can get used to it because you are frequently on the move.

In addition to providing its traditional point-and-click gameplay, Tormentum: Dark Sorrow joins the recent trend of forcing the player to make tough moral choices.  It frequently forces you to make these choices without giving you a clear indication of what the consequences for those choices will be down the road.  It forces you to live with those consequences, giving you either the "good" ending or the "bad" ending right before the credits roll.  In this, it deserves some credit, as many games trivialize their choices by giving you the same result regardless of what path you take.  Unfortunately, the game makes a critical mistake in this regard, which spoils one of its best features.  Many of your choices are made by pushing buttons on machines.  Since you will push a lot of buttons in this game in an effort to solve or repair all sorts of various contraptions, you may stumble into an irreversible choice by randomly pushing a button that you shouldn't have.  There is always an accompanying glyph or symbol giving you a vague idea of what you are about to do, but given how many little symbols and diagrams you are staring at during this game, it is very easy to overlook them.  Two times, I accidentally executed somebody in the game by unwittingly making an "evil" choice, and, as a result, I got an ending that I wasn't satisfied with.

For the most part, however, Tormentum: Dark Sorrow is a game that succeeds at what it sets out to do.  It doesn't reinvent the point-and-click adventure game, but it doesn't have to in order to tell its dark and gruesome story.  Instead, it puts the focus on what it does best, showing off its disturbing artwork as you bask in its unsettling atmosphere.  Some adventure gamers may be unsatisfied by the low difficulty of its puzzles, but the low difficulty also enables the story to keep moving, making sure that Tormentum never gets frustrating or bogged down.  If this experience is the type that you are seeking, then you won't regret giving Tormentum: Dark Sorrow a try.