Stray Souls is a new action-horror game that seems to take inspiration from Silent Hill. The game was developed at Jukai Studios and will be available on Steam, Xbox, and PlayStation this year on October 25th. This game will have you fighting against monsters and solving puzzles as you uncover the truth.
To Good To Be True
We play our protagonist, a teenager named Daniel, who has not long moved into his new home. The house was left to him by his late Grandmother, who he didn’t know existed. It leads to several disturbing truths which become revealed to the player, and that is, Daniel’s sweet Nana might not have been all that sweet. Daniel then finds out he is also meant to become part of a dark ritual and eventually heads out with a new friend, Martha, to Aspen Falls to uncover more.
The gameplay in Stray Souls comes in three major parts: puzzles and combat. There are some minor things I want to talk about first, such as The player can find notes. Notes are found in various parts of the game and give bits of info on the overall world. The Flashlight doesn’t need to be recharged and is quite bright. There are ammo crates everywhere, so don’t worry about ammo.
When Daniel takes damage, there are two ways to see how badly. The first is his jacket will start to become more bloody. Then secondly, by aiming your gun, the UI will display your health out of a hundred and your bullet count. There are medical cabinets plastered around and are one-time uses. This is the only way to heal since you don’t carry anything.
The combat in Stray Souls works similarly to most other third-person shooters. The player gets gifted a golden pistol from their new friend, Martha. There is also a dodge mechanic, but it’s useless as enemies either being terrible at hitting you or too slow. To fire the gun, you must aim first, just like in Resident Evil and Silent Hill.
The game advertises as Fight or Flight combat, and receiving an in-game tip saying the player can choose to run from an encounter was misleading. I tried to run from enemies multiple times, but they relentlessly followed me and would not stop attacking unless I killed them. Combat feels further encouraged instead of fleeing.
While puzzles weren’t exactly challenging, there were hardly any hints around, and I often wandered in circles trying to figure out what I was supposed to do. The Police Station was the worst for this: there were tonnes of notes with no relevant information, some roughly 6-8 paragraphs long, no hints of any kind and multiple objectives.
It was frustrating as the first set of puzzles in the house were both fun and challenging. Some objects in the environment are interactable but seem to serve more as a red herring than actual use. For example, a cracked grave in the cemetery has the symbol of Yggdrasil, The World Tree, but nothing actually comes from it.
The graphics in Stray Souls have potential, but too much lets it down. While environmental textures look decently detailed, the textures on character models look almost too smooth and dated. The enemy designs are neat and remind me somewhat of Silent Hill creatures. However, the biggest let-down is the numerous animation bugs and visual problems. Walking is one of the most glaring issues the game has. Often, the main character would stutter whilst walking or not move when they were supposed to, almost like they were lagging in an online game. Extending to the enemies, they would often clip through objects, stutter around and slide, or freeze in place. Other visual issues include many animations, such as picking things up and looking broken and janky.
The audio wasn’t any better. The voice acting felt a little over the top and forced. One minute, the characters’ tone seems utterly unbothered by the surrounding events, while other times, they shout hysterically. Dialogue with each other felt flat and awkward sometimes, almost like a school play. When Daniel is in combat, he yells obnoxiously and says some weird one-liners. Coupled with the loud in-game dialogue and the excruciatingly quiet cutscene audio, you need your PC volume ready to turn it up and down.
There seems little in the way of ambience, too, and when it is present, it’s overdone. Most of the time, it’s dead quiet, and when there is ambience like footsteps in the background, it happens too often, and you end up ignoring it. Tension fails to build, and often, there is no consequence to these random noises, making it easier again for the noise to fade into the background. I’m disappointed because Akira Yamaoka, who composed music for Silent Hill, is a guest composer for this game.
I’m sorely disappointed with Stray Souls. The game looked promising and advertised some cool features that weren’t what they said they were or didn’t matter. The plot advances quickly, with a scene abruptly starting/ending and leaves the player with little explanation. At one point, I had an objective to find something, but when I entered an area, a cutscene started, and I was suddenly somewhere new. Many things killed the immersion for me at times. The jump scares happened too often, and the game would repeat them several times. Sometimes, the camera would focus on the jump scare for too long, quickly making them dull. The golden gun the player has felt incredibly out of place and almost looks like a mod.
Add all of these factors with frustrating bugs, such as soft-locking out of the game or restarting a boss fight because I couldn’t shoot any more after rolling, and choppy walking, it was difficult for me to enjoy the game. It’s a shame because Stray Souls has so much potential, but it needs to iron out many technical kinks and figure out what kind of gameplay it wants. If the intention is fight or flight combat and dialogue choices that have an impact, they need more work and emphasis on it as it currently feels more combat-focused and little else.
Overall, Stray Souls feels more like it’s still in the early stages of development. I suggest the team hold off for another year or two before releasing it. That’s why I’m giving Stray Souls the Thumb Culture Bronze Award.
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.