Review: Tormentum - Dark Sorrow05 May 2016 2
Review: Tormentum - Dark Sorrow
Released 19 Apr 2016
There’s a sequence in the back half of Tormentum: Dark Sorrow that so perfectly encapsulates the experience of playing it that I can’t tell whether it’s an intentional joke on the developer’s part or not. Your nameless character encounters a mad, blind old painter living in an abandoned cathedral. The walls are entirely covered with dozens of his disturbing (and honestly, pretty cool) paintings. Your task in this segment: look at thirty of the paintings and restore them, or look for five specific paintings to destroy. Either way, you get the sword blueprint you were looking for. That’s Tormentum in a nutshell: cool, dark art; easy, if tedious, puzzles and a black-and-white morality system that is ultimately pointless.
Tormentum is an adventure game that falls somewhere between a traditional point-and-click, hidden object and room escape game. Your character is a nameless amnesiac (of course) who awakes in a nightmarish dungeon (not dissimilar from our own) as punishment for crimes they cannot remember. A vision of a statue reaching to the sky (and the threat of grotesque punishment for his crimes) compels the amnesiac to escape. The story is not much more than a vehicle for scenery changes, but I found myself not caring because the scenery is so crazy that I always wanted to see what was next.
The art in Tormentum is the star of the show. Throw some Giger, Beksiński and a few metal album covers into your handy metaphorical Art Blender™ and you’ll get a screenshot of Tormentum. Almost every screen has some weird biomechanical/necrotic/eldritch element to it, all painted by Piotr Ruszkowski, one third of Tormentum’s dev team. The art alone was compelling enough to get me through the (admittedly short) game in one lazy Sunday. The sound is (mostly) top notch, too. I played with my good headphones in, and the oppressive ambiance kept me immersed in Tormentum’s messed-up world. The only misstep on the sound front is a hilariously cheesy metal song that plays over the end credits. I guess it’s almost a show of restraint that the developers waited until the credits to put one in, considering the art and subject matter of the game.
Indie adventure games can sometimes veer into the needlessly obtuse end of the puzzle game spectrum, probably a result of the developers playing so many adventure games that their sense of challenge becomes warped from years of bad puzzles. Luckily, Tormentum largely avoids that fate. Yes, there’s still some wacky inventory puzzles and our old friends the gear and sliding tile puzzles make appearances, but for the most part the puzzles hit the sweet spot of just having to pause and think for a bit before the solution appears. Items, exits and interactive bits are all clearly highlighted with a glowing aura, eliminating the need to pixel-hunt, and some rooms close off when you’ve exhausted their supply of key items to ensure that you don’t waste your time backtracking there.
The story, as mentioned above, is about as good as it needs to be to keep you invested in the game and provide context for the two major scenery changes. There are two major missteps, however, both stemming from the game’s morality system. Throughout the game, you’ll encounter various binary choices that can be made. Some will black out the screen and present you with your options. Others are (slightly) more organically presented as levers that can go one way or the other. The first misstep is that, for a game that presents a world that is uniformly terrible and depressing, the morality system is bizarrely black and white. There’s one decision in the game that is remotely gray, but even that’s more a result of withholding information than actual ethical ambiguity.
The second misstep (and boy, it’s a doozy) is how the choices influence the ending of the game.
Spoilers for the end of the game ahead.
Once you make it to the final destination on your quest, you’re given the choice of two keys. One represents good and the other evil, and you’re asked to choose the one you think you deserve based on the choices you’ve made. Then, you’re shown an Animal House credits montage of what happened to all the people you killed/saved. In my case, I picked the “good” key. I accidentally killed one of the people thanks to rushing through a puzzle, but otherwise spared everyone else. I chose… poorly. I was yelled at for my unjust pride and banished to hell. BAD END, cheesy metal during the credits. I went back to see if I could choose the other key, only to find that the game deletes your save at the end! Now, this could be a brave, exciting decision if the ending were more robust and earned. But it feels more like the developers ran out of money and decided to cap it off with a Deus Ex series push-button ending. The final five minutes of Tormentum burnt a hell of a lot of my goodwill.
End of Spoilers
I still enjoyed the majority of my time with Tormentum. It’s an enjoyably grim adventure that can be finished in a lazy weekend. If you’re into the art style and settings and can handle the anemic ending, you’ll probably have a good time. Just don't expect anything profound from it.