If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching horror movies, it’s that if someone invites you to a remote community under the guise of spiritual enlightenment, just say no.
Usually it ends with murder, mayhem, bad tea, and someone yelling about bees.
Actually, in the case of The Chant, that’s not far off.
The action-adventure cosmic horror game channels 70s psychedelia, influenced heavily by Midsommar and The Wicker Man. And while it might not stray outside the expectations of the subgenre of cult-inspired horror, what it does, it does well, and uses some clever mechanics to inspire new age terror.
What is The Chant about?
In The Chant, Jess is invited by her friend Kim to attend a spiritual retreat on a remote island. There’s history here: it’s not long before you find out that the death of Jess’ sister has traumatised both women, who are trying to move forward in their lives. Perhaps the friendship between Jess and Kim needed to be played out more; I sometimes wondered why they would still be friends after such a difficult accident.
After arriving on this island paradise, you meet the other inhabitants of the island: holistic practitioner Maya, billionaire reject Sonny, doe-eyed Hannah, and self-declared guru Tyler, who gives off manipulative vibes from the moment you meet him. It’s not long before Jess is initiated into the cult through a ceremony, and that is where things go terribly, terribly wrong. Whether it’s the spiked tea or something more sinister at play, gloom-ridden creatures infest the island, and it’s up to Jess to fight her own demons to purify the island.
The writing and story here are solid, and the curious can uncover more of the island’s history through the plethora of documents left around the island. While in some games, lore discovery can be a little tedious, I liked the brief insights into the generations that had lived (and died) on the island. I would have liked to see the game challenge the archetypes of the manipulative cult leader, and question Jess’ reality more, and push the psychedelia further, something that’s done well in many of the Far Cry games.
However, the game is well aware of where it sits in the genre, with Jess asking early on, “Kim, doesn’t this all feel a bit culty?”
The Chant’s Gameplay
While horror game lovers might expect more of a branching narrative style game, The Chant veers towards action-adventure with puzzle solving and combat, fighting both spawn and cultists alike.
The game takes the concept of mind, body, spirit to a new level, integrating it into the combat mechanics. The mind gauge wards off mental attacks, and be warned, if it gets too low, Jess has a panic attack. The body is obviously the HP meter. And your spirit gauge allows you to make psychic attacks using crystals. I found that this gauge was often so low that I could only use the low-level spiritual attacks. You can meditate to restore your mental state, but this again uses up your spiritual attack gauge.
The game cleverly combines new age elements into the combat system, which adds to the overall feeling of being in a trippy horror game. Combat weapons and healing substances riff off witchcraft and homeopathy, using sage to fight the darkness and salt to repel attacks. Areas of the map will be blocked off until you gain access to different coloured crystals, and these crystals are at the keys to unlocking The Chant’s secrets.
I played on moderate difficulty and found the gameplay challenging. Resources are scarce, and you’ll scrounge for weapons by the end of the game. Sometimes it’s better to flee than fight, in order to save your resources for later in the chapter. The final boss battle is especially difficult, simply for the lack of resources you’ll be able to prep with before the fight.
Early on, the distance judgement on fighting mechanics is a little hard with the sage brush, especially when fighting the swarms of BEES (I mean flies). THE BEES! But as you progress, you’ll be closing the distance and using that dodge button to necessary effect. I appreciated the dodge wasn’t a classically graceful movement either; it’s often frenetic, tumble out of the way which leaves you recovering on the floor.
While the cut-scene animations in the game lack a little polish (I find hair animations are always the first to suffer in a game), the in-game graphics offer a suitably trippy environment, with fungal eyeballs following your moves and tentacular growths over every surface.
Each chapter has its own colour scheme, reflecting that of the crystals you must collect. Of note is Maya’s chapter, with its green light piercing over the island lighthouse. It’s one of the best produced levels with both the puzzle solving, graphics, and combat working in concert, to give a strangely Myst-like vibe.
The game becomes progressively more disconcerting as time goes on. The torch illuminates only a thin spotlight in the darkness, and the maze-like locations do nothing to help your sense of direction. At times, you’ll be ramming up against doors only to find they’re locked, and the way forward is not the way you expected.
It’s worth noting the excellent and disconcerting soundtrack by Paul Ruskay, which hovers between the tinkling zen chimes to amped up 70s electric guitar. It completes the crystal, new age aesthetic and adds a lot to the game’s atmosphere. The sound ratchets up key moments of tension in the game, without being intrusive.
Should you play The Chant?
With the game’s run time around five to seven hours, I found myself entertained and challenged for the short time I followed Jess through the island’s secrets. With clever new age mechanics, challenging resource management, and engaging puzzles, The Chant is a proper horror game well worth your time.
As cult leader Monroe Anton would say, “From gloom to glory!”
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