Recently the good people at Mancebo were kind enough to let us try out their survival horror game, Vital Force. For anyone who knows me personally, getting the chance to play any survival horror game is like getting to unwrap an early Christmas present. I adore any survival game and these days of one COD game after COD game being released almost constantly, it was refreshing to go back to a genre that I feel hasn’t been getting much attention. So, how does this indie title measure up?
The premise of Vital Force starts out rather mysteriously. You play as an 8-year old girl who awakens in dark and abandoned subway station with no memory on how you got there. Thankfully there are no tricycle-riding clown puppets that appear telling you that they want to play a game in this case. But regardless your situation doesn’t look good as the subway is crawling with vengeful ghosts and aggressive spiders and scorpions. You don’t have much in terms of defense. All you have to your name is a phone which apparently comes installed with the power to exorcise angry spirits. Huh…must be a Samsung.
Similar to the popular series Fatal Frame, the ghosts and creepy crawlies that you encounter can only be vanquished through the use of your phone. You will need to take their pictures to slow them down and to deplete their health. These battles can be very nerve-wracking as with every picture you take, your phone will need time to charge back up. Your enemies are quick and can get all up into your personal space while you wait. Your only choice is to start running while not knowing where your enemy is.
The area you find yourself trapped in is considerably spooky. Dark corners are everywhere with goodies such as health kids and spare batteries for your phone enticing you to come into the shadows. Some rooms are so dark and silent that not even the light on your phone can penetrate it unless, against your better judgment, go marching through the dark. Like any good horror game, expect a jump-scare or two. Now I can honestly say that nowadays with every other indie horror game being put out, the jump-scare factor is starting to lose steam and affect. But thankfully, Vital Force doesn’t exploit this and keeps it to a moderate use that it still remains affective.
I really have to praise the developers for how well they’ve managed to create a truly creepy atmosphere. I’m a strong advocate for when comes to creating a truly scary game, you have to remember that less is more. Having the player nearly completely deprived of their senses can make for a terrify experience. And Vital Force does this well enough. Every room brings a strong sense of tension and anxiety, like you know something is just waiting to pop out and get you. No matter how much you prepare yourself, you’re still not ready for what’s lurking around the corner. From the foreboding soundtrack to the subtle touches of eerie voices whispering just behind you, Vital Force does a fairly good job in trapping you in a place that you really don’t want to be in.
One of my favorite features that I loved back with the Fatal Frame series was how defenseless I felt having just a camera at my disposal. A camera doesn’t come as something that strike fear into the hearts of your enemies. And neither does a phone, in this case. It required me to fight far out of my comfort zone and get straight in the face of the enemy. It was a unique way to fight that I hadn’t seen in many horror titles so it was really great to see it again for this game.
As much as I enojyed the jump-scares and the tension in the game, I feel as though it wasn’t used enough to its full potential. I admit it’s hard to fight a correct balance of when to use jump-scares and when not to and while this game didn’t exploit the technique too much, it also made it pretty easy to become relaxed once the scare was over. The feel of a danger wasn’t as constant as in other survival horror games and I didn’t feel as though my life was in peril at all times, which is what one wants to feel when playing a horror game. I felt as though this game could have been way more scary had the tension was built up a bit more and used to evolve the already creepy atmosphere.
Perhaps my biggest complaint about this game has to be the story. I got to be honest here; it truly didn’t feel as though there actually was one here. If there was, then I must have blinked. The game lacked direction and was more like a giant fetch quest of ‘go here, kill this, collect that, move on’ kind of thing, and after a while, that loses it’s appeal. That’s especially true when you don’t have a feel a connection with the character. I’m the kind of person that wants to feel a bond with the character that I’m playing as. I want to discover more about them and in turn, want them to be safe as I guide them through this dangerous world. In games where the character is more of a faceless, emotionless bot on wheels, then over time, I lose all interest and thus have no general investment on whether they live or die.
This became abundantly clear when it came to one particular, rage-inducing moment.
If I may just take a moment to vent, I absolutely HATED this part in the game. What looked like a simple platformer turned into a screaming, cursing, hair-pulling moment that I just could not stand. It not only felt out of place in a survival horror game, but it slowed down the pacing and completely took you out of the game. This can go into the same category of the lack of story direction. This part just didn’t feel like it needed to be there. I said before that I want to have an investment of the characters that I’m playing and to care about their general well being. Well, by the time this part of the game came around and after dying a few dozen times, I stopped caring all together.
Vital Force may not be as great as the Fatal Frame series, but that’s not to say that the developers don’t know how to make a generally creepy game. I may not have gotten the piss scared out of me enough to where I was too afraid to sleep with my lights off, but I did enjoy the truly creepy world that this game brought to the table. The people at Mancebo know their stuff, and hopefully with a bit more work and fine tuning here and there, maybe flush out a better constructed story and developed character, they have the makings of creating a even scarier game
Overall rating : 3/5