In a case of somewhat odd timing, The Chant was released just a few days after Halloween instead of before it, despite being a horror title. Worth the extra wait though? We checked out the PlayStation 5 version of the game, which is also available on Xbox Series S/X and PC and was developed by Brass Token for publisher Plaion.
In The Chant, you head out towards a beautiful island in order to find spiritual rest after your sister passes. As Jess, you quickly find out that not all is like it seems, and the ‘spiritual retreat’ you came for houses some pretty dark secrets. A lot of that is delivered though an interesting cast of characters, from spiritual leader Tyler to other visitors looking for some kind of inner peace. Most, like Jess, have their own demons that they brought with them, and a multi-threaded narrative gradually unfolds over the course of a six hour narrative.
When a group chant goes wrong, an otherworldly kind of evil is unleashed upon the island, and a need for spiritual relief turns into a need for survival. Jess is just a regular person amidst this, so she doesn’t suddenly turn into Claire Redfield or Lara Craft and comes across as quite vulnerable. She can’t really rely on any combat expertise, which I suppose accounts for the fact that combat can feel rather clunky. Even though it’s at least partly intentional, it can be mildly frustrating. Instead, Jess is more comfortable with crafting mechanics that can help her out against “the Gloom”, a parasite that triggers psychedelic scenarios and monsters.
While you can craft weapons to defend yourself, you can also often opt to run away and find safety elsewhere. Some evils have to be faced though, and here it helps to craft the right weapons for the right occasion. While this didn’t make much sense in the demo we played for our preview, the full game provides more of a learning curve that lets you realize that sage sticks can take care of flies and witch sticks help you ward off Gloom-based creatures. It still feels a bit too reliant on inventory management, but having a bit more context helps.
There are more connections between nature and gameplay in The Chant, which narratively makes sense with the somewhat hippie-like nature of the group of people you join at the start. Using lavender and ginger you can refill gauges that fuel your bodily and mental health. Ignore them, and you’ll be prone to panic attacks where you lose the ability to use weapons. There are more everyday items to be found and used as well though, including genre staples like a flashlight.
The Chant is fairly linear, although you have freedom to move inside hub-like environments. Objectives usually steer you in a particular direction though, so exploration is more about filling up your inventory than about finding secrets. Every now and then a puzzle will briefly stop you as well, but none of these are too taxing – which fits with the premise of the game as it makes more sense for Jess to have to find a certain object to progress than to complete an elaborate puzzle.
While The Chant has a cinematic flair to it, it doesn’t feature the kind of polish we expect from Supermassive’s horror games. That applies to the visual presentation when you look at facial details and how characters move, but also in the sometimes overly clunky combat. Nothing that ruins the experience, but definitely elements that hold the game back a little in a crowded genre.
For cinematic horror fans, we definitely recommend this one. The story’s well done, the characters are interesting and the cinematic delivery of the cutscenes is very entertaining to watch. The actual gameplay may have some rough edges, but they’re ones you can easily look past for the sake of the story.
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