When I first saw screenshots of Tormentum, I was highly impressed by its brooding darkness and warped reality, a wonderful painted combination of surreal, gothic landscapes and characters. The minute details of each scene craft a believable world I wish I could explore in high definition — the quality of the art goes beyond a depth most games offer. I could easily see the backgrounds framed and hanging on a wall, imploring viewers to lose time in their elaborate filigree. However, a game needs to be more than a pretty face, so is Tormentum filled with gratifying conversation?
As the game begins, you wake and find yourself trapped in a cage being transported by a huge flying abomination, with no memories of how or why you got there. A traveling rat companion in an adjacent cage laments that he was grabbed from his house in the middle of the night and that the twisted airship is heading towards an ominous castle from which no one has escaped before. Only people who are “marked by evil” are swept away to the castle, and the rat protests his innocence. Upon arrival, you are swiftly locked in a cell and need to figure a way out of this foreboding place.
Like many point-and-clicks, Tormentum’s control is straightforward — click to move and interact with items. Managing the character’s written notes is rather finicky at times, but the controls work smoothly otherwise. Aside from the usual item combination puzzles and fetch quests, the game includes self-contained mini-puzzles drawn from inspirations like Hexiom Connect, the famous Professor-Layton-smash-your-screen sliding puzzles, the standard adjust-pipes-until-point-a-and-b-connect, and more. As a puzzle fanatic, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of puzzles but disappointed by their difficulty. Though the designs would certainly accommodate a larger age group and avoid deterring the less puzzle-inclined, within my short three hour run, not once did I feel completely stumped by anything — there were always places to go and things to do. I appreciate that the game keeps backtracking to a minimum while boasting fairly quick transitions, so wandering the lands never feels like a chore.
In contrast, the story lacks finesse in maneuvering the player towards the available choices littered amongst the plot and puzzles. Throughout the game, polarizing options are presented — do you kill a guard or let him live? Do you help the tormented tree or give away an item for a promised reward? Although the system introduces an interesting measurement of morality through the actions chosen (which is only revealed at the end), the line between callousness and compassion is distinctly divided, and anyone short of a sociopath could likely tell what the “right choice” should be. Early in the game, a quick pattern emerges: regardless of the choice made, the player’s progression remains the same — the protagonist will always get the item he needs to proceed without harm.
Thus, players have little incentive to stray or agonize over the options; moral decisions are easy when the only consequence is clicking the right buttons to avoid merciless actions on passing strangers. Of course, the ending depends heavily on the decisions made, but given the design, it is effortless to attain the best ending. No overt proclamations state that the player should make moral choices to best the game, but it is heavily suggested, so impulsively murderous players may find themselves with a different outcome. Additionally, Tormentum does provoke some questions regarding who you can trust and how much you can take at face value when passing judgment, but this line of inquiry doesn’t fully develop into an internal conflict when a decision is required. Overall, there is laudable intention driving the game design, but it would have benefited from more complex implementation. I adore games with moral quandaries that make me sit and think about the huge gray area that stumps even the most benevolent. Unfortunately, Tormentum didn’t quite torment my mind.
What lived up to and completely surpass my expectations is the artwork — I was constantly eager to see more and always spent some time absorbing the rich, grotesque details of each scene, and even now would be happy to simply stare at them for a while. Regrettably, the animations are rather wooden and basic; at times they hurt the immersion rather than enhance it. In comparison, the music complemented the dark, nihilistic imagery with its atmospheric and forgettable tunes, including an ending theme that is hauntingly beautiful.
Tormentum offers an experience; take up its offer to wander the forlorn lands, listen to the clinking of prison chains, wonder who to trust and save, and contemplate the character’s possible reasons for being sent here. Though the game falls short of its potential, Tormentum’s foray into an intricate, joyless world is enticing enough for those who favor the macabre.