Stray Souls Review – Scarily Bad (PS5)

Kill me now.

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Stray Souls is a game that wears its influences on its sleeve. It is a horror game releasing during the Halloween period, borrowing heavily from iconic genre experiences like Silent Hill and PS2-era Resident Evil. The team even went as far as bringing in Akira Yamaoka to work on the game’s score. For those out of the loop, Yamaoka was responsible for the iconic themes in Silent Hill 2.

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The issue with leaning so heavily into homage is twofold: First off, you run the risk of the game not being able to properly establish its own identity, instead feeling muddled and unfocused. This is something that Stray Souls suffers from. The other issue is that the games being referenced are giants of the genre, causing a comparison that is unfair from the get-go. Let’s just say that the police station in Stray Souls isn’t quite as fun to explore as the one from Resident Evil 2

Stray Souls is out on now for PC, PlayStation and Xbox consoles.

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Right from the opening of Stray Souls something feels off, and not in the way that it is supposed to. The game opens with an extremely gory cutscene showing a deranged father hallucinating that his wife and children have turned into demonic cannibals, leading him to execute each one of them with a shotgun. Sounds pretty disturbing, doesn’t it?

Well it is not. Instead, it is downright laughable due to the extremely stiff animations and goofy looking character models on display. I genuinely don’t think that I’ve seen character animations looking this awkward since I was in the first year of my 3D Animation course.

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It Starts as it Means To Go On

You will get very sick of this guy very quickly.
You will get very sick of this guy very quickly.

The first hour of this game is actually enough to adequately let you know the sort of experience that you are in for in the worst possible way. The decision to cut from a horrific, visceral opening sequence to a grown man collecting his scattered dirty laundry from the floor and chatting to girls online is an extraordinarily peculiar one.

Those online chat room sequences are presented in the laziest way possible, forcing the player to click through the poorly-written text slowly appearing onscreen while the player character bashes on a poorly modelled keyboard and an insufferable key-clicking noise is played on a loop. It feels incredibly amateur.

As these sequences were so painful to sit through and didn’t seem to offer any relevant information, I found myself clicking through as quickly as possible. Then, I encountered a padlock requiring a four digit combination that I presume was mentioned during the chat room thread I skipped over. Because the game hadn’t yet introduced the notes system, I had no means of recovering the combination.

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If I didn’t have to play on for review purposes, then this is where my time with Stray Souls would have ended. Instead, I was forced to restart the game from the beginning again in order to make progress. This poor level of game design is what we are dealing with here and the level of frustration I felt is pretty consistent throughout Stray Souls, and I would imagine that it is a fairly universal sensation.

Frustration, Frustration, Frustration

The monster design in Stray Souls isn't the most original.
The monster design in Stray Souls isn’t the most original.

Unfortunately things don’t improve much once the gameplay kicks in. One of the biggest issues with Stray Souls is the game’s movement mechanics. The controls are sluggish and awkward, exacerbating the player’s frustration as they attempt to navigate the game’s ugly environments. Whether in a combat scenario, or just during exploration, the clunky movement system hinders the player at every turn.

Adding to this is the game’s camera. It is utterly abysmal to try and control, making it difficult to get a clear idea of the space being explored. This lack of control not only piles on even more unnecessary frustration but also takes away from any sort of immersion or atmospheric potential the game could have achieved.

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The Real Nightmares of Stray Souls Are the Controls

The gunplay is just as disappointing as you would expect on numerous fronts. First off, the odd angle of the gun being pointed by the player character in relation to the onscreen crosshair creates a weird disconnect that is unsettling for all of the wrong reasons. Annoying bugs also lead to shooting sections feeling wildly inconsistent, with each combat encounter yielding completely different results despite the same inputs being applied each time.

Then, there is the frankly baffling inclusion of a golden desert eagle, a weapon that feels wildly out of place with the game’s intended tone. The clash between the nightmarish world being strived for and this flashy firearm that wouldn’t look out of place in 50 Cent’s hand only serves to further undermine the game’s atmosphere.

Inconsistency is an issue that plagues not only the gameplay but also the narrative and character interactions in Stray Souls. The game’s script attempts to infuse humor into a horror setting, which isn’t inherently a recipe for disaster. However, it does so in the most out-of-place and cringe-worthy way imaginable.

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Every single attempt at humor falls completely flat and the dialogue in general is horrendously written, often feeling as if it was conceived by AI. Characters commonly fail to react appropriately to the horrors unfolding before them, which creates a jarring dissonance that disrupts any emotional connection with the story being told.

The Best of a Bad Bunch

This guy will randomly flash on screen and no one will react. It is very odd.
This guy will randomly flash on screen and no one will react. It is very odd.

The nicest thing I can say about the voice acting is that it isn’t completely horrible and is at least better than the script, although that is a low bar. The actors do their best with the poorly written script, but even their efforts can’t salvage the game from its narrative shortcomings.

One of the few positive aspects of Stray Souls is its musical score. However, even that rarely feels like much more than a recycled, watered-down version of the iconic Silent Hill 2 soundtrack. To make matters worse, the game’s sound effects largely consist of stock audio, which does nothing to add to player immersion.

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There aren’t many times when this job feels like work, but playing through Stray Souls was one of them. And before you complain with the retort that this is only a $30 game made by a small team, one just has to take a look at something like The Invincible to see how it should be done properly.

Stray Souls3/10

Stray Souls was reviewed on PS5 with a code supplied to FandomWire by Plan of Attack. Featured on OpenCritic.

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Written by Daniel Boyd

Articles Published: 154

Dan is one of FandomWire's Gaming Content Leads and Editors. Along with Luke Addison, he is one of the site's two Lead Video Game Critics and Content Co-ordinators. He is a 28-year-old writer from Glasgow. He graduated from university with an honours degree in 3D Animation, before pivoting to pursue his love for critical writing. He has also written freelance pieces for other sites such as Game Rant, WhatCulture Gaming, KeenGamer.com and The Big Glasgow Comic Page. He loves movies, video games and comic books.