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Visage - title

In a Nutshell


  • Gets a lot of use out of a small game space
  • Traditional survival horror mechanics such as resource-management and puzzles
  • Gloomy atmosphere and some effective scares
  • Uncanny, lived-in setting
  • Use of light and dark
  • Exploring for back-story
  • The alternate ending


  • Clumsy, inconsistent controls
  • Cannot store supplies in locker
  • Repeats same tricks ad nauseam
  • Cheap deaths
  • Stealth sections of Rekan's chapter
  • Tedious back-tracking, and wandering around not knowing what to do
  • The main ending

Overall Impression : C+ / B-
A full realization of the ideas of P.T.

Visage - cover

SadSquare Studio

PC (via Steam),
PlayStation 4 < (via PSN digital download),
XBox One (via XBox Live digital download).
(< indicates platform I played for review)


Original release date:
30 October 2020

First-person horror

single player

Play time:
6-12 hours

ESRB Rating: N/A for:
MegaBearsFan's Parental Rating: Mature players only, for:
intense violence, horrific imagery and atmosphere, depictions of mental illness and suicide

Official site:

It's virtually impossible to talk about Visage without first referring back to Hideo Kojima's infamous P.T. demo for the canceled Silent Hills project. P.T. has certainly left an almost Amnesia-sized footprint on the horror video gaming landscape, and it's hard not to refer back to Amnesia when talking about any horror game in the past 10 years either. It's hard to believe that P.T. was released six years ago, and the wanna-bes, copy-cats, and attempts at a spiritual successor have been rolling in ever since. The latest indie project to try to replicate P.T.'s success is SadSquare's Visage, a first-person horror game set entirely within a single suburban house in the 1980's. With Allison Road canceled, and Konami giving us no evidence that rumors of a new Silent Hill game (or a revival of Silent Hills itself) is true, Visage is probably the closest yet to a full-fledged realization of the concepts and novelty of P.T..

P.T. has influenced an entire generation of horror games.

P.T. mixed with a little Amnesia and Resident Evil

I think that part of the appeal of P.T. was its simplicity. With that simplicity came elegance. After all, it only had like 2 buttons that actually did anything, and the whole game consisted of walking around the hallway and zooming in to look at things. That's fine for what is essentially a tech demo that only takes an hour or two to beat, but for a fully-realized, full-length game like Visage, you need a bit more substance. Visage does deliver in that regard. While the entire game could be boiled down to just wandering around a house looking at spooky things, it also has several more traditional survival horror systems, which are used in new and sometimes creative ways.

The most substantive of these mechanics is a "sanity" mechanic pulled straight from something like Amnesia or Eternal Darkness, and which replaces a more traditional health system. The ghosts haunting the house will kill you and force a Game Over if they catch you, so your only defense is to run away. But when you run away, you need to try to run into a part of the house that is well lit, as the player character seems to be very afraid of the dark, and his sanity rapidly depletes if you're standing or wandering around in the dark.

The little red brain in the corner indicates you're in
danger of succumbing to a potentially-lethal haunting.

I wish the little sanity indicator had been moved to one of the top corners of the screen. Holding certain items in your left hand (particularly the lit lighter) often covers up or obscures the icon, making it hard to read. Other U.I. elements, such as some button prompts, will also draw a black bar across the bottom of the screen, which also covers up the sanity indicator.

Visage has some pretty good lighting effects, with realistic, dynamic shadows and darkness that is actually pitch black. It's not uncommon to catch a glimpse of a shadow from a flickering or swaying light in the corner of the screen and think that it's an apparition. Unfortunately, there's also some texture pop-in when playing on my PS4 Pro that happens when making sudden turns or when moving between rooms. This also looks like an apparition, and acted to quickly desensitize me to the deliberate peripheral visual trickery that the game tried to employ later.

The ambient sound design is also quite good. There's the cliche background ambiance of a rainstorm and thunder, but it's accompanied by numerous creaks and groans within the house itself. These creaks and groans, combined with the narrow corridors, blind corners, and ubiquitous darkness help to keep the horror atmosphere tense, especially in the early hours. Are those footsteps in the attic above me? Did I just hear something behind me? Is there an apparition waiting around the corner? The groaning and creaking reminded me of the novel House of Leaves, which I read over the summer, and which describes its house as "growling" whenever it reshapes its impossible geometry.

The house of Visage is also claustrophobic enough, cluttered enough, and confusingly laid-out, such that navigating in the dark is genuinely difficult. I had to play for hours (and finish more than a whole chapter) before I really started to get a feel for the layout of the house. Remembering which rooms and objects are where is hard enough in the early hours with the lights on. Not being able to see where I'm going only made early-game exploration feel hopelessly futile -- but in the good horror game way of making me feel unsure of my surroundings and vulnerable.

The house has a surprisingly large and complicated floorplan.
Keeping it well lit will both keep you sane, and also help navigate.

Clumsy inventory

The need to keep the house well lit introduces the next gameplay mechanic, which is an inventory system that should look very familiar to anybody who has played a survival horror game in the past. While most of the light in the house will come from the built-in light fixtures, and can be turned on or off with a switch, you'll also occasionally need an auxiliary source of light. You can carry lighters, candles, spare light bulbs, and other puzzle items in each of your five inventory slots. The character also uses prescription medication to manage his stress levels, and so you'll also usually want to be carrying around at least one bottle of pills in your tiny inventory.

It is annoying that those pill bottles only hold like two pills. There's no reason why the character shouldn't be able to just pour all the pills he finds into a single bottle, instead of needing to carry several mostly-empty bottles at once. You could probably also make an argument for being able to empty lighter fluid into a single lighter, but I don't mind not being able to do that. The real-life process for refilling lighter fluid is a non-trivial one that requires taking apart the lighter, so not exactly something we should expect a game character to be able to do on the fly, in the dark. Besides, the lighters last long enough that they aren't constantly being used up. A pill bottle, on the other hand, is easy to open and close to dump the pills, so I really see no reason why we can't get by with only needing a single pill bottle in our inventory.

You'll need to manage a limited supply of light sources and sanity-restoring medication.

There's also a separate, larger inventory for storing key items that are needed to unlock doors or solve puzzles. These cannot be removed from your inventory until you use them at the necessary location(s). This isn't like Resident Evil, where you have to run back and forth to the storage box to pick up different keys and crests to unlock doors, at the cost of not being able to hold an extra healing herb or ammo clip.

The controls for managing the inventory can be very clumsy and take a lot of getting used to. If you want to play with friends, you probably don't want to be handing off the controller too often, as one player or the other might fumble around trying to remember how the inventory works and accidentally consume a vital supply or throw away a useful item. It's really hard to explain exactly why the controls are difficult; you really have to play it yourself and feel them.

The player can hold an item in each hand, and the left and right shoulder buttons are assigned to actions with the left and right hand respectively. In the inventory, you can press the left or right shoulder button to equip or unequip the item in the respective hand, or to switch the item in the respective hand with the highlighted item in the inventory. Seems simple enough. But then there's times when you need to drop certain items, either to solve a puzzle, or to equip a different item that must be held with two hands, or because you want to pick something else up despite your inventory already being full. Dropping an item requires holding a face button, then pressing the shoulder button corresponding to the respective hand. There's also certain contextual events which require pressing or holding both shoulder buttons, even though the item being used is only in one hand. It works; it just takes time to get used to it.

The inventory isn't the only place that the controls falter. Sometimes, trying to do something as simple as opening a door or a cabinet can be an exercise in frustration. Fumbling around with your inventory in the dark, with an apparition bearing down on you, and within close proximity to a door or other other interactive object in the world, can get quite messy. Minor, but nagging inconsistencies also crop up from time to time. Like how you can pick up a sledgehammer and use the shoulder buttons to swing it to break mirrors or other objects, but there's also a crowbar and an ax that cannot be swung, but require using the regular action prompt. Depending on what order you play the chapters, and which of these items you pick up first, you'll likely expect the others to function the same way, and then get stuck when it doesn't. The ax in particular is part of a timed set-piece, and wandering around the room trying to swing it (in the same fashion that I had with the sledgehammer) to hopefully break down doors or walls to escape (instead of using it in the one place where it is supposed to be used) got me killed a couple times.

I couldn't put supplies in the storage cabinet, so I dropped them on the floor where I could find them later,
only to have them all disappear after completing one of the chapters.

Despite separating key items from supplies, Visage does still retain a Resident Evil-like storage locker in the basement. This is because there are certain key items which can be equipped, and therefore also dropped. If such an item is dropped in the world, it will be magically teleported back to the basement storage locker. Frustratingly, you cannot use this locker to store non-key items such as the aforementioned lighters, candles, pills, or spare bulbs. I was collecting a lot of these items in the early hours of the game, and got myself in the habit of dropping them off on the floor of the storage room in order to free up inventory space for collecting more supplies. This back-fired horribly.

Sequence-breaking the inventory

After finishing one of the game's chapters, I came back to the storage room to find that everything I had collected had vanished (contrary to what an article from Screenrant suggested). They weren't on the floor where I dropped them, nor in the storage box, nor had they been returned to the place in the house where I had found them. They were all just gone. And it wasn't just one or two items. It was like six lighters, a couple candles, some pill bottles, and at least 2 light bulbs -- a sizeable fraction of the total supplies available in the game -- and all of them were just gone.

I wasn't sure if this was because the items despawn if they are left on the ground for too long. If that is the case, I don't recall the game ever warning me that items would despawn. Or it might have had something to with the fact that I played the game's chapters out of order, and maybe the game doesn't remember where items are dropped if the chapters aren't done in the correct order.

The game is divided into 3 main vignettes, and a handful of smaller ones.

You see, the house is structured as sort of a hub. Various objects in the house can be interacted with in order to trigger a chapter about a specific character. You then deal with the specific hauntings and set pieces for that chapter, then the house returns to "normal" when you're finished, and you can start the next chapter. There's three main chapters and a handful of mini-chapters which can be done in almost any order. However, the game does seem to have an intended order, but it doesn't do a whole lot to communicate that intent to the player.

I had actually watched a friend playing part of the game on his PS5 at his house before I went and bought it myself. After I booted it up on my own PS4, I decided to do the chapter that I had seen at the friend's house: the Delores chapter. This chapter happens to be the longest and most complicated (and arguably the most tedious) chapter in the game. It requires lots of running back and forth through the same areas of the house using spooky teleportation doors. The end effect is that the impossible geometry of the house (which was neat when it first happens) gets re-used to the point that it loses its novelty and spookiness.

I didn't like how tedious the second half of Delores' chapter became, so playing that chapter first didn't do a lot of favors for my impression of the game overall. Though it wasn't nearly as bad as the awful "stealth" sections of Rekan's chapter. In any case, having all my stockpiled supplies simply vanish after ending the chapter only further cemented my annoyance with the game. I would have to go through the rest of the game without those extra supplies, and having to get by only with the resources given to me by the other chapters. Needless to say, I got a lot of use out of the camera flash after I found it.

Delores' chapter has some good set pieces, but dragged on for hours and became tedious.

It ended up not really being that big of a deal, since the lights don't ever go out permanently when you're in the hub version of the house. I was expecting Visage to play out similar to Silent Hill 4: the Room by making the house more haunted and oppressive as the game goes on. This doesn't really happen. There's like one monster that can appear after you've cleared a particular chapter. Other than that, the hub remains almost completely safe so long as you don't just sit in a dark corner contemplating where to go next, or in a foolishly misguided attempt to hide from the ghosts.

P.T. mixed with a little Gone Home

The house itself communicates a lot of the backstory. It's densely populated and feels very lived-in. Exploring gives a little bit of the feeling of getting to know the owners, in the same way that Gone Home and What Remains of Edith Finch tell their stories through environmental design. It's not quite as effective for me because the stories being told in Visage are not nearly as captivating (or as well told) as the story of Gone Home or the vignettes of Edith Finch.

Careful observation of the house is also necessary to solve some of the game's puzzles. Not only are there puzzle and key items hidden in cupboards or drawers, but a picture on the wall might be a clue to a puzzle later in the chapter. Sometimes you're also given clues to the location of a key item by being shown the location of the item in the house. Soaking in the environment during your early exploration will ensure that you recognize these locations when they're shown, and can quickly and efficiently find the item(s) in question.

Pay attention to your surroundings. It will provide clues as to how to progress the game

It's also refreshing to see some more complicated and traditional puzzles in the game. Plenty of puzzles still boil down to "find the key to the door", or playing Simon Says, but there's also a few more thoughtful puzzles in Visage as well. In some sense, the entire house is a puzzle, since navigating the house and figuring out how its parts interconnect is a large part of the game's challenge, and those relationships might change based on which chapter you're in. Mostly though, the only time I got stuck was when I simply didn't know where the game wanted me to go, or what it wanted me to do when I got there. Many of the puzzles and triggers for progress felt a bit esoteric to me, and I had to resort to online walkthroughs to figure out what I was missing. As far as I can tell, it sometimes just expects you to wander the house until you find something new or different, or some spook draws your attention.

I wasn't particularly impressed with the actual story. Much of the developments are easy to see coming, yet I still didn't quite understand how the events of the main chapters related to the protagonist's story at all, despite the ghosts in those chapters referring to the protagonist by name. I also absolutely hated the ending, which felt completely un-earned and not very consistent with the rest of the game.

[Show Spoiler] [Hide Spoiler]

The nearest I could figure is that Dwayne became an alcoholic, neglectful father, his wife threatened to leave him, and he killed his wife and children in a fit of rage before killing himself. The whole game is then spent in some kind of limbo in which he discovers that the house is haunted or possessed or something, and has also driven its previous, mentally ill, occupants into murderous rages. They all tried to control their mental illness with drugs (or in Dwayne's case, alcohol), but it wasn't enough to keep the hauntings at bay (possibly because the hauntings were, in fact, real). I assume that Dwayne realizes that he was also a victim to these hauntings and/or mental illness, he confronts his failings as a husband and father, commits to doing better, and is allowed to become his old self and reunite with his family in the afterlife.

Dwayne, like the previous occupants of the house, was driven to insanity
by his own mental illness and/or the house's hauntings.

Or he kills himself for super-realsies and spends the rest of eternity in a void of guilt and self-loathing.

The "good" ending doesn't work for me because I don't feel that the game effectively communicates any redemption for Dwayne that should allow him to deserve to be re-united with his family. Even if he commits to not being a neglectful husband and father, that doesn't change the fact that he already murdered his entire family. I'm not opposed to redemption or forgiveness -- not even in this extreme case -- if Dwayne genuinely changes, and I actually applaud the game for allowing the protagonist to defeat his illness and seemingly earn redemption. I had previously criticized Blair Witch for its nihilistic depiction of mental illness, and Visage thankfully does not repeat that mistake. That being said, I feel the game doesn't do anything to really show that Dwayne has changed or that he (or the player) has earned that redemption. It's as if simply recognizing the problems is enough, without having to do any work to change the behavior. In reality, recognizing and admitting the problem is the first step towards rehabilitation, not the last step.

The game never asks the player to make a choice to prove that you've learned the lesson that Dwayne's past is trying to teach him (and the player), nor does it even let Dwayne make such a choice in a cutscene independent of player input. Most players will solve all the video tape puzzles simply for the sake of completion, whether the message of each tape sinks in or not. Further, there's no reason to not wear the mask. It's another thing that the player will likely incidentally do without thinking twice or recognizing its significance. The mask doesn't provide any meaningful handicaps, it doesn't cause more hauntings, or anything else that might make the player second-guess picking it up and wearing it.

Simply putting on the mask is enough to earn redemption?

I would have much preferred if the good ending depended on the player actively refusing to use pills or alcohol late in the game, even though it would supposedly restore your sanity. Refusing to use those "aid" items in a meaningful situation would show that the player has also learned the lesson that the drugs are not the answer.

It's also odd that the game seems to conflate alcoholism with genuine mental illness. While alcoholism is something that can (theoretically) be defeated by sheer willpower, schizophrenia cannot. The inability to discern reality from hallucination is the defining characteristic of such illness, and no matter how aware you are of your condition, it's not just a simple matter of ignoring what you think you're experiencing through sheer willpower alone.

On a more socio-political note, I also got the impression that the game actively opposes medical interventions to treat mental illness, especially drugs, since it suggests that the medical interventions either caused the conditions to begin with, or the interventions made the conditions worse. This was the running theme of all three main chapters. This also flies in the face of the fact that the pills in your inventory are a panacea that instantly and absolutely restores your sanity with no lasting negative effects that I ever experienced. If they game wanted to suggest that the drugs are being mis-used, then it probably should have applied some kind of long-term penalty for using the pills. Maybe use of the pills makes hauntings more frequent and/or more severe later in the game? Thus, figuring out that the drugs are making things worse and refusing to take them anymore would be a way that the player could actively earn Dwayne's redemption.

The chapter narratives seem to imply that medical interventions only made the problems worse.

I don't know. That was my takeaway. Maybe I totally misread everything. Maybe the chapters are supposed to be criticism of barbaric out-dated medical practices such as electro-shock therapy, and how those particular treatments exacerbate the problems of the patients. But if that was supposed to be the point, boy was it subtle.

While I hate the "good" ending, I really like the cleverness and attention to detail in the alternate ending. I love how the alternate ending tries to push the player back towards the "good" ending by repeatedly giving more and more specific clues as to where to find the optional content that leads to the other ending. It's probably the one time when repetition actually serves the game well. It shows you were all the chapter triggers are, where all the video tapes are, how to solve one of the puzzles, as well as cluing the player into the location of other secrets. The playable end credits and "epilogue" also do a really good job of hammering home the message of the alternate ending. Just all-around good game design. I wish the main ending had been executed this well.

Love the ideas; don't love the execution

Visage is proud to wear its influences on its sleeve. P.T. and Gone Home are obvious inspirations from the moment the game boots up, but the Silent Hill references also start pouring in as well. If the loading screen weren't enough of an homage to Silent Hill 4, then anyone who earned the "Room 302" achievement saw an absolutely explicit reference. For a long time, I had played so many copy-cats of Silent Hill 2 (including half of the games in the Silent Hill franchise), so it's nice to see The Room getting more and more love.

I much prefer Visage over other minimalist indie horror games like Layers of Fear, which has exactly one trick, and repeats it constantly over the short, but bloated runtime. Visage is unlikely to be saddled by the dreaded "walking sim" moniker because it has a much more robust set of mechanics and systems that the player must actually play with. It is at least on par with the original Amnesia in terms of gameplay complexity and challenge.

Even though I like most of the ideas that went into Visage, I'm afraid it doesn't live up to the games that so clearly inspired it. It's a valiant effort to realize the ideas of P.T., and to elevate the indie horror that has been largely dominated by boring "walking sim" to a higher level, but it goofs up in too many details of its execution. Inventory issues, obnoxious hide-and-seek stealth encounters, repetitive and predictable scare tactics, glitches, and occasionally vexing puzzle and progression clues (forcing me to repeatedly look up walkthroughs) all served to annoy or frustrate me, and to drag the game down. Effective interactive horror really relies on allowing the player to make steady progress, while still making sure they never really know what lies around the next corner or allowing them to become comfortable in the environment. As soon as you have to spend hours back-tracking in circles to figure out where to go next, or have to repeat the same jump-scare-riddled section more than once or twice because of a cheap death or excessive difficulty, you become desensitized to the ambiance and the jump scares, start to learn the inner workings of the game logic, and the entire illusion comes crashing down. This is what happened to me while playing Visage, and it brought this otherwise superb horror gaming experience back down to earth.

I do, however, expect that Visage will likely stick around in my memory. Maybe, as time goes on, and I forget the flaws, I'll look back on this one a bit more fondly for the neat things that it does do very well.

Visage wears its influences on its sleeve, even if it doesn't live up to them.

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The Callisto ProtocolThe Callisto ProtocolThe Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimThe Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim DLCThe Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim DLCThe Evil WithinThe Evil Within
The Evil Within 2The Evil Within 2The Last GuardianThe Last Guardian
The Last of UsThe Last of UsThe Last of Us Part IIThe Last of Us Part II
The Outer WorldsThe Outer WorldsThe SaboteurThe Saboteur
The SwapperThe SwapperThe Witcher 3 expansionsThe Witcher 3 expansions
The Witcher 3: Wild HuntThe Witcher 3: Wild HuntThis War of MineThis War of Mine
This War of Mine: the Little OnesThis War of Mine: the Little OnesTomb Raider (2013)Tomb Raider (2013)
Total War: AttilaTotal War: AttilaTotal War: Rome IITotal War: Rome II
Total War: Shogun 2Total War: Shogun 2Total War: Shogun 2: Fall of the SamuraiTotal War: Shogun 2: Fall of the Samurai
TrineTrineTropico 5Tropico 5
U-BoatU-BoatUltimate General: Civil WarUltimate General: Civil War
Uncharted 3: Drake's DeceptionUncharted 3: Drake's DeceptionUntil DawnUntil Dawn
What Remains of Edith FinchWhat Remains of Edith Finch 

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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Without Gravity

And check out my colleague, David Pax's novel Without Gravity on his website!

Featured Post

The Humanity of NCAA Football's In-Season RecruitingThe Humanity of NCAA Football's In-Season Recruiting08/01/2022 If you're a fan of college football video games, then I'm sure you're excited by the news from early 2021 that EA will be reviving its college football series. They will be doing so without the NCAA license, and under the new title, EA Sports College Football. I guess Bill Walsh wasn't available for licensing either? Expectations...

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New house, old petNew house, old pet11/22/2018 It's been a few years since the untimely death of my baby tortoise, Koopa. I loved that little critter, and was devastated by her death. It took a while, but time heals all wounds, and I was eventually ready to take on another pet. The fact that I was taking in a pet that I already knew made it a lot easier for me to feel ready....

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