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Stray Souls Review - A Disastrous Attempt at an Action-Horror Game



Stray Souls Review by Ole Gamer Joe

Xbox/PC/PS

Release Date: 10/25/2023

Jukai Studio/Versus Evil


As someone who loves third person survival horror titles like Silent Hill, Remothered (the original anyways) and Resident Evil, you can bet your booty I jumped at the opportunity to review Stray Souls. Does Stray Souls feel like a friendly ghost of the past or does it bury itself six feet under?


Protagonist Daniel from Stray Souls
Protagonist Daniel from Stray Souls

In Stray Souls players will control a teenager named Daniel who has (much to his own surprise) recently inherited his grandmother's house. It seems Daniel wasn't all that close with his relatives and has a bit of a tragic past when it comes to his biological parents, but alas Grandma had to leave the place to someone, so lucky him! Sadly, Daniel doesn't seem to have much luck with the ladies, so he often resorts to online dating in hopes of finding romance. It is through one of these dating apps that he receives a message from a young lady who just so happens to be his next-door neighbor and, without spoiling too much of the story, this leads to a really gross and downright odd relationship of sorts between the two. Strange happenings begin to occur in Daniel's new home, and all of this culminates in you setting off to uncover a bit more about your past with your newfound...err...friend.


Obviously, this is a horror game and in fairness Stray Souls can occasionally serve up a halfway decent jump scare, but the most horrific thing of all is the truly terrible, laugh out loud script of the game itself. I understand this is a video game, but there are so many illogical happenings throughout this 8–9-hour title that it becomes impossible to take seriously.


I'll give you an example: at one point a certain character complains about Daniel making too much noise because he had to fire off his handgun in order to defeat a group of monsters. That would make sense as you wouldn't want to make a ton of noise in a survival type situation where monsters are at least somewhat triggered by sound, except in the previous scene this same character lit off massive fireworks display that would have been loud enough to wake up Walt Disney's cryogenically frozen body. Or how about the reactions out of the characters themselves? Throughout the story you'll make a variety of dialogue choices. Making a selection leads to Daniel having an extended pause before blurting out what he has to say. I almost thought I was at a Red Sox game having a moment of silence before the National Anthem. The writing, pacing and acting are astonishingly bad even by horror standards.


A screenshot of a head with white pupils in the hands of an unknown entity in Stay Souls
Impressive graphics are one of the few redeeming qualities of this title

But let's put that aside and focus on the core gameplay loop. Stray Souls is broken up into chapters that have you exploring areas for clues and items, sometimes shooting down enemies and bosses, and solving eye-rolling generic puzzles. The biggest component of the game-- the exploration-- is an absolute snooze fest. In each new area you'll bumble about, bumping into just about everything in hopes of triggering a command prompt to either grab the next item or find a puzzle solution to progress the story forward. One menial task leads to another and before you know it an hour as gone by and your still exactly where you started. Grab this piece of paper, now grab this one! Got that? Go down to the kitchen and fumble around further. It's drab, shallow, and soul draining with the pacing of a snail that's smoked 2 blunts worth of Marijuana. 30 minutes in Stray Souls feels like standing still in a line that won't move at the DMV. This is a real shame, because honestly, some of the scares are really well executed. I said some, not all. Any sense of fear is lost in the meandering that goes into progressing through Stray Souls.


A screenshot of one of the characters from Stray Souls exploring a house
Exploring in Stray Souls is tedious and rather boring

When you aren't wandering around areas feeling stupid because you missed the smallest of details, you will occasionally battle enemies, or in the case of the second level of the game, run away from them for 45 minutes. This painfully dreadful woodsy area introduces you to the combat where you can shoot, aim and roll, and that's about it. Stray Souls does not feature any sort of inventory management system. Rather, health and ammo pickups are scattered around the game's environments. Enemies are brainless fools that lurch towards you as best they can without getting hung up on environmental objects like tree branches. Don't worry, the same thing can happen to you so I guess we can call it even. The combat is serviceable at best but offers no thrills or excitement. Pumping what seems like hundreds of bullets into these grotesque and honestly gorgeously designed creatures eventually leads to them "exploding" into a few droplets of blood. Their death animations are about as satisfying as having your favorite part of the song cut off by GPS navigation. Even worse, the best option is often to take off and run.


Daniel seems to have really worked on his cardio as he never gets tired and can outrun any of these abominations, even the four-legged ones. That said, Stray Souls does occasionally force combat, but in those instances it's just a matter of rolling around and popping shots off as ammo is plentiful and the only way to die is to get hung up on a tree or some sort of bush while an enemy spams away. Boss encounters are so cartoonish that I must admit I burst out in laughter when I got one boss in particular stun locked into a repeat animation. Unintentionally funny moments like these are all too common in Stray Souls.


Hoping the puzzles are a bit better? Forget about it. Very little thought has gone into the puzzle design, with most of them being either easy to solve or ridiculously frustrating. The frustration comes from puzzles that require certain number combinations. Obtaining them often means once again having to bump around the environment over and over until you find the appropriate numbers. I wasted a good hour on one of these trying to figure out what the hell the combo to a safe was, not fun.


A screenshoot of the forest in Stray Souls with an enemy looming on the horizon
Stray Souls features a dark and unsettling atmosphere with some fairly impressive graphics

While it's hard to find much to like about Stray Souls, I can't deny that the visual design of the game is phenomenal. Environments look incredible at times with trees gently swaying in the breeze or the grass below your feet all rendered beautifully. The creature design as I alluded to earlier is fascinating and commendable. If anything, it was frustrating to see such wonderous art and creativity squandered on such an otherwise dysfunctional product. The chilling soundtrack is phenomenal with tracks split between the legendary Akira Yamaoka and indie composer Pete Wicher.


It's obvious that the art and sound team poured a ton of energy into creating some amazing sets and compositions, but when the game itself is on such shaky foundation it really feels like it was all for nothing. Speaking of Shakey ground, while the visuals are impressive the performance was a bit all over the place. On my rig that uses a 2070 super, well beyond the games recommended settings, Stray Souls featured plenty of framerate drops and hitches particularly during cutscenes. I dropped the resolution down to 1080p but even then, the game didn't always manage to hold down a steady 60fps. Hopefully this is more to do with the review build and you won't encounter the same problems, but I thought it was worth noting regardless.


Stray Souls is a shockingly bad product. From the dreadfully slow exploration to the lackluster combat and puzzle design, this is a game that poured a lot of energy into its visual and audio design but forgot to make a compelling gameplay experience. Couple this with a laugh out loud and downright cringe narrative and you have yourself an indie Krampus.


Pros:

+ Awesome creature designs

+ Impressive visuals and sound


Cons:

- Poor puzzle design

- Performance issues/glitches

- Mediocre combat

- Dreadful story

- Time wasting exploration

Indie Krampus award depicting a foul looking creature for games that are to be avoided in their current state.
Indie Krampus



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