The Chant is an odd B-horror-movie of a game that takes inspiration from the usual sources like Silent Hill and Resident Evil but in a much more isolated environment. Delving into supernatural horror, The Chant invites you into a spiritualist cult with a secret and violent past, thematically mixing Lost with the Lovecraftian mythos.
Taking the role of Jess, you quickly find yourself at an island retreat for some much-needed spiritual me time. She has good reason to seek inner peace, still reeling from the accidental death of her younger sister years before. Of course, that’s not what happens, with the barefoot, spiked-tea-addled oasis quickly descending into angst-filled emotional horror.
The island locale is easily the best thing about The Chant. You’ll explore sandy beaches, forest and mountain paths, beautiful vistas, underground caverns, and mines, as well as various buildings and murky places. The scenery is gorgeous. There are lots of bright colors and detailed flora, and there’s a stark visual contrast between the normal world areas and the oppressive, supernaturally-infected areas called the gloom.
The overall ambient soundtrack is surprisingly good, too, with powerful sound effects and generally high-quality voice acting. The character models themselves don’t fare quite as well, with often janky and stilted animations and expressions. Combat animations are especially uneven, with clumsy dodging and attack moves.
The Chant tries to focus on the psychological impacts of horror with its main character, which is reflected in its core gameplay mechanics. Jess has three stats to maintain: mind, body, and spirit. Her mind is usually the stat on which you have to spend the most attention; anything stressful lowers it, putting Jess at risk of debilitating panic attacks. She’s terrified of the dark, for instance, so you must find ways to light passages, and going into the gloom also eats away at her mind, so lingering in those spaces is never a good idea.
Combat, of course, also causes Jess to freak out, which makes a lot of sense. Her body stat correlates to hit points, and the spirit stat governs the use of certain special magics and items (in addition to refilling her mind energy through meditation). Combat itself, though, is a real mixed bag. Jess has no natural or default weapons of her own. She can literally just slap and push at bad things, which doesn’t help much. Weapons can be found or crafted, but they tend to be relatively innocuous — burning sage clumps and other herbal mixes plus fire.
It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, honestly; for a game where you play as a traumatized young woman, The Chant loves to throw Jess into the fray against mutant cultists, giant acid-spewing bug things, toads, killer flowers, and other vaguely Lovecraftian nightmares with next to nothing to protect herself. Combat ultimately amounts to clumsily bashing at a monster until either it dies, your weapon breaks, or you die. Much like ammunition in Resident Evil, The Chant is incredibly stingy about handing out needed herbal ingredients, too.
This might not be as big a source of frustration as it is if The Chant had a semblance of stealth gameplay. Trying to avoid violent combat with monsters would make sense, after all, but that’s not an option here. The game seldom gives you any choice but to plow forward, swinging and dodging to get through to the next area. Melee mechanics are either short or long shoulder button presses and are not at all complex. You hit a monster, dodge when it’s about to strike, hit it again, etc.
Jess will find salt and other items that she can throw or even place on the ground as traps to slow or hurt enemies, and she’ll gain new spiritual abilities as she collects the colored crystals everyone on the island wears. These can harm enemies, slow them down, freeze them, and do other useful things, but they use energy which, generally, can only be replenished by finding specific ingredients scattered around the island.
When not mindlessly hitting and shoving monsters, you’ll usually wander around looking for ingredients, key pieces, letters, film reels, and other things that either fill in the story or let you open new areas. Other times, you’ll be running away from a particularly annoying bad thing that follows Jess across the map while yelling accusingly at her. It’s an interesting element that adds to the tension while trying to enunciate the themes of grief and loss.
The Chant Review — The Bottom Line
- Island location is generally lovely and detailed
- Solid voice acting, great atmospheric sound
- Decent story with traumatic themes
- Combat is very clumsy and simplistic
- No stealth at all
- Some janky animation and character work
- Annoyingly stingy about supplies
The Chant is by no means a great game, and there are plenty of sketchy aspects. Combat is iffy and clumsy, and there are a lot of fetch quests. Just the same, The Chant is mostly enjoyable thanks to a solid story and lush environments.
[Note: Prime Matter provided the copy of The Chant used for this review.]