Release Date: 15/08/2017
Format(s): Playstation VR (Reviewed), HTC Vive, Oculus Rift
Whilst I’m a fan of just about any genre of video game in virtual reality, it’s the horror games that really pull me in the most. There’s something about the immersion that virtual reality offers along with the ‘sh*t your pants’ nature of a good horror game that massively appeals to me – I’m sure it’s something that’s stemmed from the countless scary movies I watched when I was younger.
Naturally then, I’d been eagerly anticipating the release of Paranormal Activity: The Lost Soul on Playstation VR. I loved the movies (well… maybe not the latest ones…), so the thought of witnessing an interactive version of them in virtual reality both excited and terrified me. Thankfully, the game has lived up to my expectations as far as scares are concerned, though it’s not quite perfect in the gameplay department.
Story-wise, there’s not a whole lot to be found that you wouldn’t really expect in Paranormal Activity: The Lost Soul. You start off just outside of a creepy house and make your way in, only to find there’s some incredibly sinister stuff going on. There are different characters that you’ll come across when in the house too, though I won’t go into any detail about them here; let’s just say that if you’re familiar with the movie series, you’ll know what to expect.
Despite being a part of the Paranormal Activity universe, the game has dropped the concept of watching footage of scary going ons and instead simply sees you exploring the eerie house. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll see plenty of cameras around the house as well as witness clips of their footage, but they’re utilised more as a nod to the movies as opposed to something that plays a big role in the gameplay.
I’m actually glad that the developers didn’t try to implement camera footage into the gameplay too much. Whilst it does make Paranormal Activity: The Lost Soul feel less like an actual entry in the series and more like just another horror game, I don’t think I would’ve really enjoyed the game as much if it simply took a Five Night at Freddy’s approach. Simply exploring the house and understanding the lore of the series was enough for me, even if it isn’t as true to the source material as it could be.
You’ll spend your time in Paranormal Activity: The Lost Soul navigating the house, all whilst looking for the keys needed to unlock doors as well as items that further the story. There are plenty of things like photographs, notes, letters, and tapes around that add a little extra detail to the story too, which is appreciated given that the game doesn’t tend to expand upon the narrative too much in the gameplay alone.
It can make the game feel more like a long-running fetch quest though, with progression simply coming in the form of finding a series of items and searching every nook and cranny of the house. Oddly, you can’t actually pick up every item you come across – whilst it’s not really a deal-breaker from a gameplay perspective, being able to pick up some items and not others could take me out of the experience a bit. The same applied to all the drawers you have to open and investigate too, with some not opening at all. They’re small issues, but still something I noticed.
Of course, given that this is a game based around a popular horror franchise, you can expect plenty of scares during your time with Paranormal Activity: The Lost Soul. There’s actually a ‘Scare Randomiser’ system in place that randomly throws different scares your way, with each playthrough of the game feeling significantly different from the last. Whilst most of these typically consist of jump scares, the fact that you never know what might be around the corner will certainly keep you on edge. That being said, it’s hard to say how consistent it is – I played through the game twice and found that my first playthrough had a lot more frights than my second one, though maybe that could be partially blamed on the fact that I was a more used to the game. It certainly didn’t stop it being frightening though…
I don’t want to talk about the scares too much, since it’s what the game is all about – you don’t want any of the nasty surprises spoilt for you, right? Paranormal Activity: The Lost Soul plays a lot like a walking simulator, with any form of fail state few and far between. It focuses more on the exploration elements, with the experience based mainly around looking around, finding items, and seeing the story unfold. It isn’t a horror-action title akin to Resident Evil 7, but one that instead focuses more on telling an incredibly eerie story and trying to scare the player. It works effectively – I enjoyed venturing through the house, with the fear of the unknown doing a good job of keeping me a nervous wreck throughout. The fact that the random scares means you’ll never know when a fright is going to come your way only makes the whole thing a lot more thrilling.
Unfortunately, Paranormal Activity: The Lost Soul does suffer from the common horror trope of having a ton of locked doors. Some of them stay locked throughout, others might need a key, whilst some simply unlock automatically when you make progress through the game. Whilst it’s a fairly understandable system, the fact that you’re given the full freedom to explore the house as you please will see you trying every door handle you come across. Finding that most of them won’t budge when you touch them broke up the gameplay a bit and felt like a bit of a waste of time. Don’t get me wrong, the game does generally make it clear which way you need to go through the house, but it would’ve been nice to have had a bit more freedom when exploring.
It’s compulsory to play Paranormal Activity: The Lost Soul with two Move controllers, though rather than utilising the commonly used teleportation movement scheme you instead have to press the face buttons on the controller to move around. The ‘X’ and ‘⬜’ button on the left Move controller will move you forward and back, whilst the ‘X’ and ‘O’ button on the right Move controller will turn your character across set angles (disappointingly, there is no free turning). Whilst this control scheme was a little tricky to get used to initially, it didn’t take too long before I was roaming around with no fuss – I’ve seen a few complaints across the internet about Paranormal Activity: The Lost Soul’s controls, but in honesty they’re not all that bad.
Visually, Paranormal Activity: The Lost Soul is a decent looking game, with the house feeling like a believable and creepy location. The lighting effect were on point too, helping create a creepy atmosphere that leaves you guessing as to what might be lurking around each corner. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen prettier games in virtual reality, but it looks good enough to immerse you in the experience. The sound design is superb though, with the ambient noise and constant array of ‘bumps in the night’ constantly setting a feeling of dread upon me. The 360-degree sound of the Playstation VR headset was used incredibly well, with the constant creeks and bangs that I heard around all around keeping me constantly on edge.
It shouldn’t take you too long to play through Paranormal Activity: The Lost Soul, with the whole thing beatable in around two hours depending on how much exploration you do; you’ll get the most out of the game if you take your time and really look around, especially with the Scare Randomiser in play. Despite seeing most of what it has to offer already, I could definitely see myself coming back to the game in the future for more.
Paranormal Activity: The Lost Soul offers an enjoyably eerie escapade through a haunted house, with the game certainly living up to the series’ reputation of providing genuine frights. There are plenty of scares to be had throughout your time exploring, whilst the fact that they’re randomly placed means you’ll never know when to expect them.
It does have its flaws thanks to the plethora of locked doors, lack of consistent interactivity, and the focus on just finding objects, but they won’t stop the game from providing some real thrills. If you want a genuinely creepy horror experience on Playstation VR then Paranormal Activity: The Lost Soul will definitely be for you.