After its reveal earlier this year, The Chant has been one of the most anticipated indie games of 2022. Developed by Brass Token and published by Prime Matter, this third-person horror action-adventure game is set on the remote Glory Island. The island is being used as a spiritual retreat, which soon turns into a hellhole of psychedelic horror after a ritual goes wrong.
The Chant has an impressive prologue. With a great electronic, rock style soundtrack by Paul Ruskay, and really impressive visuals for an indie game, it’s certainly enough to hype the player up for what’s to come. Set in the 70s, we witness a ritual scene. A leader of some kind of cult is opening a portal, with his disciples joining him. Everyone is wearing strange masks. One of these disciples is a pregnant woman, who seems nervous about the ritual as she strokes her stomach. Then, just as she’s asked to hand over her ‘prism’ by the leader of the group, who turns out to be her father, she makes a run for it. A chase ensues, which ultimately ends with her taking her chances by jumping off a cliff into the sea.
In the modern day, we play as Jess, who is recovering from the loss of her younger sister, Angie, after a prank formed by herself and her friend, Kim, went horribly wrong. After years of suffering from guilt, Jess finally decides to join Kim on a weekend spiritual retreat. Kim, who has already been at the island for some time, insists that her journey of meditation, reflection, and embracing nature has really helped her heal from the trauma, and she hopes the same will happen for Jess. As this is a horror game, we can imagine this clearly doesn’t go to plan.
During the tutorial, where we learn how to use sage sticks and essential oils to ward off flies (and later, more dangerous enemies), we also find out that Jess is ridden with anxiety. She’s scared of flies, and too much stress will lead her to quickly fall into a panic attack. If that happens, she will need to run to safety before she can proceed with anything else.
We have three status bars to consider: mind, body and spirit. Body is our health bar, mind is our mental state (when this runs out, we end up in a panic attack and can’t continue fighting), and spirit will enable us to use our prism (I’ll get to that later) to perform certain abilities. These are managed with herbs found around the island.
When each person arrives at the island, they must give up their luxuries so that they can focus on healing their spirit. This means sleeping in a tent and wearing only white clothes with no shoes. As mentioned earlier, they are also given a crystal prism, which can be used to control their spirit energy. If her mind bar is low, Jess can meditate to channel some of her spirit energy into her mind.
When Jess arrives at the camp, she has a chance to introduce herself to the other members of the group and learn a bit about them. Tyler is the leader of the retreat and, we later learn, the son of the woman in the prologue. Hannah is his somewhat girlfriend, a shy girl who also acts as a middleperson when Tyler doesn’t want to talk to anyone. There’s Sonny, an investor who we later learn is afraid of failure. And finally, Maya is the camp’s cook, and is at the retreat to heal from the loss of her son.
On the first night of the retreat, the group settle down in a circle for some kind of meditation activity and herbal tea. They begin reciting a chant, when suddenly Kim breaks the circle to shout at Jess for blaming her for what happened to Angie before running away. Jess then starts seeing visions of cosmic creatures. She becomes overwhelmed and passes out. When she wakes up, Jess assumes that Tyler spiked their tea, and learns that Kim grew violent before disappearing, so decides to find her and bring her back to the camp.
On the way, Jess soon realises that their little spiritual ritual has gone severely wrong. The creatures that she saw after drinking the tea aren’t hallucinations: they’re real.
While exploring the island, Jess picks up research notes and tapes put together by the cult of Prismic Science, who once inhabited the island in the 70s. She learns that their chant has opened up a cosmic dimension called The Gloom, which feeds off negative energy. Jess can enter the gloom using her prism, and there are different coloured Gloom areas for each prism to access. As Jess slowly collects the other prisms, she’ll be able to unlock new areas and the abilities that come with each prism, such as invisibility and slowed time.
The Chant has a strong variety of enemy types that have emerged from the Gloom to tackle. It also does a good job of preparing us for each new monster’s entrance, with various information boards located around the map. These boards usually give you some information on a Gloom creature that’s about to be introduced in the next area. Each enemy has their own set of weaknesses and strengths, which are available in Jess’ bestiary, which she can build upon by reading notes.
To fight creatures, Jess has a strong selection of tools and oils. You can find the ingredients for these around the map, though I must admit that I regularly struggled with resources. Unlike other games in the survival horror genre, The Chant doesn’t offer many moments of respite before or after a difficult fight. You’ll often have multiple challenges thrown at you one after the other. This especially took away some of the enjoyment of boss fights, as I couldn’t focus on the fight and get used to my opponent. Before anything else, I would have to panic run my way around the boss room for any loot lying around. More often than not, I was entering a boss room with very little health after just traversing through an entire area to get there. But there is a ‘fight or flee’ choice in The Chant. When facing regular enemies, you do have the option to push past them and run away. When you flee an enemy, though, they’ll usually just follow you around, as they can enter and exit rooms too. This persistence can inhibit your progress when exploring. The idea is to use your resources wisely, and only pick fights that you know you can handle or are necessary. Though, you don’t really have much choice when it comes to boss fights.
I also found the panic attack mechanic to be annoying. It’s supposed to be an effect caused by neglecting the mind metre, but your mind metre will go down simply by just being in the Gloom or the dark. Once you’re in a panic attack, you need to run to safety or around in circles until Jess calms down again. This also happens during boss fights; once Jess is in a panic attack, you can’t continue the fight. You must instead comically run around the room with your enemies chasing after you until the panic attack stops. Enemies can also bring down your mind metre with certain attacks, but these can be countered.
Fighting in The Chant is smooth and enjoyable most of the time. I really liked the dodge mechanic where if you press the dodge button twice, Jess will lose her balance and stumble. This seems clumsy, until you quickly learn that enemies can’t hit Jess while she’s on the ground. There’s also a nice progression in the gameplay, as Jess gradually learns new Prismic powers and different enemies are always being introduced, which keeps things interesting.
There was one enemy that was really grinding. I often love survival horror games where you have an apex predator-type monster mercilessly hunting you down. Think Mr. X in the Resident Evil 2 remake and the Xenomorph in Alien Isolation. The Chant has a creature like this, which is a swarm of flies taking the shape of Jess’ sister Angie. They don’t follow you throughout the game, but will appear in certain areas and are indestructible, only going away once you progress to a certain point in the area. I found this enemy to be really frustrating. I get that it’s a reminder of Jess’ constant guilt over her sister’s death, but this could have been put together in a more intimidating way for greater effect. Jess is afraid of flies, but unfortunately not many other people are, so this creature just gets in the way rather than being terrifying like Mr. X’s ominous footsteps or the Xenomorph as it searches through lockers and under tables for you.
As an adventure game, The Chant has three different endings to unlock: mind, body and spirit. Although The Chant very much feels like a Supermassive Games title, with its art style and premise surrounding a group of people on an island filled with monsters, it doesn’t play like one. The adventure aspects of The Chant come through your statistics. You do have dialogue options, but these only contribute to a larger calculation on which of your three stats you have the most focus in. I thought this was an interesting way to affect the ending of the game: rather than the player making a direct decision, the ending is influenced by smaller actions, such as how many enemies they kill, how many of each herb they consume, or how much lore they read while exploring. It’s a clever way of encouraging replay, as it prompts the player to alter their playstyle rather than focus on decision making. Despite this, I felt like there should have been more gameplay and character-levelling options to give this more significance, such as more abilities and actions dedicated to each stat. I also thought the ending that I unlocked was really strange and abrupt. After the final fight, an event happens and you’re barely given any time to register what’s going or why before the screen cuts to black and the credits appear. It was unneeded and actually dampened an otherwise satisfying ending for the obvious purpose of opening the story back up again for a potential sequel.
For an indie game, The Chant has really impressive graphics. The cutscenes are animated with immense detail, which really picks up on Jess’ terrified facial expressions at the horrors unfolding before her. The visuals are compelling with the Gloom’s psychedelic effects. Though, I did find it odd that the motion blur effect couldn’t be turned off, and that took some getting used to – it’s really strong while Jess is darting around. This might also be an accessibility issue, as some players get motion sickness from motion blur effects. Mandatory blur also makes it incredibly difficult to get any mid-fight screenshots; you may notice that none of the images provided in this review are taken while Jess is moving.
The Chant has an interesting premise and the story is enticing to begin with. With the prologue and the other players alluding to the 70s Prismic Science cult, this makes it exciting to explore the rest of the island and find out more. And largely, this part of The Chant’s writing does remain really engaging. I was so intrigued by the letters that I found throughout the map and the horrors that once took place on the island; how Prismic Science chose its disciples and how it worked out how to control and manipulate them. It’s such a shame that the game’s actual story isn’t as impactful as its lore.
The Chant has a full cast of characters, and you get the impression that they’ll be working together and that we’ll find out more about each person. Unfortunately, this survival horror romp suffers from a dire case of ‘let’s split up and look for clues’. Except Jess is the only one looking for clues. Each time the camp needs something, they often just send Jess to get whatever it is, and the others don’t really have a reason for not joining you. There’s not even the classic ‘I’m too old to go’ or ‘I have a bad back’. Nope, the others are just putting their feet up in camp while you’re returning each time covered in blood and dirt, traumatised from the events you’ve just witnessed. Even when someone does join you, the game will come up with an excuse for splitting you up, such as the Gloom being in the way and only one of you having the right prism to enter it. But on one occasion, you and Hannah arrive at a destination and Jess tells her to ‘rest’ while she works out how to open a door. Excuse me? Why is Hannah resting? She hasn’t done anything!
Jess is okay as a lead, but the writing around her is pretty weak. She has one of those classic traumatic back stories where she’s haunted by something terrible that she’s supposed to have done, but when you find out what that actually is, it wasn’t really her fault; just a bad attempt at making her ‘flawed’. I also wish that Jess would comment more on the information that she’s picking up. She’s reading about some really horrifying events that once took place on the island: miners murdering each other for the crystals they’re mining, the cult isolating troublemakers, spouses turning against each other, and animal torture. Jess just reads these stories, puts them down, and carries on as usual. Even in conversations, she doesn’t seem any more knowledgeable on the history of the island than before. In fact, Jess really isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed at all. There’s multiple situations where any other person would have figured out that something is wrong, yet Jess is written to be utterly clueless for the purpose of the story making sense. When she arrives at the island, after witnessing people wearing all white, no shoes, and attending nightly rituals, she suggests to Kim that maybe, just maybe, that the Prismic Science Spiritual Retreat might be a cult (this is after Kim tells her that the island was used by a cult in the 70s). Nah, don’t worry about it, Jess.
The Chant would have been the perfect game for multiple playable characters; The other characters just hang around the camp while Jess does all the hard work. We don’t really get to know them very well, and when we do it’s The Walking Dead effect of their screen time being a sign that something bad is about to happen to them.
Speaking of signals on the other characters’ fates. Jess only being able to access certain Gloom areas with the right colour prism is a big tip off as to how the other characters will fair. Almost any time she’s travelling with someone, and you’re seeing Gloom areas that you can’t access on the way there, you can guarantee that you’re travelling back with their prism. Again, this is a situation which would have been perfect had we been controlling different characters.
On top of this, I was really intrigued to find out what happened to the woman in the prologue, but she’s barely addressed other than a brief mention from Tyler. There was so much focus on her at the beginning of the game, that I was disappointed that this was all the information we have on her aside from a few lore notes which may or may not have been alluding to her. What happened when she escaped the island? What’s her relationship with Tyler like? How does she feel about her son running a spiritual retreat on the same island that she ran away from? None of this is addressed.
I did very much like the layout of Glory Island. It uses Resident Evil-style inventory puzzles to give you access to locked areas, meaning you’re backtracking to previously crossed sections once you have the key to unlock somewhere new.
The Chant is great fun to play with a smooth fighting and levelling up system that keeps you on your toes, as well as new enemies and abilities consistently being introduced as the game progresses. With an interesting premise, fascinating lore, and really impressive visuals for an indie game, The Chant kept me entertained during my eight hour playtime. That being said, its weak writing and character development did lose it that edge in comparison to other games of the genre.
Jess played The Chant on PC with a review code. The Chant is also available on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S.