Check out our review of Stray Souls, a brand new horror action game.
We’ll tell you everything you need to know about the story, gameplay, controls and if it’s worth playing this Halloween.
At the time of this video release, we’re in the middle of spooky season, meaning it’s time to make everything pumpkin spiced, take candy from strangers and most importantly, play some scary games.
And luckily for us, there’s a brand new one in the form of Stray Souls from upcoming developers Jukai Studio.
Ostensibly a third person action horror in the style of genre linchpins like Silent Hill and Resident Evil, you play the role of Daniel. Seemingly an average teenager, you inherit your estranged grandma’s house on your 18th birthday, but while that might sound like an escape from the all too real horrors of mortgage rates, it actually opens you up to a whole new lot of non-mortgage-related horrors.
Promising to blend spooks, frenetic action, puzzles and a unique story, will it live up to these lofty ambitions. Watch on to find out…
The first thing about Stray Souls that grabbed me was just how action-packed it is, particularly for a game in this genre. You won’t be hoarding bullets like they were made of gold like you might in Resident Evil 2; instead you’re given free reign to just start blasting.
Things get real fast, real quick, with a simplified loadout meaning you can enjoy combat largely uninterrupted. As someone who isn’t the brightest when it comes to games, this really worked for me as it meant relying on instinct just as much as strategy, which I find far more engaging.
With a mixture of different enemies offering different challenges (including some pretty gnarly bosses), it has more than a whiff of Soulslike about it. And that’s without mentioning the trusty combat roll.
The only thing is, the controls don’t quite offer the fluidity needed to really make the most of what they were going for. It feels a little tank-ish, which doesn’t make for much precision, and I did find myself getting in some pretty frustrating situations.
Can it be annoying? Yes. Is it gamebreaking? Far from it, and for the most part I really dug what they were going for.
What is excellent without any caveats is the monster and general enemy design. There’s some truly unsettling beasties out there, effective without over-relying on jump scares or other cheap tactics.
I could be reading too much into things, but it felt like there were nods to baddies from other games, like the Necromorphs of Dead Space and the Boomers from Left For Dead. But rather than feeling derivative, it comes off more like a real reverence for the genre, picking out some of the best features from what’s come before and making them feel new.
But it isn’t flat out action, with a healthy mix of puzzles helping to balance the flow and pacing of proceedings.
Now I’m really bad at puzzle solving, embarrassingly bad, so I did find a few here a bit frustrating, but that might be more down to my lack of skill then anything inherently wrong. You’ll have to let me know how you found them.
With that being said, nothing felt like a puzzle for the sake of a puzzle, with them all thematically making sense. This meant despite my lack of skill, these moments never broke the immersion, instead allowing me to build the head-canon that Daniel is equally inept at lateral thinking.
And speaking of Daniel and the story, I thought it was really effective, blending aspects of the occult, familial trauma and mysticism. While it might not be anything we haven’t seen before, it’s more than enough to keep you engaged throughout the game’s runtime.
This is all augmented when you’re presented with dialogue choices, which allow you to shape your version of Daniel. While it might not be the deepest system we’ve seen, it’s really impressive to see in an indie game like this, and adds an extra layer of investment in your journey.
The setting of Aspen Falls is also super effective. This warped, twisted take on a Midwestern town oozes with foreboding dread, and becomes increasingly otherworldly as the game progresses.
What is less impressive is the facial animations. Stray Souls is built in Unreal Engine 5, which can be really impressive. But its Metahuman technology creates this uncanny effect that looks straight out of an LA Noire interrogation. Now I found this, at times, unintentionally hilarious, but your tolerance for jank will determine how much mileage you get out of this. It’s just a shame when a lot of the rest of the game looks pretty good.
What is much better is the soundtrack, helmed by indie veteran composer Pete Wicher and THE Akira Yamaoka, of Silent Hill fame. This pedigree lends a real sense of polish and nuance to the music. Whether it’s in the heat of battle or something quieter in the more tense moments, the score is one of the game’s shining features, something I think few would argue with.
Overall, Stray Souls is a good game, but it just bit off a little more than it could chew, and this holds it back from being a great game. Its ambition is commendable, and it’s one of those ‘Catch 22s’ where it might’ve had more polish with a big studio budget, but then would probably lose its singular vision. Either way, there’s still plenty here to enjoy, and it’s an easy recommendation this side of Halloween. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for what Jukai Studio have got coming up too.
But have you played Stray Souls or are you interested in checking it out? Please let me know in the comments below, I’d love to read your thoughts. And while you’re down there, don’t forget to like the video and subscribe for plenty more on all things gaming. And you can always visit upsidedownshark.com for everything else we’ve got going on.
Until then my name is Tom, this has been UDS and we’ll see you next time.