The Chant review: Bad trip

by Lars
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The Chant is a supernatural horror game of particularly great ambition. Set on the sort of idyllic spiritual retreat lauded by social media moguls and people desperate to look good on Instagram, this is what happens when trips go wrong – when egos and psychoactive substances collide with forces beyond our understanding. 

The Chant’s approach to spirituality and the trauma at the root of our main character’s reason for coming out to the island is a little bit heavy handed. Within seconds of meeting Jess, she’s staring at the drowned, fly-ridden corpse of her sister floating in a random river. Just like that, she’s taking an old friend up on an offer to go out to some mysterious island. Moments after a sip of magic mushroom tea, all hell breaks loose. 

The Chant meditation

I loved the premise of the game. Psychedelic horror isn’t something that breaks out into the mainstream very often, which is probably why The Chant has been developed by an indie studio. Within moments of playing the game though, you’ve got a very clear idea that they’re trying to mimic a triple A game, and that kind of becomes the game’s downfall. It doesn’t look terrible – in fact, the environments are particularly impressive, and the psychedelic monsters are cool as hell. But characters look a bit odd in comparison, and there are rough edges everywhere. 

The story takes a heavy-handed approach to the subject matter. Trauma, death, the importance of spirituality. The Chant insists on the importance of these things very loudly, but there’s no subtlety whatsoever. Nothing builds – Jess basically announces straight away “I’m fucked up because my sister died”. Her friend who invites her to the island literally shouts “IT WASN’T MY FAULT STOP BLAMING ME” seconds into the magic mushroom trip that kicks the game off. 

The Chant gloom enemy

The cult leader, Tyler (who honestly looks like a discount store Jared Leto, appropriately enough) is all-too-quickly revealed to be a charismatic idiot who’s way out of his depth. All this happens within the first twenty minutes of the game, and it effectively robs the rest of The Chant of any suspense or momentum. There’s no time to get acquainted with the rest of the people in the cult, no time to bond with Jess and understand how her grief has shaped her. 

I would forgive this hurried approach to storytelling if the gameplay had anything particularly exciting to offer. As it stands, the game’s most interesting features are all surface level – the shifting, almost incomprehensible monsters, and the killer psychedelic rock soundtrack that bubbles under anything. It’s a shame because there are some very good ideas at The Chant’s core. There’s three separate resource bars to manage. Mind, body and spirit all form a triad of energies to use, and they level up through Jess’ conversation choices.

The Chant exploration

This creates a synergy in gameplay, where you’re kind of relying on balancing all three elements to survive and push forward. It’s never quite utilised to the fullest, much like the rest of the game’s good ideas. The pacing is odd – we hurtle full speed towards everything falling apart, and once it does we just kinda… pump the brakes a little and coast along. We get to know all the other characters in the middle of all the chaos, but without a bit more time to set the scene beforehand it’s not as impactful as it could be.

Resources are scarce, but combat is easy, so the two kind of cancel each other out for the most part. I can’t believe I’m writing this but I almost would have preferred to see The Chant play out as a walking simulator. It would have fared much better as a The Quarry/Dark Pictures Anthology style adventure (though the character models would have struggled to be as emotive as necessary for that). 

The Chant overall thoughts

The Chant is full of underutilised good ideas. It’s by no means a bad game – it’s functional, and the monster/world design has a lot to offer. For an indie title, it’s impressive, but it’s not going to blow your mind. This is particularly disappointing as it definitely had the potential to, sitting atop a goldmine of mostly unexplored horror angles that could have been expanded upon. 

Definitely check The Chant out if it’s on sale and you’re especially keen on horror. But don’t expect the mind-bending, personal experience it promises.  

The Chant is available on Steam now. Check out more game reviews here.

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