The Chant follows Jess Briars as she is invited to the Prismic Science Spiritual Retreat on a remote island to deal with trauma in her past and move on with her life. It’s like a spiritual self-help camp offering a series of treatments firmly at a warped intersection of science and spirituality. During one of the group’s routine chants, a dimension called The Gloom is opened, and the psychedelic horrors within pour out into the real world. Doing her absolute best, The Chant follows Jess as she uncovers the cultish history of the island and her attempts to reverse the ritual.
The Chant is interesting because it explores an aspect of horror that isn’t often explored in games. The cult you’re finding yourself in doesn’t even call themselves a cult – but attempts to come up with scientific explanations for everything happening. It’s an intersection between science and spirituality that, like I said, isn’t explored a lot in games, but it’s an interesting story that plays a pertinent role in gameplay too. While so much of The Chant is unique, so much of it is cliché too, and genre fans will find great enjoyment in this familiarity with throwbacks that harken back to the best thrillers of the seventies and eighties.
As alluded to earlier, The Chant does things a little bit differently. Think of it as a Supermassive game (like Dark Pictures or Until Dawn) but with combat. Horror games, especially outside the AAA market, often exclude combat (much to my chagrin). The Chant doesn’t feel like it’s taking any shortcuts – it’s trying it’s hardest to offer an experience that players of more passive games like Outlast would enjoy but also enough “game” for those who enjoy more involved games like Resident Evil.
The result is something entirely unique. The Chant carves out its niche by promising a more open area to explore and a cast of characters to interact with. It’s an interesting premise, for sure, but the premise falls short of what it promises. For one, while the game insists that it’s an open world, the story progresses rather linearly, and many of the areas you’ll explore will have nothing to do in them until the story says so. The open world feels like an obligation to fulfill a marketing bullet point rather than a true gameplay feature, but that doesn’t mean The Chant falls short in other areas.
Thankfully, The Chant has a full combat system and a nice variety of enemies to fight off as Jess finds her way around the island. A mix of supernatural beings from The Gloom and possessed cultists, each of the enemies Jess encounters has distinct weaknesses you’ll want to exploit to play properly. Weapons include what you’d expect in a game based around new-age spirituality – sage, salt, crystals, and fire. But Jess also has “prism” abilities that allow her to manipulate time to better control crowds, while later abilities allow Jess to deal heavy damage.
The crux of The Chant is built upon balancing three key stats – spirit, mind, and body. Each of these can be drained by doing certain things in the game. Body is physical health, which is pretty straightforward. Spirit is like mana, powering Jess’ more powerful prism abilities. Mind is similar to Sanity and can be reduced when Jess is stuck in the dark or experiences random attacks to her mind. Let any of them drop, and Jess can be subject to a panic attack until she finds safety. It doesn’t sound very pleasant, but it never gets to the point where it gets in the way of the game. You can sacrifice spirit by meditating to improve your mind, which almost always makes things manageable without being annoying.
Your actions in the game also allow you to develop each of these three stats, though this system is hit-and-miss. Certain dialogue options with the cult members will improve each of the stats while using certain items to recover will also enhance them. Other more mundane things, like picking up collectibles, will also contribute to one of your stats. It’s a good idea in theory, but with so many things contributing to each of the stats, it feels pointless and doesn’t change much beyond the ending. Playing naturally will keep all three of your key stats at a reasonable level, though each ending is tied to which of the three ends up on top at the end of your playthrough.
I’d assume that the idea behind this system is to encourage repeat playthroughs, which is a great idea. But so little changes from the moment-to-moment gameplay beyond the ending that I’d struggle to see why people would bother beyond achievement or trophy hunting. That being said, your first run will take between six to eight hours to complete, so it’s a short and sweet experience to replay, but I did feel like there wasn’t a lot of reason to return to The Chant once the credits started to roll.
Of course, being a horror game, we must address just how scary it can be. While The Chant does its best to build a real sense of place and atmosphere with its open-ish world, it’s not as frightening as you’d hope. I absolutely adore the idea of The Gloom and the way it fills each of the scenes it seeps into with bright Giallo-esque colours. But the aspects with the most potential to be truly scary – the humans you encounter and the possessions that ensure – feel underserviced. The Chant is interesting, but it’s not as scary as it could be.
I’ve alluded to this before, but The Chant does its best to offer up a nice variety of scenery along its modest adventure. It’s obviously never going to reach the levels of Supermassive’s adventures, but it does a great job of selling the psychedelic nightmare of The Gloom. The soundtrack is similarly fantastic, once again throwing back to some of the best horror films of the seventies with some great electro-rock tinges.
The Chant combines a unique setting and premise with striking art direction to offer an experience that feels wholly unique as a game. While it lacks scares and doesn't quite capitalise on it's unique stats system, The Chant is still a game that any self-respecting horror fan shouldn't miss.