The Chant Review

Island life isn't all commune and gloom

The Chant

By Paul Hunter

Every year there are always a few under-the-radar quality games that really add a lot of excitement and depth to the release calendar. The Chant is one such title—landing during the busy Q4 season alongside juggernauts like God of War Ragnarök and A Plague Tale: Requiem—yet totally holding its own as a standout title.

The Chant is the debut title and first original IP from Canadian-based studio Brass Token, comprised of core members from the Bully and Sleeping Dogs teams. The studio has less than 20 developers, which is incredible given what they've been able to achieve with The Chant. Let's pull up to Glory Island to discover what dark secrets it hides, here are three things I liked about the game...and one I didn't.

Liked: Great Acting and Motion Capture

The Chant places you in the role of Jess Briars as she joins the Prismic Science Spiritual Retreat on the remote Glory Island to help get over a particularly traumatic experience from her past. Jess is played by Siobhan Williams, the British-born Canadian actress who recently voiced and motion captured the role of Laura in The Quarry. Williams does an incredible job capturing the depth of Jess's personality as she struggles with her inner demons and contends with a hellscape retreat that rapidly descends into madness.

Jess is supported by her best friend Kim Mallari (played by Kira Clavell), another troubled soul looking for salvation in this mysterious and secluded place. Tyler Anton (played by Adam Millard) is the cult leader that invited the others to the island, which he inherited from his troubled mother many years ago. Tyler intends to send the group on a new-age transformational journey, but that virtuous mission unravels in spectacular fashion when someone from the group lets anger get the better of them. Next thing you know, a parasitic dimension, call The Gloom, starts engulfing the island and taking control of everyone and everything on it.

Over the course of this mind-bending six-hour adventure, you'll travel to all ends of the island attempting to stop The Gloom from corrupting the place and taking control of members from your retreat. One by one the evil cosmic force consumes your friends' minds, leading to climatic intense face-offs told through high-quality cinematics and desperate life-or-death battles.

With this being Brass Token's debut title, and given their small team size, what they've been able to achieve cinematically is incredibly impressive. It's not quite at the level of The Quarry, but it's damn close and surely at a fraction of the budget. The cutscenes have superb (and haunting!) cinematography, the lip-syncing is almost perfect and the characters themselves are exceptionally detailed. Siobhan Williams is the standout star, but Adam Millard is a close second with his creepy 'good guy' persona that secretly harbours evil within, which you begin to see as the story rolls on.

There are a lot of excellent support characters, too, including Hannah Wilson (played by Emily Tennant), Tyler's right-hand and love interest. Initially, I was suspicious of her but gradually warmed up to her given how helpful she is along this arduous journey. Rounding out the cast are Maya Kalani (played by Nicole Anthony) and Sonny Sonti (played by Praneet Akilla), who both have specific missions centred around them and really nailed their respective descents into madness. Anyone who enjoys horror adventures with strong narratives like Amnesia or Alan Wake will really enjoy what The Chant has to offer.

Liked: Hair-Raising Environments

Glory Island may initially have been an idyllic location, but soon after Jess arrives it gets turned into a psychedelic landscape filled with dreadful, supernatural beings. The entire game takes place over one night with the dark sky blanketing the island, which really ratchets up the tension.

But the real scares come from the dozens of misty, ethereal neon zones that contain deadly parasitic Gloom creatures. In order to enter these areas, you need to collect prisms matching the zone's mist colour—which ranges from red, yellow, green and more. Inside these celestial spots, your character's Mind bar depletes, and if it hits zero the scene becomes fully desaturated and you'll be unable to fight until you retreat to safety. Yikes!

Graphically, The Chant is quite the looker. There are several spooky areas you'll visit over the adventure, like a dark and twisty mine and an ominous lighthouse, and everything looks great. The textures are highly detailed, there's an excellent use of lighting to heighten the scares and the level design is satisfying, offering dozens of bonus collectibles for those brave enough to fully explore.

The many island regions you must travel through are loaded with horrifying otherworldly beings, including aggressive cultists wearing animal masks and numerous Gloom creatures that resemble mutated animals or parasitic flowers. You're able to fend off these evils with three types of melee weapons you can craft by collecting various plants, oils and supplies. But your weapons slowly break down and crafting items are very sparse—so you'll need to conserve weapons and supplies as much as possible. Much like in the Resident Evil series, limited resources mean you'll have to make more than a few fight-or-flight decisions along the way.

The island is set up in a hub-and-spoke fashion, with the main Prismic Science Retreat camp being the central location and each 'chapter' in The Chant sends off to explore a new island area. Chapters culminate with an uber-terrifying boss battle where your skills will really be put to the test. In addition to your melee weapons, you can also craft throwable and trap weapons, like Salt to stun enemies or Essential Oil that slows enemies, while also making them more susceptible to fire damage. You can also dodge to avoid incoming threats and shove foes to create space. Both of these defensive abilities are crucial to master given how limited weapons and resources are.

To further boost the game's intensity, The Chant features a visceral soundtrack inspired by classic '70s horror movies, yet possessing its own distinct vibe. The horror-folklore music has a very earthly, analog feel to it that perfectly reflects the island setting, and I especially enjoyed the free-jazz drum segments that got my heart racing. As well, there are a few zones intentionally devoid of music so you can hear the unsettling shrieks and howls emanating from the forest. When you combine the detailed graphics, dreadful Gloom beings and moody soundtracks, it all culminates into a superbly designed horror experience.

Liked: Mind, Body and Spirit

Gameplay in The Chant revolves around three core stats: Mind, Body and Spirit. Mind measures your ability to withstand the island's terrors and when it depletes you panic, rendering you temporarily unable to fight. Body indicates how much damage you can take before dying. And finally, Spirit is a special energy bar that you can exchange to regain Mind, or you can spend on Prism abilities. I really enjoyed how these three stats have to be managed, and you'll need to decide which one(s) to upgrade with your collected spirit experience.

Deciding which stat to focus on is crucial as it affects the gameplay quite significantly. If you concentrate on boosting your Mind that means you'll be able to absorb a lot more fear before having a panic attack. Going this route means you'll be able to stay within the parasitic mist longer, and you'll have better endurance during boss battles. Alternatively, focusing your upgrades on Body allows you to withstand more enemy hits before dying, and increases the restorative power of ginger consumables.

Upgrading your Spirit power is arguably the most versatile since you can use this meter to recover Mind, or increase the number of powerful Prismic attacks—which can really turn battles in your favour. There are six Prismic attacks to collect during the adventure, including one that temporarily slows down enemies and another that repels enemies with tremendous force. In the latter half of the story, you'll acquire even more powerful Prismic attacks, such as one that surrounds you with penetrating spikes, and my personal favourite, one that makes you vomit a swarm of hungry mandaphores. That ability proved invaluable in defeating some of the tougher enemies and the final boss.

I thought it was original how you can not only upgrade these abilities by trading in XP, but also by choosing specific responses during conversations with the other folks on the island. Whenever you're asked to respond you'll have three dialogue choices, one representing each of the core stats. Cool! Oh, and The Chant also features three endings—determined by which of the three core stats is the highest after defeating the final boss. So be sure to choose wisely!

Didn't Like: Clumsy Combat

The Chant is a near-perfect horror that's dragged down slightly by its rather clunky combat. To battle the parasitic creatures and crazed cultists you'll mainly be wildly swinging your fire or incense sticks. You've got light and heavy attack variations, and you can switch between them to create mini-attack combos. The main problem though is the hit detection feels off, plus your character looks a bit goofy waving a stick around 25 times in a row. It's kind of comedic, too, shaking your little stick at rather large and scary enemies that easily could have been straight out of Hellblade or Resident Evil.

When it comes down to it, the combat isn't horrible, but it is merely serviceable, and that's a disappointment given how amazing the other parts of the game are. Part of me wishes the game instead went the stealth route and ignored combat altogether, much like Outlast. That would have made the experience even more terrifying.

The Verdict

What a great surprise The Chant was. This game was not even on my radar until just a few months ago, and I'm so glad I gave it a go. It's a superb debut game from Brass Token filled with top-notch motion capture and voice acting, highly detailed environments, an engaging story, and it has some truly haunting enemy designs. If you like horror adventure games, book your trip to Glory Island immediately.

Final Score: 7.5/10 - Good

The Chant details

Platform: PS5, Xbox Series X|S, PC
Developer: Brass Token
Publisher: Prime Matter
Genre: Third-person Horror
Modes: Single-player
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

A key was provided by the publisher.