REVIEW: Vital Force

Camera ghost-bust-em-ups like Fatal Frame and Spirit Camera haven’t caught on here as well as they have in Japan, despite being solid ‘survival horror’ alternatives to the bigger names like Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Newer takes on the idea, like Outlast, have ‘westernized’ the gameplay, downplaying the ghostly side but broadening its appeal (and upping the scares). Though I’ve always been a fan, the last place I expected to find a more classic example like Vital Force ($1.00) was on the indie channel.

Vital Force - Screen

Probably not an Instagram moment.

The story is light but ‘frames’ all of the different elements nicely. You’re an 8-year-old girl (her high-pitched screams will attest to that fact) that wakes up in an abandoned subway station with zero recollection of how she got there. Said station is also haunted, full of vengeful spirits and doors sealed by demonic magic, so it’s a damn good thing she’s brought her smartphone with. Ghost-busting? Yeah, there’s an app for that.

Enemies take the form of various floating apparitions, as well as spiders and scorpions, because, well, they’re pissed-off wandering souls when they die too. Your phone’s camera provides all the weapons / tools you’ll need, though, as each shot of its flash damages your attackers. Similar to Fatal Frame, you can score bonus hits by waiting for ghosts to get close to you, but between charges (yes, there’s a cooldown period, natch), your only defense is to run.

Using the camera and the built-in flashlight will drain your power, but with typical horror game logic on your side, you’ll find plenty of health kits and extra batteries scattered around the environment or stashed in ubiquitous lockers. Your phone also works as a compass and an early detection system (think Silent Hill’s radio emitting static), so there’s no reason not to keep it moderately charged up throughout.

Vital Force - Screen2

If the light is green, your bathroom is clean.

Combat is broken up by some quieter moments, acquiring keys to locked doors and undertaking a side quest to hunt down magic runes, all of which can be found through some careful exploration. The game handles its scares and pacing well, and should last you a little more than an hour, capped off with a final boss showdown (and story revelation).

Vital Force doesn’t do much to dispel the image that it’s a budget-priced Fatal Frame, but that’s not a game you regularly see represented on the indie channel. Minus a potentially-annoying platforming segment (hint: your camera will help you plot a course), it’s all very straightforward and decent, and the impressive visuals and creepy aesthetics aid what already is a worthwhile addition to survival horror on XBLIG.

20 thoughts on “REVIEW: Vital Force”

    1. Yeah, there’s crowds in both corners; some that say the box art is your best first impression, others that think screenshots are the way to go. Your best bet is to sell it with both, naturally, but my hope is that a combination of that and positive reviews / word of mouth do enough to get people interested. XBLIG is a tricky landscape for marketing.

  1. The Farmer from Blood & Bacon here, just wana say I bought and dug Vital Force. Not jump scary but creepy and the last boss goes to a very dark place def one of the best indies in awhile.

    1. Agreed. I liked what they did with that boss. Neat little concept to the fight, and a good finale. For the 1+ hour playtime, the developer definitely managed a well-done, compact story / adventure.

  2. I’ve only played one Fatal Frame game (I think it was Crimson Butterfly), but I enjoyed it a lot, so I’ll definitely give this one a go. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

    1. No problem! It was another nice surprise to wind up on the indie channel. 🙂

      I think I still have my copy of Crimson Butterfly laying around somewhere. I was a little bummed when they canceled Fatal Frame 4’s US port. My Wii could have used the support. There was a stand-in named ‘Calling’ which I played a little of, but gave up partway through. ‘Spirit Camera’ always looked interesting to me, too, but I’ve yet to give that a try. That’ll be a cheap pick-up one of these days.

    2. I wasn’t encouraged by what I saw. I did like that the Wii-mote was used as a phone, playing the calls through the speaker, but the voice acting / writing wasn’t terrific. The presentation overall is so-so. Fitting for the genre, I guess.

      Just took a look on Amazon, for shits & giggles, and they’re charging $80 (!) for a new copy of it. Perhaps I missed something somewhere…

    3. No kidding. 🙂 Even the used copies are going for just under $40 and up. Same for the JU-ON game.

      I may be in the minority with this one, but if you’re looking for a good horror game on Wii (also on PS2, I believe), I thought Silent Hill: Shattered Memories was an excellent remake of the original game (but really it was all-new). It used the cellphone / wii-mote combo as well, and much better, in my opinion. No combat, as you only run away from the baddies, but that made it much more tense. Silent Hill has never been known for its stellar combat mechanics anyway. The game was more about story, puzzles and exploration, which is really what Silent Hill is best at.

    4. I’m right there with you on Shattered Memories. I initially approached it with some trepidation at the time, since I remembered Silent Hill 2 absolutely terrifying me when I originally played it (mainly because of the soundtrack!). But I ended up really liking it. I thought the game had a great pace to it, and I found the psychological test bits to be quite interesting (and novel).

    5. Oddly personal and sexual questions, too, which was even stranger, considering I was playing this game on the normally PG-rated Wii. 🙂

      It was cool to see those answers play out in the environments / characters, though. Silent Hill should have kept that entire format going forward. You’re right about the sound and atmosphere of those games, too. They deserve to be played up more than they usually are. It’s a shame when it takes the Uwe Boll movie to introduce some cool effects / monsters that the games would then borrow from. As always, though, I’ll end up buying the next-gen sequel / reboot / re-imagining (you know it’ll happen) when it comes out.

  3. Erm… I DO hate to be “that guy”, but I think you mean “OutLast”, not “OutCast”. Outlast is a first person PC horror game in which you use your camera to explore an evil asylum covered in psychopaths… Outcast is a 1999 action adventure game that looks like it was made from Half-Life’s stale left-overs.

    1. Fixed! Sonuvabitch! That’s after reading your article on the game, and I even started playing through the PS4 version the other day. Damn psychopaths could hear a mouse fart in the other room, so I’m always running away screaming like an idiot.

    2. I am not (entirely) ashamed to say that the game legitimately scares the hell out of me. Being defenseless when they’re chasing you down doesn’t help, either.

    3. This comment encouraged me to go buy the game without even giving the trial a go.late last night. It scared the crap out of me at times and I’m here to thank you Tim for the nightmares last night. I actually enjoyed being scared. Been a long time since I found something that did that do me. Believe it or not the last game that scared me was Half Life 2.

    4. Oh, it’s not a problem! Life is short, and sleep is overrated!

      Did Half-Life 2 have some unnerving bits? Sad to admit the Half-Life games are another blind spot in my catalog, but much of the PC-centric stuff is. Played a little bit of it on console with The Orange Box, but never went back.

      What bothered me most in Vital Force were those tiny spiders. I’d lose track of them with the phone easily. Damn health suckers!

      Outlast is very effective at creating the tension in hiding. Reminds me of the Clock Tower games, which did the same thing. Taking away the option of combat makes things far scarier than they would be if you were packing heat. 🙂

    5. Half Life 2 did have its unnerving parts however for that game it was more due to its atmosphere and story line. Few times I would jump but for most of the game I got the chills.

    6. Yeah, I suppose it depends on the person. I still don’t like watching ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ as an adult because Luke getting his hand sliced off by Vader traumatized me as a kid. 🙂

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