Home Gaming The Chant Hands-on Preview: Spiritual Warfare
The Chant Hands-on Preview: Spiritual Warfare

The Chant Hands-on Preview: Spiritual Warfare

by Ali Mahmud

Halloween is the perfect time for most any survival horror game to launch. Newly minted Canadian studio Brass Token is launching their supernatural survival horror game The Chant during the week of Halloween, on November 3. Ahead of this launch, they invited PlayStation LifeStyle to their corner of Vancouver, Canada to take a peek at their studio and spend a bit of time playing their debut game. Read all about our time on a mysterious island below in our The Chant preview.

Scrappy startup vibes

Nestled away in a busy industrial area in Vancouver Canada, the scrappy startup Brass Token describes their team as “a lean studio with a mighty vision to be a premiere boutique developer of story-driven action games for PC and console.” With a total permanent staff size of 19, you’d be hard-pressed to find a tighter-knit group of people aiming so high when it comes to a debut title.

Indeed, we were given a brief tour of the studio, and there wasn’t a whole lot to see – the company has taken a hybrid approach to work with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, and as such only a few developers were in the office, with their computers stationed along the windows at the back wall, and one room with a door featured whiteboarding and early concept art for The Chant.

Behind another door, Brass Token has taken the more traditional development cost-saving route of building out their own motion-capture and recording booth within their studio. The room featured large chunks of sound padding adorning the walls, and a couple of stations where players could isolate themselves as they test out the game. It was at one of these stations that I was able to get my first sampling of The Chant.

Fight, flee, GO CrAzY?!

The demo started me out at Chapter 3 of the story, and as such, we weren’t shown the full setup of the story’s premise. In The Chant, you play as Jess Briars, a woman with an established career in biomedicine. She had some sort of traumatic event which drove her apart from her best friend, Kim, who has now invited her to come out to Glory Island for a spiritual retreat.

At this point in the story, the main ritual has been completed, and it has opened everyone’s “third eye” to the horrors known as The Gloom, a psychedelic dimension that feeds off of negative energy. Fellow retreat member Sonny has been severely affected by the ritual, and has fled the area and run towards the local mines.

Since the demo took place after what would normally have been The Chant’s tutorial, I was thrust into spiritual warfare without much preparation. This was an odd choice, but perhaps the story is so tightly woven that it will make more sense once the full game is released. Most enemies appear to be some sort of sentient plant life, though there were also giant venomous toads to contend with towards the end of the demo. Also, although Jess is seemingly an average woman, she does have some tools at her disposal. She can use sage sticks and craft other weapons to attack her enemies in various ways, though some cannot be defeated and are best avoided.

As The Chant is at least in part a psychological thriller, one enemy in particular appeared to manifest some of Jess’ fears – it was made entirely of flies, which she hates, and shouted insecurities she seemed to hold, thus messing with her mind as opposed to her body. This enemy sauntered along towards Jess, and could be temporarily stunned with a smudge stick, but ultimately had to be run away from, at least for now. Surprisingly, this enemy could even open doors, only finally being warded off once a certain marker was reached.

Balance in all things

Jess has three health bars, each relating to her current overall well-being. Mind, Body, and Spirit each get their own status level, and while healing can be performed on each by using a crystal with a press of the directional pad, holding a button can also trade some Spirit health for Mind. If Mind ever dips to zero, then Jess will suffer a panic attack, which affects how she can perform in combat. If Body ever hits zero, then she’s dead and the game must be reloaded from a checkpoint. We didn’t see what happens if Spirit hit zero, but this also has its own consequences.

On the surface, the enigmatic leader of Prismic Science Tyler Anton invites people to his island in order to become the best, most awakened version of themselves. He speaks in a soft, considered manner, with some obvious influence from real-life cult leader Charles Manson. There are a lot of vague messages of expanding your consciousness, peering into the unknown, and coming out a changed person. But there is something curious about The Chant which may signal the truth behind Tyler: the number six can be seen throughout the game.

There are six main characters, six different crystals to utilize, six locations to explore, six things to craft in a radial menu, and six chapters to the story. Even Jess’ three health bars can be healed, but she can only hold two healing items per bar – three bars times two items gives us six again. There are probably more things within The Chant that relate to this spiritually cursed number, but if so this will reveal itself upon the game’s release.

From a technical standpoint, Brass Token is aiming incredibly high for a small studio. Unreal Engine 4 is being used for The Chant, and they are targeting current-generation consoles only, in addition to PC. We played on the sole PS5 unit available for testing, with a QA tester by our side taking notes of our session that they could perhaps use as feedback to fix a few remaining issues before launch.

There seemed to be a heavy focus on high production values, as is evident in character modeling. A lot of work seems to have gone into skin textures, for instance. I noticed that one character’s physical stress was accentuated by him being drenched with sweat, beads of which collected at various spots on his face in a convincing manner. Main character Jess became dirty as our demo progressed on, something her skin acutely showed with various patches of dirt and other substances caked on the various crevices that lined her face. With a tightly-controlled environment such as an island and mines, perhaps such a high production value can be carried throughout the adventure.

Showing promise

As mentioned, Brass Token has its own custom-built motion capture room, and while we didn’t see anyone suit up to be recorded while we were at their studio, we did take a look at the head camera rigs the company seemed pretty proud of – bicycle or skateboarding helmets rigged up with metal casing, with a spot to mount a smartphone with which facial data can be recorded, plus copious amounts of gaffer tape.

There’s a contagious sense of a do-it-yourself attitude within the walls of Brass Token, and everyone there seemed to genuinely want to help make the best product they possibly could. CEO Mike Skupa formerly of United Front Games and Rockstar Games seems to have assembled an accomplished group of people all eagerly working towards a collective goal.

The Chant has a lot riding on its success. As Brass Token’s debut title, some would say it has to succeed in order to help the studio establish itself. Releasing just after Halloween, this story-driven survival horror game seems to check all the boxes to make for a fun, scary game you can play or watch others play through in a sitting or two over the weekend. Turn the lights off and the volume up to give yourself a few supernatural scares when The Chant launches on November 3, 2024 for the PS5, Xbox Series, and PC platforms.

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