Developer: RedG Studios
Release Date: March 28, 2019
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: RedG Entertainment
Genre: Psychological Horror
Not all paths lead to somewhere wondrous and beautiful, sometimes they leave you stranded with no way to move forward, having you go backward instead. Whether we like it or not, life is all about making choices, and at times, tough choices that we wish we could fix. RedG Studios’ psychological horror game S.O.N (which is short for “South of Nowhere”), follows this premise, and while its ambient and spooky atmosphere is somewhat interesting, S.O.N, unfortunately, is the most disappointing and lackluster game I’ve played so far this year.
S.O.N has you take on the role of Robert Alderson, a father who’s looking for his missing son in a deep forest, which also has caves and houses. As you explore the world around you, you’ll come to realize that it’s plagued with strange imagery, imagery that resembles Robert’s inner demons. To successfully find his son, Robert needs to face his demons head-on and essentially repent for his past sins. Now, this all sounds like S.O.N is a narrative-driven adventure, right? Well, it’s not — not at all.
The main reason being that instead of S.O.N having a direct-approach to storytelling, it, instead, has a symbolistic and minimalistic approach. While this kind of approach can work and has worked for a wide array of other games, with S.O.N, it just doesn’t make any sense. Randomly, across your journey, you’ll find neon and blood-written messages on the walls, crosses, emojis (yes, I’m serious), odd abominations (that don’t serve any purpose other than to add a ‘horror’ factor to the game), and of course, gameplay-focused objects like gates and keys. These symbols are supposed to give the player insight on Robert as a character, like his past and who he is now. However, what really ends up happening from the very beginning of the game to the end is that your left constantly wondering, “So, what’s happening?” and “Why does this any of this matter?”. What makes matters worse is that Robert has no dialogue — he’s a completely empty, blank, main character — so even when you see one of the many symbols in the game, Robert does nothing, he doesn’t react or say anything.
With the lack of character and story development in S.O.N, you’ll end up just being confused at all times. To put S.O.N simply, it’s like going to one of those poorly designed haunted forests that you go through during Halloween — but S.O.N isn’t even scary. Perhaps this is all because the developer ran into development issues since they had to cut some parts out, so maybe they couldn’t truly tie everything together, but I still think that even if they did, S.O.N would probably still not have a well-thought-out narrative.
Gameplay, unfortunately, is also poorly implemented and leaves much to be desired. The game description for S.O.N on the PlayStation Store reads: “Be careful to pay attention to your surroundings at all times… “They” may or may not be watching your every move.” This description is far from accurate. There is basically nothing to run from, especially no “They”, except for one very, very minor part in the game, so instead of running and hiding, you’re just running, and running, and running. In a nutshell, all you have to do is run around aimlessly, grab keys (which are a pain to grab), open gates with said keys, and then that’s it — you thankfully move on to the next area. Technically, there is one ‘puzzle’ in the game, but it’s honestly a terrible waste of time.
Going back to the keys in S.O.N., they’re hard to grab because the game has no cursor. Generally, in most horror games or just first-person games, there’s a cursor, like a dot, in the middle of the screen that helps players know whether or not they are lined up with an object. But since S.O.N. lacks a cursor, you’re left having to basically shuffle around and pressing “X” rapidly until you finally grab a key. What’s odd is that other objects in the game, like teddy bears that are used as save points, have a red outline when you hover over them, but keys, for some weird reason, don’t.
On the topic of visuals, it’s hard to see just about anything when you’re in certain areas. While S.O.N has what the developer refers to as ‘strategic lighting’, which basically means environmental lighting, it only makes the game more difficult to play. In the beginning, there were numerous times where I ended up in insanely dark areas and had to randomly run in multiple directions in hopes of finding the way out. One positive highlight, however, was that I did like the neon lighting effects, and the way that lighting was implemented to highlight certain parts of the game’s world. As a whole, though, the lighting makes getting through S.O.N an even greater challenge.
The one feature that does deserve some praise is that S.O.N consistently maintains an ambient atmosphere. At first, I was feeling on-edge when going through the forest and when I first entered one of the caves, as I was expecting something to pop out in an instant. However, after I realized that there wasn’t anything to really watch out for, I no longer was afraid to move forward, and just ran around with no worries.
One weird issue to note, though, is that the sound design is pretty much non-existent. Actions like footsteps, picking up keys, and even pulling levers don’t have any sort of sound at all. This is odd since most horror games generally focus on having stellar sound design, but this isn’t the case for S.O.N
S.O.N is a game without a clear sense of direction or purpose — it’s unfocused, full of failed attempts. Just like its full name, “South of Nowhere”, playing S.O.N is like going on a trip that leads to nowhere, and to be honest, it’s more of a one-to-two-hour-long aimless walking simulator than a psychological horror game. With so many other psychological horror games out there that offer so much more, I, unfortunately, have to say that it’s best to steer clear from S.O.N. Here’s hoping that RedG Studios’ next game will end up being something worth playing.
This post may contain Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate Noisy Pixel earns from qualifying purchases.