I went into FAITH: The Unholy Trinity expecting a mildly entertaining homage to a generation that just predated my introduction to video games. What I didn’t expect was a game that manages to generate so much atmosphere, intrigue, tension, and scares – despite a self-imposed technological handicap. However, that adherence to emulating an early 1980s console experience does limit the gameplay complexity and leads to an over-reliance on a few anachronistic designs.
Keeping the Faith
Over three chapters, you primarily control Catholic priest John Ward on a terrifying journey that begins with his return to the site of a failed exorcism in rural Connecticut. This first chapter – originally released in 2017 – feels like a brief prologue in comparison to the subsequent chapters. There’s only a single location to explore and a brief taste of the narrative structure and gameplay mechanics. Don’t let that put you off though, as it’s a pivotal moment for John, introduces a recurring antagonist, and establishes an early link to an even greater threat. Without wanting to spoil too much, John’s plan to finish what he started goes awry and the subsequent chapters deal with the fallout and his path towards either redemption or damnation.
If you push on, you’ll discover an impressively engrossing and complex story, with dozens of collectable notes, optional interactions and boss encounters, several flashback sequences that flesh out John’s past, and multiple endings for each chapter. To keep things cohesive, there is a “canon” ending for the first chapter and a narrative excuse for the events of the second, but the lengthy final chapter offers a satisfying number of optional encounters (with the titular “Unholy Trinity”) and multiple fates for John and the supporting cast. As a bonus for horror movie fans, you’ll recognise many locations and some of the scenarios in FAITH: The Unholy Trinity that are inspired by iconic films.
That said, how the story is told might not be to everyone’s taste. Significant events feature minimalist yet striking cutscenes and limited dialogue, however, to fully appreciate all the connections in the story or unlock all the endings, you’ll need to explore thoroughly and read lengthy notes in each chapter. I’ll admit, some of the endings require actions I’d never have considered without checking a guide but, on my first casual playthrough taking actions that seemed sensible or plausible given the situation, I still managed to reach a logical and satisfying conclusion. If you’re a once-and-done gamer, FAITH: The Unholy Trinity should still offer a cohesive and entertaining ride.
Do you accept RNGesus as your lord and saviour?
Now while the storytelling elevates itself far above the standards of Atari-era hardware, your tolerance for the dated gameplay will be a deciding factor. You trudge slowly from screen to screen and use a single button to raise your crucifix to drive off demonic spirits or sanctify objects, read notes or trigger switches, and occasionally direct a torch beam. It feels particularly simplistic in the opening chapter, but the gameplay evolves in subsequent chapters to incorporate more and more puzzle elements that rely on clues within notes or the environment itself. At this point, you might think simple mechanics would improve accessibility but, unfortunately, FAITH: The Unholy Trinity relies on a repetitive and infuriating structure for many battles.
In almost every encounter with a demon or spirit, you need to damage or drive them off by raising and directing your crucifix. To add a degree of challenge, these encounters often rely on ambushes from off-screen, invisible spirits you can only track indirectly, and random movement patterns – such as teleporting around the screen. There is an element of pattern recognition but success is often down to your reflexes – and I’m torn on whether a gamepad or keyboard is preferable. The bad news is you die in a single hit and the toughest encounters always include a healthy dose of RNG movement. Sometimes you’ll have plenty of time to sidestep a charging demon and reorient yourself to lay on some holy damage, other times they might spawn on the edge of the screen closest or teleport-block you into a corner and all but guarantee a quick death. There are frequent checkpoints – including between boss phases – but they’re not always consistently spaced. I’ll accept the argument artificial difficulty is another authentic element from the era, but that doesn’t make slow backtracking or unavoidable deaths due to RNG any less frustrating in 2022.
Now it’s pointless to judge FAITH: The Unholy Trinity’s presentation by traditional standards but – if we’re considering authenticity and how those limited rendering techniques and low-quality audio add to the unsettling atmosphere ad horror – they’re incredible. Again, the opening chapter is more of a proof-of-concept before Chapters 2 and 3 demonstrate what the developer can achieve with limited rendering techniques. Scanlines draw in from the top; basic props make it clear what each room is meant to be; key items, gore, and demonic runes stand out in contrasting colours; stippling handles mist, smoke, and spirits; while the jerky low-framerate animations make the demonic creatures you encounter even more unsettling in motion.
The distorted synthesised voices are creepy and the excellent soundtrack, which mostly consists of short repeating loops, has good variety, sets the mood, and ramps up the volume to generate a constant sense of encroaching dread. The cutscenes – especially in the final chapter – are stunning, using a bare minimum of geometric complexity, a limited colour range, and rotoscope animation technique to render some truly horrifying demons and expressive humans. Static images just don’t do it justice.
Pray for salvation!
Now despite my gameplay-related gripes, I found FAITH: The Unholy Trinity weirdly compelling – but recommending it to a broader audience is not easy. It’s not some wildly subversive title with a modern metagame hidden behind retro aesthetics, so if you can’t stomach the thought of relatively authentic Atari-era gameplay, I’d recommend you steer clear. If, however, you enjoy retro-styled indie projects that push the storytelling far beyond what past developers considered possible, it’s one the best recent examples (also see Signalis) and really well-priced.
A review code for FAITH: The Unholy Trinity was provided to gameblur by the publisher.
FAITH: The Unholy TrinityFAITH: The Unholy Trinity
Story8/10 Very Good
Visuals8/10 Very Good
Audio8/10 Very Good
- An unsettling, complex, and interconnected narrative
- Modern storytelling using retro hardware capabilities
- More puzzle elements and optional encounters in the later chapters
- Multiple endings and unlockable game modes add replay value
- Authentic and therefore limited gameplay mechanics
- Several encounters with unforgiving RNG patterns