Game Review: Splatterhouse (PS3)

Rated Mature, Reviewed on PS3, Splatterhouse at Amazon.com

Splatterhouse is a remake/homage of the Namco classic arcade game (I originally played the superb TurboGraphix 16 port).

The story remains the same: you’re Rick Taylor who, with the help of an ancient, sentient mask is fighting through hordes of demonic creatures to save your girlfriend Jennifer.  This iteration leans very heavily on Lovecraftian sources and imagery which is starting to approach trite, but since it’s rarely done well it can be forgiven.

You interact with two primary characters, Rick (who spends most of the game dazed and confused) and the mask itself (which adds a raunchy voice-over to the proceedings).  The villain of the story, Dr. West, is about as cardboard as they come and Jennifer (stolen by West because she looks like his dead wife) is, for all intents, a prop.

Essentially a brawler there’s a decent selection of enemies (although several are repeated with simple pallette-swaps).  Due to the length of the game (more on that later) enemies in the end, especially the larger “boss” enemies, have many return engagements.  Most of these are rather tedious, lazy “combination” appearances: three instances of one boss, combinations of multiple bosses, etc.

The controls are fairly standard for a third person brawler and the move list (upgradable by spending “blood points”) is impressive.  Like most of these games you’ll find yourself using certain moves (much) more than most but the breadth available should suit most styles of play well enough.  Finishing moves, featuring dramatic, pre-rendered animations, are as gory as possible.  You will be able to use the decapitated heads of enemies to stun others and their severed limbs (and sometimes your own) to pummel them.

Controls are tight in combat but more twitchy during the few platforming/trap segments.  As is almost expected from these games, the camera is often a problem and you’ll have several cheap deaths from lack of visibility.  Less forgivable are the completely unreasonable load times.  When you die (and you will often) expect to wait at least 30 seconds, sometimes much longer, to get back to the action.  Graphics are good and reasonably stylish but nothing groundbreaking or surprising.

The game is unabashedly and completely mature.  The mask uses “fuck” as a comma, the enemies are suitably grotesque and often sexual and battles are bathed in a ridiculous amount of blood.  In fact the main collectible in the game are scraps from… let’s say “bedroom photos”of Jennifer.  If you find all four in a level (or arena) you’ll get a nude pin-up (the naughty bits are always in the last piece).  I’m almost ashamed to relate how effective this was.  Nude pictures or spinning gold coins?  I may not be proud of it, but I know my choice.

One of the highlights of the game are the several side-scrolling action sequences that recreate the feel of the original supremely well.  It has to be said that these sequences began to wear out their welcome later; but then again the entire game did.  This leads me to the first major problem I had with the game: the length.  It be controversial but I thought the game was just plain too long.  The last few hours was filled with increasingly ridiculous combinations of previous enemies and false endings.  The game could have easily been 25-35% shorter and, I think, would have been significantly more engaging.  To add insult to injury finishing the collectible hunt requires even more time spent in uninspired (but lengthy) arena missions.

The second major issue is the difficulty curve – and this game’s was twisted like a roller coaster.  Much of the problem was due to pacing and training.  For example the game never trained you to kill enemies quickly, instead promoting techniques to earn more blood points.  Then, near the end, you are suddenly faced with several timed sequences that can only be beat using techniques that you’ve never needed before.  I nearly gave up in frustration here.  The very end of the game is a rather tedious protection mission marred more than most by the bad camera.

That’s not to say that I didn’t like “Splatterhouse” but it was a shame that it’s problems nearly ruined the end-game for me.  If you can suffer through there’s a fun game and decent, if trite, story here.  The over-the-top gore may turn off some but not those that would consider playing “Splatterhouse” in the first place – and those people will be giddy with the sheer excess of it all.  Especially at the current prices, or as a rental, this is definitely something to  try if you think you’ll like it.

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