Saturday, 29 April 2017

Played: Splatterhouse (PS3)

Format: PS3     Also For: Xbox 360
Developer: Namco Bandai Games
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Release: 2010
Progress: Completed!

I've made a lot of posts about trading cards lately but thankfully - for those who aren't interested in bits of cardboard - I've got a few gaming-related topics to hand now, beginning with my play-through of the 2010 Splatterhouse remake on PS3. Now I must start off by admitting that I've never played any of the original Splatterhouse games but thanks to being involved in the retro scene for a long time now, I'm very much aware of what the games were about, what they look like etc. Ironically, I purchased this game because all three of the originals are unlockables which is really handy when you consider the ridiculous price that a complete Splatterhouse 3 on the Mega Drive/Genesis sells for today (a quick check on ebay sold items shows between £70-£100). But first you must play this remake to get at the golden oldies. I'd been after this for ages and ages until finally finding a copy in CEX (a pre-owned store here in the UK which usually smells bad and has prices all over the place) for a crisp fiver. Now you really can't go wrong with taking a risk for a five pound note so naturally I snapped Splatterhouse up and only recently got around to playing it, partly inspired by the recent news that the PS4 Friday the 13th game will be hitting stores this May.

Ya gotta give the kids what they want...

The first thing that immediately hit me was that this remake was "one of those games". You know the sort: the kind of modern re-imagining of something old that publishers believe needs injecting with all the things that appeal to teenagers. As such, Splatterhouse 2010 is leaking a frankly ludicrous amount of gore from its seams, features a sweary version of the Terror Mask and a backing soundtrack of heavy metal bands like Mastodon and Five Finger Death Punch. Oh and there's boobs too (more on those later) for good measure. None of these elements are necessarily bad in principle (especially not boobies because let's face it, all of us blokes love 'em) but when considering the game as an overall product, it feels like all of this stuff was just forced in there for the sake of it; like they've tried to make it as extreme and edgy as possible in order to gain attention. Surely not?

More blood than a body should hold? You certainly will be "seeing red" here.

Well...yes, they clearly did modernise the franchise with oceans of blood and bare lady bits for that reason. This sort of cynical marketing can of course be overlooked (and even enjoyed) if the game itself is any good and this is where I really wanted Splatterhouse to impress me. Problem is, we've had a couple of generations of consoles where third person beat 'em ups and action games have been one of the commonplace genres so there's a hell of a lot of competition. My personal favourites from the last decade or so have been God Hand, Anarchy Reigns and Madworld - all accomplished games that successfully blend their adult themes with stylish art direction, humour and interesting gameplay. In comparison, Splatterhouse simply feels like "yet another" third person brawler where everything is serviceable enough but nothing stands out as being special. There are frustrating parts, boring bits and that nagging feeling that you are an idiot for mindlessly mashing at buttons and being kept entertained by the supposed "adult" content, which isn't really that at all. After all, most people would class blood and tits for the sake of it as childish.

Paint the walls red

The game is essentially a re-tread of the original's storyline, brought up to date and modified in several ways. You play as Rick, a geeky-looking kid who somehow has a super-hot girlfriend in the form of Jennifer. Rick accompanies Jennifer to Dr. West's mansion where she is set to interview the good doctor for the school newspaper except he isn't really such a good doctor. He kidnaps your girl and has Rick killed by some freaky monster things. The Terror Mask (which totally wasn't ripped off from a certain 80's movie franchise about a supernatural serial killer) brings Rick back to life and gives him a new monstrous build and brute strength to go with it. So the game begins with Rick beating the shit out of all manner of nasty creatures, ripping limbs off and executing Mortal Kombat-style finishing moves in his quest to get Jen back from the evil Dr. West. Pretty much the same as the arcade original then except ths time, in 2010, we have some sort of teenage fantasy about a metal-loving nerd with a supermodel-like girlfriend who gets mega-ripped thanks to an evil mask. Best not to analyse it too much and just enjoy the game though, right?

You know you're in a game when you've lucked out like this.
As a beat 'em up, it's very straightforward. Rick can hit enemies with light or heavy attacks and there are a variety of special moves on offer once you start powering-up with upgrades. He can also enter a berserker mode once the 'necro' gauge reaches a certain point and this state gives Rick a more monstrous appearance as well as access to some massively damaging moves until the gauge depletes. Most of the time though, I found myself just mashing the attack buttons until everything in a room was dead. There are weapons such as pipes, machetes and even shotguns to use and these genuinely do help to kill monsters faster. There's even a special move whereby grabbing a regular-sized enemy while holding a weapon results in Rick throwing them down on the ground and bashing their head in for an instant kill. I found this to be a key move in the game because Rick is invulnerable while performing this attack so as long as you quickly grab the next target and do the same, you can technically never get hit.

Larger enemies present a bigger challenge though and most can power-up every other foe in a room with attack boosts or invincibility, active until the monster providing said buff(s) is defeated. They hit a lot harder too as you may imagine and so the evasive roll quickly becomes essential as you gradually wear them down with charged heavy attacks until they are open for a finisher. The finishing moves in this game are absolutely brutal and border on disgusting. Limbs are torn off, heads crushed and hearts ripped out. Rick can even shove his arm up the arse of one huge beast and rip its insides out that way. The whole thing - including the 'regular' violence and blood letting - is extremely gratuitous and Splatterhouse seems to revel in trying to be controversial and explicit. Honestly, this is the most over-the-top gore I have seen in any game outside of Mortal Kombat 9 or MKX and perversely, I found it to be entertaining just as I did with the aforementioned fighting games.

Don't get me wrong, Splatterhouse never blossoms into a sophisticated beat 'em up that requires practice to get good at but once I got far enough in for the bigger monsters that require more than just button-mashing then I was able to give it a little bit more credit. Teamed with the excessive, glorified violence that genuinely became entertaining due to its stupidity (firstly you're killing demonic monsters - not people - and secondly, its just daft rather than outright cruel), it made me enjoy the game a little more than my first impressions would have suggested.

More of the same, sir?

Where Splatterhouse really falls down (if you don't over-analyse the way that the devs tried to adult-it-up) is its linearity and repetiveness. This is one of those games where there is a single set route and everywhere else is blocked off by scenery that any person could simply step over in reality. Invisible walls make the occasional appearance and the general progression structure of enter a room, kill everything, door unlocks, enter next room, kill everything grows old very fast. Now you could argue that this is exactly the same as those old arcade/Mega Drive classics except we're no longer confined to a 2D plane. Problem is, a modern system such as the PS3 is capable of so much more and so I did feel a bit short-changed in that respect. It reminded me of such crappy games as Conan or Golden Axe: Beast Rider - games that quickly grew boring due to how they effectively shoved the player down a one-way tunnel. The same is true here and no matter how entertaining the blood 'n guts was, I eventually had that unwanted feeling of just wanting to get the game finished and out of the way.

"How'd you like the new fence I just put up? Have a closer look..."

Another issue was that the cut-scenes and general plot just didn't interest me at all. Everything was predictable and the game simply couldn't pull off the trick of smoothing over repetitive gameplay with stylish or interesting cinematics. The Terror Mask itself is quite amusing to listen to but its limited pool of quotes during battle quickly grow old. Fun fact though: the mask is voiced by the same voice actor who - amongst many other roles - played Scar in The Lion King.

There's also some irritating platforming/jumping thrown in for good measure too, proving that Rick hasn't grown any more agile since the late 80's. Running and leaping over gaps feels just as clunky as it did in old arcade games and there's one bit in particular which is a real trial-and-error affair requiring multiple deaths and re-starts until you learn which bits of the ground are going to collapse and when. These sections are mercifully few and far between but they are annoying and - in my opinion - have no place in a beat 'em up. It feels like variety for variety's sake. Of a more offensive nature are the 2D, retro-inspired segments which are utter, utter toilet. Rick walks from left-to-right (as in the classic games), hacking at enemies and avoiding spikes, saw blades etc. There are also numerous unforgiving jumps which are a real pain to deal with when your only weapon is Rick's woeful agility. These sections should - in theory - be nice throwbacks to the past but in practice, they only serve to infuriate and I wanted them out of the way as quickly as possible. Nice idea but no thanks, Namco. On a positive note, the music for these bits is pretty damn good.

Sex sells

Perhaps Namco knew that they had a bit of a slog of a game to sell to their punters however because in updating Splatterhouse, they also gave us a new version of Jennifer. Fans of the classic arcade games will probably be shocked or disappointed to learn that in THIS game, Rick's girl has put together a bit of a collection of saucy photographs of herself . These photos are torn into 3-4 pieces per level and the player must find them all to piece each full photograph together. All in the interests of 100% completion of course. *ahem*. Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised but I was when I discovered that around 75% of these photos are completely topless. I said before that I've not played the original games but I'll go out on a limb and assume that Rick's girlfriend was portrayed as a more innocent girl? I can imagine that fans of those games might be irked to see what Namco have done to one of their beloved characters! In any case - regardless of whether the inclusion of a few naughty snaps was necessary or not - collecting them all undeniably played a small part in me pushing onwards through the repetitive moments. Yep, it's a pretty sad state of affairs to admit that I found even a smidgen of motivation from virtual knockers but there you go; what can I say? For anybody that is curious, I will include a few links here so that you can check out some samples and see what I mean. I'm 100% against censorship (as I have made clear many times before) but I'd rather not get anybody into hot water for innocently continuing to scroll down through this post...

Nothin' to see here. Nope. No blood whatsoever; honest.

So in conclusion, what do I think of all this? I think that the 2010 Splatterhouse is fundamentally a decent, if pretty generic action game. There are much better examples out there (on older platforms even) but equally, there are also worse within the same genre. All of the extreme blood, the exposed breasts, the metal soundtrack...all of that feels like it was forcefully welded onto the game whether it liked it or not. Personally, I didn't really mind that much but none of it would have helped the game gain any sort of credibility. If I had to change a few things then I'd scrap all of the jumping bits, swap out the metal music for more of the creepy 80's horror riffs found in the 2D sections and perhaps give the levels a bit more variety.

Overall, it's not a bad game at all but there is the sense that it tries much too hard in many respects and that time might have been better spent enhancing the combat or something. If you can look past all of that however then Splatterhouse is a fairly decent action game worth trying out if excessive gore and sexy collectibles don't offend you. I personally spent the duration of the game flicking between feeling like I wanted it to just end and then - ten minutes later - enjoying the simplistic barbarism and the lack of needing to think too much. It was a weird game in that respect and I can't say that I have a concrete opinion on Splatterhouse even now. If pushed, I would describe it as a bit of daft fun with lashings of OTT violence and a peppering of naughtiness. For five pounds, I could have done a lot worse for sure.

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