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Friday, October 5, 2012

Splatterhouse Review for PS3/XBox360

The new Splatterhouse story remains faithful to the earlier entries in the series while being slightly fresh.  As the mortally wounded Rick you must traverse a mansion filled with Lovecraftian horrors while donning the delightfully cynical Terror Mask, which simultaneously heels your wounds and beefs you up into a hulk-resembling brawler.  Your mission is to fight your way through hordes of enemies all the while collecting ridiculous amount of blood to satiate and upgrade the Terror Mask in order to save your girlfriend Jennifer from the diabolical clutches of the mansion’s owner and dark arts enthusiast Dr. Henry West.  As you are traversing the mansion, you occasionally get pulled through portals into other locations, which could be the future or the past, but have some connection with the link between Rick and the Doctor.  As you visit these areas, you realize Dr. West is trying to unleash the Corrupted upon mankind, which will vanquish all life by initiating the end of the world. 

The link between Rick, Dr. West, the Terror Mask, and Jennifer is interesting as it occurs through time and space, and very early in the game Dr. West comments that it could be a mobius strip, or infinite loop.  This aspect of the story and the Lovecraftian-inspired elements of old demon summoning, things like experiments on human flesh, and dark arts mixed with alchemy can be gleamed from collecting Dr. West’s journal entries and reading them from the main menu.  It’s unfortunate that these elements weren’t expanded on as well as they could have been during the game, and at the end of the game there are several questions left unanswered for a player who has not taken the time to collect and go through the journals. 

Splatterhouse lives up to its namesake with the sheer amount of blood, gore, and carnage, filling entire areas of the game as you fight through each screen.  Limbs tear, bones snap and blood sprays as Rick maims, dismembers, rip intestines from, and impales enemies galore.  Often blood will splatter across the camera as enemies are beaten to bloody pulps.  Every now and then an enemy will flash a yellow or red outline, allowing a special move called a Splatter Kill where the screen goes black, and you will have to input a small Quick-Time Event in order to violently end the enemy, usually by slowly tearing or smashing some bit of anatomy for extra blood.  

The environments bleed horror and the mansion starts off as an impressive and foreboding place, creepy in a haunted kind of vibe.  As you descend into its depths the amount of fleshy tentacles and blood bursting through walls, as well as monstrous organs blocking doorways begins to increase adding to that Lovecraftian feel the keeps bearing mention.  At one point a creature not unlike Cthulu is visible in a fish tank within the depths of the mansion.  Dr. West even quotes the dark inscription written of in Call of Cthulu  more than once during the game.  Overall, the amount of gore is likely too much for some to actually be comfortable with, but for horror aficionados this game offers beautiful and copious gratuitous violence and gore.  The splatter sound effects are gory and fun, and the soundtrack is full of metal bands such as Lamb of God.  The music is usually somewhat muted however, or is preserved for intense fight segments, which does well to make certain moments stand out.

The original three Splatterhouse games (which will be unlocked by playing through story mode as a fantastic way to play the originals) were 2D beat em up games.  The new Splatterhouse is a 3D brawler, which has a different, albeit similar style of gameplay, and still carries the same overall feeling of a beat em up game.  Rick still has to punch, grab, toss, and perform combos on enemies to clear each section.  There are even some segments which are side scrolling, and have additional environmental hazards such as swinging blades and spike traps.  In addition, there are weapons scattered throughout the game like cleavers, pipes, and other items which function quite similar to how they did in their 2D counterparts.  Additional weapons can be obtained through completing challenges in Arena Mode, which is separate from the main story.  As the story progresses, arena fight areas are unlocked for Rick to play through and upon completing certain requirements new weapons can be unlocked for use in game.  

A new aspect to Splatterhouse is that Rick can obtain new abilities by exchanging blood points, collected by fighting through enemies.  These abilities range from things like additional health, to better combos, to powerful mask moves.  Blood also has the additional purpose of filling your Necro Meter, which can be drained to use special moves or be used to go into Mask mode where you fight as a much more powerful version of Rick until the meter is fully drained.  It’s important to keep adding blood to the Necro meter as Rick must use Necro to refill his health throughout fights.

One issue with Splatterhouse, is the sections which feature trial and error gameplay.  There are sections where you must avoid instant-kills that you have no indication are going to occur or might not have any way of knowing where you should move to avoid a quick death.  This can be frustrating in some cases where you may fall off of a ledge due to a camera angle.  The game does have fairly frequent checkpoints, but because it’s a disc-based game, load times (PS3 version here) can get annoying during some of the trial and error segments.

Another issue is that there’s actually not much in the way of boss battles throughout Splatterhouse, which is a shame because the few very good boss sections are used early in the game, and during the latter half Rick is usually just fighting big enemies, which can take a bit longer, but aren’t presented like boss fights and don’t have anything unique about them.  There’s also a bit of an overuse of the Quick-Time Event throughout the game.  Even the last battle in the game is very disappointing, and without spoiling anything I’ll just say it can’t even really be called a boss battle.

 All in all, despite some flaws in gameplay, Splatterhouse delivers for fans of the classic series or fans of over the top gore-fests and violent slasher horror.  The story manages to be engaging although it feels like it could have been expanded upon during the main play through, and the core gameplay element of fighting enemies can be both fun and satisfying.  The horror soaked environments really shine and create an atmosphere of brutal animalistic carnage.  As for replay value, the game features a number of collectibles such as photos of Jennifer (some topless), and journals that add to the back-story.  Additionally, powers carry over into new games so that players can keep playing beyond finishing the story mode.  There are challenges to complete by playing through several arenas and additional bonuses to unlock, and individual chapters can be selected to play in story mode.  Although some may find the game frustrating at times, it’s a gore-hounds delight.

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