Over the last several days, we’ve had a number of opportunities to shed some blood here at G4, apart from our bi-weekly sacrificial offerings to the gaming gods. No, we mean virtual blood, and a lot of it. The most recent build of Splatterhouse has crept into our cubicles and torn off its fair share of limbs, taking up far too much space around the office with discarded demon heads and freshly cleaved hellspawn. That said, we’ve taken the journey to Hell and back to bring you our early impressions.
The first thing worth mentioning about this reboot of Splatterhouse is that, for better or worse, it feels like it was developed by an army of thirteen year old boys who’d just concluded their very first sleep-over experience with Evil Dead and weed. And that’s less a criticism than it is a point of style. Splatterhouse is aggressively juvenile, reveling in its horror movie references, gratuitous nudity, over-use of four-letter words and buckets upon buckets upon buckets of blood. You can just feel the self-satisfied snickering every time you find a collectible portion of the torn photograph of your naked, showering girlfriend.
Consequently, nuance isn’t something to which Splatterhouse apparently aspires, and in the short time we played through the game, it’s a fairly one-note experience. And that note is “blood.” As in games like The Darkness, you play an ordinary human possessed by a darker, more powerful force, giving you powers well beyond your natural abilities. In this case, the demonic mask you don after your attempted murder and the kidnapping of your girlfriend transforms you into a massive behemoth of exceptional brutality that survives solely off blood.
Combat is a fairly simple affair. The X and Y buttons alternate between light and heavy attacks. The A button executes jumps while the B button triggers both grabs and ultra-gory finishing moves when your enemies are stunned. These moves will offer up a dedicated animation sequence that’ll allow gamers to sufficiently maul their enemy in some awesomely creative way by pressing the right series of buttons. The point of all of this to shed and collect blood, used at the end of each level to power-up your character and throughout each level to heal you when you’re on the verge of death.
You can take damage, however. A lot of it. Perhaps the smallest, most impressive feature in our demo was the increasingly injured character model, including massive, rib-exposing gashes and the occasional torn limb. Lose your arm? Never fear! It’ll grow back, allowing you to pick up the arm you just lost and use it as a club. This, along with a small assortment of blunt instruments, will supplement your fists as your main means of offense. Healing remains a bit problematic, though, requiring that you keep a steady eye on your health gauge to trigger your regenerative ability. The right trigger combined with the B button will cause the player to draw blood/energy from the demons around him. Your health doesn’t regenerate and there are no available health pick-ups, so you make sure that you’re watchful of your life-bar mid-battle.
With the exception of one rather inspired boss-battle – involving a giant creature made entirely of debris – the early enemies are a pretty un-inspired affair. That said, while the individual creatures themselves become quickly repetitive, they do pose a significant challenge. You will die in this game while attempting to avoid being surrounded and flanked, and it’s worth noting that in this early build, it took two or three minutes to reload the sequence after each death, making our play-through utterly, hair-pullingly maddening. While we’re certain that this will be addressed in the retail version, we’re equally hopeful that a faster death/rebirth time will make the combat less far frustrating than we experienced.
The sameness of the environments was beginning to grow a bit problematic – fighting our way through one massive, gothic mansion – until the title suddenly threw a 2-D side-scrolling level at us, a welcome visual shake-up that we hope returns frequently throughout the game. And while the semi cel-shaded visual style stops the game from being overly disgusting, it also makes it feel too cartoony at times. The grotesque dismemberments and sheer hilarious amount of blood that erupts from even the smallest enemy quickly started to numb us to the intended effect – namely, a constant stream of rated-R awesomess and plenty of “Oh, sh*t!” moments. At this late stage, the game could use a few final pacing tweaks so that the teenage bliss of manic mutilations doesn’t wear out its welcome too early in the game.
While Splatterhouse appears to be relatively functional and appropriately bloody, we can’t yet speak for whether it’s particularly good. A handful of tech issues and design decisions made that difficult in our short time with the title, but with a month to go, there’s no doubt that this group of horror hounds can make Splatterhouse the title of 2010 that teenagers everywhere try to sneak past mom and dad.