Written : Wednesday, December 01, 2010
By: Richard Walker (GT: Redriceman82)
If you're looking for a compelling story packed with subtlety and artful nuance, look away now. Splatterhouse offers neither of these things. What it does offer is blood and lots of it. In fact, it's the game's currency and it spills in vast bucketfuls, ready for the game's reluctant hero - the mundanely-named Rick Taylor – to absorb for later use. And once the arterial spray starts to flow it doesn't let up for a second. It's called Splatterhouse for a reason, you know.
"Meet Rick... Ha ha, no seriously. His name is Rick."
With the nerdy, bespectacled Taylor bleeding to death from a brutal stab wound to the stomach, Splatterhouse starts as it means to go on, like its protagonist, face down spluttering in a pool of O-Negative. Every aspect of Splatterhouse is completely OTT, from its sneering villain to its day-glo haunted mansion setting, which gives way to increasingly hellish environments as Rick dons the 'Terror Mask' and transforms into a towering musclebound, undead man mountain.
On a quest to rescue your high school sweetheart, Jennifer from the clutches of the mad Dr. West, you brawl your merry way through a seemingly endless menagerie of twisted beasts, bashing X for fast jabs and Y for slower heavy attacks. At first, it all seems overwhelmingly basic, perhaps woefully so, simply throwing generic enemies at you as you indiscriminately mash buttons. But, as you progress and more of the game's mechanics are steadily revealed, things become progressively more enjoyable, although it never really measures up to other far more accomplished titles in the genre.
While there's nothing really quite like Splatterhouse on the market, what with its utter lack of pretension in wanting to be anything more than a claret-drenched romp through a nightmarish playground packed with monsters, gore and loud metal music. And that's pretty much Splatterhouse summed up in a nutshell, but don't go away just yet. The rest of this review isn't redundant, honest. Beating enemies into twitching, oozing lumps of burger is only half of the game; the other half involves accumulating BLOOD (no, we don't know why it's capitalised) points to spend on upgrading Rick's core abilities and doing so increases the number of available combat options, making Splatterhouse more fun to play.
"Splatterhouse's middle name is Gore... as in Al."
Actually, we say fun, but what we really mean is tolerable. Splatterhouse is a game riddled with flaws beyond its intrinsically meat-headed premise. First and foremost amongst these is the repetitious nature of the fighting, which is exacerbated by a lack of downtime or variation in the tasks you tackle. Frankly, even a baby-simple puzzle wouldn't have gone amiss, and while side-scrolling sections with retro 8-bit music offer a sly nostalgic nod towards the original 1988 classic that started it all, they're not enough to break up the monotony.
Add to this a twitchy camera that occasionally throws a tantrum for seemingly no apparent reason, infuriatingly protracted loading times between retries and just an overall lack of polish or attention to detail, and Splatterhouse just feels slightly shoddy and short on quality. Compare it to a game like Castlevania: Lords of Shadow for instance – a title that similarly resurrects an old-school 2D franchise for current-gen consoles – and it just looks shallow and juvenile. Perhaps this is a little unfair however and a bit like comparing shiny apples to rotten oranges. Blood oranges, that is.
Granted, there isn't really much to Splatterhouse, but then that's probably the point. It plays like a game made for adolescent males who love the Saw movies and dig metal music. Hell, there's even some really soft pornography to collect in the form of torn semi-naked photographs of Jennifer scattered throughout the game. Some might be charmed by the game's brazen, bare-faced sledgehammer to the teeth subtlety, while others will pick apart every flaw and shortcoming evident in Splatterhouse.
That said, there's no denying that there's more than a modicum of brainless enjoyment to be derived from playing Splatterhouse and upgrading your abilities adds a little extra depth to proceedings. There's even a little bit of strategy believe it or not, with Rick able to enter 'Berserker Mode' whenever he accumulates three segments of his BLOOD bar, transforming into an even meatier lump of bone and sinew, able to carve enemies into small chunks. Doing so also fully replenishes your health bar, so hitting the left bumper to unleash at the right time can be the key to survival.
"Rick's got the decorators in... Crimson red seems to be in."
Speaking of which, once you're done with the hokey single-player portion of the game, you'll have not only unlocked all three of the original retro games, but you'll have also gained access to six standalone survival arena challenges that pit Rick against increasingly difficult waves of enemies and you'll have more torn pieces of erotic photos to acquire. Again, the mindless button mashing is good fun, but it's here that you really notice the poor enemy targeting. This also manifests itself at the game's conclusion, which is not only a massively disappointing damp squib, but it's also one of the most frustrating and ludicrous finales ever committed to a game disc.
Therefore, unlocking the Brutal difficulty level and an Xbox 360-exclusive in-game mask upon finishing the game is hardly an incentive to play through the game again. You might be coaxed back by the promise of gaining more achievements though, which are all pretty easy for the most part. Finishing each chapter and finishing the game nets most of the gamerscore on offer, but it'll take at least two playthroughs to bag them all, which having endured the first playthrough, might seem a bit of a stretch the second time around. Also gaining S-ranks in every survival arena is a bit of a joke, especially as ripping through every wave and completing all ten challenges in each arena is a tall order. The likelihood is that you'll finish the game once, and draw a line under it.
Splatterhouse is at times hilarious, reckless fun that is patchy in its execution, with inconsistent checkpoints that often force you to repeat large chunks of the game again and again, and when you're forced to sit staring at a loading screen between retries, the compulsion to throw the controller to the ground and stamp on it is hard to resist. Throw in some ill-advised, stupid trial and error platforming sections and more quick-time events than is healthy, and Splatterhouse can be a real patience tester. Without a particularly compelling story to keep you hooked, the only thing that'll keep you playing is the sheer, unreserved brutality and analogue stick twiddling Splatterkills, which are immensely gratifying.
Hnrgh! Psch! Bosh! Splutch! Squelch! That's pretty much what you'll be subjected to for the duration of the game. Rick's banter with the taunting Terror Mask meanwhile, is fairly entertaining and if you love metal music, you'll get a kick out of Splatterhouse's soundtrack.
The primary focus here has been on the gallons of blood sprayed all over the screen, so the rest of the game's graphics are little more than functional. Rick's body being physically mutilated and then healed is a neat visual touch, and some of the environments are decent, but for the most part, the textures are murky and there's a lack of polish.
Splatterhouse would be infinitely more tolerable if the targeting worked and the checkpoints weren't too far apart. As a brainless button-bashing session, the game succeeds with flying colours (mostly red), but if you're expecting a refined, deep combat system, forget it.
There's plenty to do in Splatterhouse with the narrative part of the game lasting approximately eight hours or so, while the six survival arenas offer a nice bit of compartmentalised, blood-soaked violence. Once you've dabbled in that lot though, you probably won't bother coming back.
Splatterhouse's list is a real head-scratcher. Getting a measly five gamerscore for getting hundreds of kills or gaining your first S-rank in the survival arena seems like short shrift for what is a lot of hard work. Definitely a case of quantity over quality.
Splatterhouse effortlessly fulfils its remit as a shlocky, enjoyable but utterly disposable third-person brawler, which is unashamedly bloody, gratuitous, violent, sweary and brutal. While we love all of these things, they're not really delivered in an especially smart or knowing way. It is what it is and there's really nothing beyond its face value. Splatterhouse is what the game is called and what you see, is what you get. Had the execution been more accomplished however, this could have been a real guilty pleasure, rather than simply being guilty of being a bit rubbish.