(Note: game was reviewed on the iPhone 4)
Back in the early 1990s the then new-fangled invention “CD-Rom” was set to revolutionize gaming. Now, instead of having to see pixilated stills or pixilated animation, the story could be told with pixilated movies. Progress! This was celebrated with games such as Night Trap, Sewer Shark, and Phantasmagoria. These were games that typically sacrificed gameplay and fun for the flavor of the moment of FMVs full of bad writing and worse acting. Hysteria Project 2 has me feeling nostalgic, in a bad way.
In the first Hysteria Project you woke up to find yourself trapped in a shed with an axe murderer moments from coming back to finish you off. It was an engaging little game that made nice use of the touchscreen and ended with a thrilling cliffhanger. Hysteria Project 2 continues the events, only now you find yourself trying to escape the hooded madman while inside a hospital.
The gameplay is best explained by taking you through my first ten minutes with the game. After watching an approximately three minute long unskippable cutscene filled with random horror images and scenes from the last game I am treated to a two minute long unskippable intro cutscene. In this scene I am greeted by a nurse/doctor lady who basically injects me with needles and tells my character that he’s exhausted. She does this in a British accent that is as consistently British as Family Guy is humorous. Then the woman, sounding afraid, exclaims something about how “he’s coming” before scribbling something on my character’s arm and running out the door.
Now, a good six minutes since starting the game, I am allowed to begin playing it. I immediately tilt the camera down to look at my arm and “click” on it. And then a thirty second long (yes, unskippable) cutscene plays of my character attempting to free himself from his straps. As I ponder for a couple seconds why the sometimes British nurse/doctor lady has left me strapped in bed when she obviously wanted me to follow her, the hooded man busts down the metal door and leaps on me... game over screen. This screen is kind enough to let me know that I have to escape faster to live, brilliant. Starting back at the checkpoint, I think to try the other arm… nothing happens, door bursts, hooded man, game over. Restart, click both arms, door bursts, hooded man, game over. Restart, look around room to see if anything else is… door bursts, hooded man, game over.
Finally, I discover that the answer is to click on your right arm, watch a thirty second long cutscene of you failing to break the straps and then click on your right arm again. If at first you don’t succeed, eh? Well, once that happens you will watch as your character takes a good minute to slowly undo all his other straps and slowly stumble out the door. If you didn’t break that first strap in ten seconds you are dead, but if you do break it, you can take your sweet time leaving. This is where the game is letting me know that it is set in an alternate dimension where logic and time are conditional.
The rest of my playthrough is filled with random deaths and - even more fatal - random crashes. The worst insta-death I had was when my character suddenly fell over and died. I was then told by my now good friend the Game Over Screen (I named him Geo Steve) that I needed to keep my character’s balance in this section. Ok Geo Steve, thanks for the tip. Checkpoint, character starts to tilt so I tilt the iPhone (flashing back to my Uncharted six-axis log days), character falls, dead... again. What, is his head made of paper mache so the slightest hit kills him? Seems that I am supposed to use my fingers to keep the screen oriented properly by sliding them in the opposite to the one he is falling in. Intuitive! Don't be confused, the controls are fine and work well, but the actual gameplay is constantly acting like a barrier to enjoyment.
If there is one thing that kept me going through this experience, it has to be the excellent presentation this game offers. Nice and smooth video cutscenes that end in the same shot as gameplay begins, perfectly blurring the line. The artwork is nice and the setting is appropriately horror-ific. Bad British accents aside, the sound design is top notch. Be sure to plug in the headphones so you will be treated to the simulated surround sound experience. Sure you’ll be dying every third time you blink, but you’ll look and sound good doing it.
At the time of this review the game is priced at $1.99 (US) and honestly I’m not sure that I would suggest purchasing this game even if it was free. The best parts of the game are destroyed by confusing unforgiving gameplay forcing you to re-watch the unskippable cutscenes over and over and over again. Even when stumbling through the trial and error and error and error gameplay you will still probably complete the game in about an hour. The only replay value comes in the form of hidden journal pages for you to find, which tell the story the game doesn’t bother to, and are harder than sin to actually read due to them being slightly blurred for some reason.
To sum up this game I will walk you through one more section of the game. Here, you have to make it across a hallway without the hooded axe man spotting you. You are staring at your hand against a wall and out of the corner of your vision you can see the door you must make it to. If you slide over slowly you can peer down the hall and see the hooded man kicking on random doors and attacking anybody within. Only, peeking around the side gives the axe lover a chance to spot you. If he does catch a glimpse of you, you get to instantly visit Geo Steve where he tells you to NOT let him see you. Thanks again, Steve. The way to get through this, you ask? Don’t move. Stay put. Don’t look, don't even peek. After two full minutes the music stops playing, which is your clue that the hooded man has fully gone into another room so you are safe to go for the door. Facepalm… fade to black. Say good night, Geo Steve!