Review by xenodolf
The first three games in the Splatterhouse series came along at a decent enough pace. The arcade original in 1988, followed by the Genesis sequels in '92 and '93 respectively. Then for whatever reason, Namco put the series into cryostasis and we've had to wait over 15 years for the next installment - and it almost didn't happen (remember how many development parties were changed in the making of this?). Due to the intense shift into technology at this point (and gamers' taste), the majority of Splatterhouse 2010 plays in full 3D/360 and underwent significant combat upgrades (even more extensive than those seen introduced in Splatterhouse III). How has this remake / re-imagining felt in the eyes of someone quite fond of the classic trilogy, and how does it measure up to today's brawler standards? Read on..
One of Splatterhouse 2010's biggest fumbles is its shifting away from the 16-bit era of story-telling into the more cinematic methods of modern gaming. Before I start pointing fingers at all the flaws in this area of the game, I suppose I'll mention the silver lining of the cloud. Rick actually resembles a college-age student this time around, instead of grungy janitor (that his portrayal in the first two games might have you believe). Packaged into a kind of nerdy metal-head presentation, Rick somehow manages to hook up with a goth hottie (the long-suffering heroine Jennifer) we all know is way out of his physical league (what is this, a Judd Apatow movie?). The two of them wander into the West estate (as in the original game), and are violently separated by the crazy Dr. West and his legion of underworld denizens. Dying in a pool of his own blood, Rick makes the choice to rescue his girlfriend by embracing the Terror Mask (in Splatterhouse tradition) and endowing its tremendous powers of body-altering strength and regeneration. While this all sounds pretty decent and faithful to the old script - there are several grievances I have with the new version of the storyline. The Terror Mask talks to Rick.. and not in the minimalist way it did in Splatterhouse III, but rather - we have pages upon pages of largely juvenile and scenery-chewing dialogue that does to the game's atmosphere in a way best described as having Andrew Dice Clay in The Exorcist. On top of that, Dr. West is given a much larger purpose this time around - and unfortunately that means a bunch of boring back-story and romantic whining that erodes the urgent pace to stop the sacrificial role in store for Jennifer. While I wouldn't call the plot horrible, it goes to show that even with the perk of being able to cram more story-related material into a game - you've got to know how to keep things in sync with tradition and avoid cluttering up something as basic as the concept of a vengeful boyfriend and his damsel in distress.
Splatterhouse rounds out a few notches above the industry norm in the graphics department across the board - but where it really shines is in its presentation of violence. The 360 certainly has its share of bloody and gory games (Hokuto Musou, Bayonetta, the Gears of War, Rogue Warrior, the Dead Risings, Saw I & II, and Soldier of Fortune: Payback) but few of them touch upon the sheer volume of red fluid and polygonal gibs. The screen is constantly smeared and peppered by blood, with the yanked and sliced off heads and limbs of enemies not only littering the environment.. but actually becoming weapons. Not only are the demons fodder for such punishment - Rick himself takes damage over time (skin is ripped off, exposing bone, muscle and organ) and can lose an arm if he's significantly injured. While the normal hack, bludgeon, and beating violence associated with the typical brawler game-play is brutal enough - the intensity of the finishing moves are in a category of their own. Don't look away as Rick stretches open mouths to the breaking point, strangles monsters with their own tails, or actually reaches through the anus of a creature and pulls out its intestines. Environment-wise, things look pretty much as I expected they would: a dusty mansion interior intermixed with stages that appear to be mostly or entirely organic. I've always been more fond of the latter - and while you'll see plenty of pulsating walls and sludge-covered surfaces, the potential for a Silent Hill-esque "living hell" setting doesn't quite materialize as effectively as today's technology could render. The enemy designs (when lifting from creatures found previous installments) look pretty good - you'll see an assortment of skinless things with splayed claws and bared fangs along with series favorites like the suspended fetuses, spasming bore-worms, and the bag-wearing freak with the two chainsaw arms. Some of the enemies and stages don't really appeal to me (like the dark carnival / evil clowns - which weren't in the previous games and are a cliche in themselves) and some of the bosses weren't interesting enough (like the junk-accumulating doll giant). Rick and Jennifer were given make-overs (as mentioned in the story section of the review) which come off as pretty decent updates - and Rick's "rage-form" now resembles the "rage-form" from The Suffering games instead of a bulkier version of Rick's usual muscled self.
I didn't notice the soundtrack much except for on two occasions. The first is when they inserted some generic sounding black and heavy metal songs into the various battles you fight against the hell-spawn, and the other time being the interesting 16 bit-like tunes that played during the side-scrolling levels. The former I could have done without, even if that's the kind of music that 2010 Rick would be listening to these days - as I would have preferred a traditional spooky soundtrack (something like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, or even syncopated ambient noise). The old-school style of music was greatly appreciated though, and I almost didn't want to finish the side-scrolling levels because of the retro-score. Voice acting (the first instant in the series) has its ups and downs. Rick and Jennifer sound pretty much as you'd expect college kids these days to come off as. Dr. West's voice annoyed me a bit - but it was actually the talking Terror Mask that I almost found myself wanting to mute. Aside from a couple of good lines, most of his banter spoiled the mood and was just plain diarrhea of the mouth. To be honest, rather than coming off as an ancient blood-thirsty presence or some manifestation of Rick's Id and Ego - I just imagined some swarmy taxi-cab driver running his mouth into a recording mic. The noise of combat came off pretty solid - with crisply recorded sounds of ripping flesh, crunching bone, tearing sinew, and hefty splats of slime and entrails hitting the floor.
Believe it or not I couldn't find any flaws in the handling of combat or the platforming segments, with no lag present or any kind of cumbersome input issues glaring up in the least.
As with the rest of the elements of the Splatterhouse remake, game-play this time around brings back familiar staples from the original trilogy but expands on them heavily and incorporates a lot of new ideas and concepts. One of the minor issues I had with Splatterhouse III (my favorite installment of the series) was that the use of weapons was less significant and the ability to smear enemies across the walls with such objects ahd been entirely removed. Splatterhouse 2010 now has more weapons than ever - ranging from "old reliables" like blades, bats, and shotguns to newly-inserted organic items such as decapitated heads and severed limbs (that of your own and defeated enemies). Painting the environment with corpses you sling across room with a powerful swing of a weapon has also returned, and you can do this in both the 3d levels and the side-scrolling ones. Rick's "rage-mode" (introduced in Splatterhouse III) has been upgraded from simply souping up the damage of combat to turning Rick into a killing-machine that destroys cannon fodder in a single attack, makes short work of elder demons, and can even put the hurt on bosses. The majority of the game-play follows suit of the modern God of War-like 3D/360 brawling and hacking (I'd say, 65%) with the occasional giant boss thrown in that you'll need quick-time events to finish off. As a treat to the old-school Splatterhouse fans, several levels take place in a left-to-right perspective of traditional side-scrolling combat just like the first three games. While you can't perform any kind of elaborate fighting techniques in these stages, their simple but uncluttered nature of the makes you wonder how the game would have been received if entirely done like this and released as an XBLA game instead of $60 full-blown retail title. The platforming elements from Splatterhouse I and II return here, and before you brace for my usual gripes about how I hate that kind of stuff in a beat 'em up... it actually doesn't really bother me here. In addition to jumping over pits and rolling beneath crusher machines - you do a bit of puzzle solving. Of course, when I say puzzles - I mean shifting barriers by impaling demons onto spikes and such straight-forward tasks. Killing enemies this time around nets you blood (the currency of the game) that can be spent on upgrading Rick's stats and unlocking combat abilities. If things are sounding pretty good to you, like me say that from a glance.. Splatterhouse 2010 could be the best entry in the series in terms of game-play. However, on closer inspection the flaws swell up to the surface and hover over the game-play content like a whiff of spoil about a savory meal. For starters, the loading times are perhaps among the worse I've witnessed on the 360 with over 300 titles beneath my belt. When I'm playing games like Mass Effect or Fallout 3, I can understand that it takes time to load up massive environments with tons of specific items or events you have altered from the original design. Nothing in Splatterhouse 2010 even remotely approaches that scale - we're talking about 45 seconds load times even for the minimalist side-scroller levels and the largest stages in the game are nothing out of the ordinary themselves. So, I want you to imagine what I had to deal with.. falling into a spiked pit or getting killed from a powerful enemy attack, and having to repeat all that - waiting through the load times with each and every occurrence. The check-points need some work too, as the last level had me throwing my controller against the wall every time I defeated the first-half of a boss and ended up having to restart the entire previous 3 minutes of the level when the second half whips me into an instant-death chasm. Splatterhouse 2010 also makes the error of including some non-skippable cutscenes during such aforementioned segments, meaning even more time is wasted before I even get back to where I died. While I liked most of the normal combat against the regular hordes of enemies, I think that the boss battles lack the intensity and generally interesting nature of the basic beat 'em up action. Instead, have you avoid getting stomped while you wait for your rage-meter to refill - and it can't compete with similar set-pieces like those found in God of War, Prince of Persia, or Bayonetta. Lastly, the game has some issues with certain enemies running away from you while making all the other monsters on-screen invincible until you repeatedly catch up with the fleeing demon to damage him a bit before it skirts away again. With all the development tug-of-war drama Splatterhouse 2010 had prior to finally being release, I think that Namco became impatient with the release of their long-await title and didn't want to run a few months more of analysis and polish onto it before it hit the market. I think that was their biggest mistake - as a wise man once said that a good game may see months or even years of delay.. but a rushed product will sit in the shadow of its own hype forever.
Replay value 8/10
It will take several play-throughs (or a bunch of grinding in the survival mode) to unlock the full ability-tree Rick has. This allows for an evolving sense of power and the benefit of being able to mess around with newly-unlocked moves and perks before finding something that fits your style and the situation at hand. Splatterhouse has a number of collectibles - which I usually dislike having in games, but at least here finding all the pieces of a Polaroid will get you a view of Jennifer's well-rendered "goodies". The aforementioned survival mode is a half-dozen arenas that pit you through 20 waves of increasingly difficult enemies with weapon and health/power-up spawns keeping the flow of violence on-track. I like the first three or so of these arenas, but after them the battles become longer and less interesting due to more durable enemy defenses, less treats before and after each round. There are achievements tied into this mode as well, but to earn them you'll have to rush through the fight to unlock the S-class rating - and perform a bunch of mundane battle assignments for the other trophy. But let's face it - the real reason you'll be putting Splatterhouse repeatedly back into your 360 disc drive lies in the fact that the entire classic trilogy of games in included. Even people who already own the second and third installment for the Sega Genesis will be pleased that the fully uncensored original arcade game that started it all (yet was never given a proper port) is in the bundle. Having the three survivor-horror brawlers neatly packed together means that even if you hate the new game - you'd be a fool to pass up buying this anthology at some point when the price comes down.
Is Splatterhouse a worthy addition to a coveted franchise built on the principles of ultra-violence, horrifying sights, and brooding atmosphere? Yes and no. I think with another month or two of polish (and some aesthetic tweaking) Splatterhouse could be spoken in the same breath as its prequels, especially the first and third installment. As it is now, it is a serviceable return to the realm of ethereal suffering, gore-strewn mansions, and parasitic demon masks - and I think that a healthy portion of hardcore fans of the series and beat 'em up fans unfamiliar with the older games will be accepting of this new title, warts and all.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 01/03/11
Game Release: Splatterhouse (US, 11/23/10)
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