Review by geelw

"A Hysterically Funny & Gory Good Time"

People sometimes call me crazy because I'm so into gaming, but to tell you the truth, it does become dull from time to time. It's easy to become jaded, constantly being around games almost 24 hours a day- then you get to play a title like Illbleed and you know that somewhere out there, there are some really talented people who are a lot crazier than you. Now that Jaleco seems to be dead and buried as a publisher, a new company called AIA games has risen from their still hot ashes to bring us their first (and possibly last) Dreamcast game. Definitely one of the most original and refreshing games in quite a while, and a game I'm sure many people will dislike because it simply demands that you use an amazing amount of patience if you want to survive its many tricks and traps. No doubt fans of survival horror games like the Resident Evil series will find many aspects of the game's control and pacing downright annoying, but I say, screw 'em if they can't take a joke! Capcom's classic can't hold a candle to this game simply because Illbleed refuses to take itself seriously- you'll may die a lot while playing this, but at least you'll die laughing!

The premise is straight out of a B-movie: courtesy of some free passes, three teens decide to take the challenge and attempt to survive crazed horror mogul Michael Reynolds' Virtual Horror Land, a.k.a. Illbleed. Hey, for a hundred million dollar prize, I'd go too! But of course, like in any Grade-B slasher flick, they end up missing in action. A fourth, Eriko Christy, sets out to find them- little does she know it's going to be quite a rescue mission, and the place isn't called Illbleed for nothing! Eriko's parents ran a traveling horror show, so she grew up seeing pretty much every cheap scare tactic known to man- but Mr. Reynolds' place is a little bit more insane. Well, a LOT more insane. The traps and blood are real, and death is sometimes a heartbeat away- literally. Had this been played totally straight, it might be something out of a Stephen King novel, but Crazy Games (most of the same guys who did the disappointing Blue Stinger for the DC) instead went straight for gamers' funnybones, albeit with a very sharp axe and some really nasty backed-up plumbing.

The game recalls the PC classic, Alone in the Dark, along with the ancient game show Let's Make A Deal, and the old 60's horror film House on Haunted Hill (not that stupid remake). There are also loads of nods to other horror flicks (you'll see!), and the game is best played at night, in a dark room- preferably with friends watching nearby. It's not that the game is extremely frightening or anything like that- it's just great fun to see who jumps when the ''boo!'' sequences happen, and when you clear a level, expect a few high fives and cheers. Similar to Fox's Alien Resurrection for the Playstation, the game has you adjust your TV's brightness setting waaaay down so that the dark areas are really dark. And just when you get a smile on your face, out pops some sort of whacked-out scare effect. Some work, some don't, but you'll be hooked the first time Jimmy's dad chases you through the first level's basement maze with a really big blowtorch!

The play mechanics are truly impressive, and watch other, more ''serious'' horror games steal this feature somewhat for their games. Across the top of the game screen, a meter records your selected character's sight, smell, hearing, and ''sixth sense''- a flat line straight across means all is well, for the moment. Whenever you see any of the readings start acting up, it's time to tread carefully, at least until you find the ''Horror Monitor''. This is a set of hi-tech goggles that you can use to scan areas above and below looking for traps, monsters and items. The catch (-22) is, that every time the Monitor is used, your adrenaline goes down- 10 points per use, plus about 40 points each time you place a ''marker'' on a spot. If you run around the rather large levels searching every single spot like a paranoid Great Dane marking his territory, your adrenaline will run out faster than a keg of beer at a frat party. Not good at all when you need to cross a trap-filled room and you're out of brain juice. I found that out the hard way the first two or three times I played. Also, the game twists things up by having the Horror Monitor stolen from you at one point in the game, so you need to rely on something else to survive (running a lot is a really good idea)...

Also important is your heart rate- each time you miss scanning a trap, you get a shock scene that could be among other things: a giant, gnarled hand crashing through a window and whomping you upside the head, some knives flying across a room cutting you to pieces, or my (least) personal favorite, a toilet discharging a face full of shit all over the screen. In this case, you may start bleeding profusely, your heart rate increases, and you need to either stand still for a long while, or take any number of pulse-dropping remedies &/or apply a bandage (if you have any). I actually killed one of my characters off accidentally by using the ''Erole Magazine'' item when his heart was racing! Lesson learned: don't use porno to take your mind off that ass-whipping you just got from a pair of fast moving monkeys with meathooks. This isn't a game for the extremenly squeamish or easily sickened, despite the relative comic value of most of the events taking place. A lot of times, you'll get jumped by a monster or two, and the blood flows freely- Illbleed tops both Sword of the Berserk and Silent Hill in terms of gallons leaked. In a way, the exaggeration makes the game even funnier, but if you don't like it, just play something else.

The control is interesting in that if you try to play the game like Tomb Raider, you'll have an amazingly frustrating time. Although you have complete freedom of movement, and the environments are in full 3D, you'll want to restrict your running to when you need to get away from a monster, or going back to collect an item. For the most part, you're going to be walking slowly around, scanning areas and trying to avoid traps. the camera can be adjusted to a number of different positions, but I find the Auto-Follow Camera #2 to work the best. The other viewpoints are either too close or have the camera swing into some wild positions when you're trying to navigate your selected character around. All the characters can jump, and it's really awkward when they do, but jumping is a necessary skill in the game, so practice a lot in the main area of the park, if you want to live.

Each stage has a single weapon that has to be found first, and going up against some of the enemies can be fatal especially if you're attacked by two or more at a time. Eriko and the others can pack a mean punch, but a crash test dummy with a big wrench and a mean spin kick can send you to a fast ''Bleeding Death'' if you're careless. Also important, VERY important, in fact, is the Dodge move (''A'' button during panic scenes)- like in any bad horror flick, you can avoid damage completely in some cases with this dumb-looking move, so learn it well! If all else fails, you can run to the ''H'' spot and call a helicopter to drop a ladder for a ''Narrow Escape''- brilliant, and hilarious when you pull it off. Monster battles take place right where you're surprised- you have a limited area to run and dodge in, and unlike Resident Evil, the monsters here move really, really fast. It's like someone fed the demon babies from Silent Hill loads of candy and steroids, then sent them to the gym to work out! Beating monsters here earns you a good amount of Adrenaline Points, so a smart player will only run when their tank is full, so to speak. There are also special items which can be used to enhance your abilities and resistance to attacks, and the little cinemas for the operations are pretty creepy, with those disfigured doctors leaning into the camera. You can also bring back dead characters to life, and you will lose one or two of the gang every now and then, so try to save some cash for that event. The catch is you don't get paid until you clear a stage, so if you lose all the guys you've rescued, it's Game Over- permanently.

The graphics are high resolution and recall EC Comics, with some gaudy colors mixed in with the really dark areas. For all the bodily fluids and muck, this can be one really bright-looking game when it wants to be. In one respect, Illbleed has it all over the RE series, simply because you can actually see into some rooms from the outside, which actually enhances the coming scares somewhat. You may be able to see into the room, but since the traps are hidden, you can't see everything... The developers tossed in asides to other games they've done, such as putting the truck from the Runabout games in one level, or having Dogs from Blue Stinger make a guest appearance of sorts. A couple of background elements do suffer a bit (trees look too fake, some walls are too blandly colored), but this isn't Shenmue, and doesn't pretend to be.

The music and sound effects are excellent, though. From the goofy music that plays as you walk through Illbleed for the first time, to the chilling battle music you hear as you're trying to fight or escape from a monster, everything fits like a bloody leather glove and size 9 Bruno Magli shoes on a certain ex-football star. I love when you're walking through a hall, and just start noticing growls and moans coming from behind you! The voice acting is a mixed bag, though- I'm sure the intent was to preserve the campy feeling of many bad horror flicks, but the guy doing the voiceovers for the level intros doesn't sound convincing enough to me- AIA should have hired someone a bit more sinister. Also, this is yet another game where we don't see people's lips move when they speak- it really stands out, especially since there's a LOT of dialogue in the game. Overall, the voice work is better than a lot of other games out there, if you're taking notes. Well, except for the guy doing Randy's voice- yeesh...

My final diagnosis is that this is a game worth playing (more than once, as you don't get the TRUE ending the first time you finish), and the horror/comedy combination platter served up here is a breath of fresh air. I'm a huge D2 fan, so the sometimes slow pace of Illbleed bothered me not a whit. As I said earlier, some people will absolutely hate this title because it's not their idea of a horror game- too bad for them, I say. If anything, Illbleed shows just what's possible if you're willing to try something new, and have an open mind. Of course, after that axe cleaves open your skull, you WILL have an open mind- Mu-wah ha haa haaa haaaa! Go buy a copy of Illbleed. Now. And just keep saying to yourself: ''It's only a movie, It's only a movie, It's only a movie...''

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 12/20/02, Updated 12/20/02

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