Review by Syonyx

"For masochists and fans of the book only"

Following the success of the Tomb Raider franchise, Eidos followed up with a series of mostly crappy third-person adventure games, such as Ninja and Akuji the Heartless . Deathtrap Dungeon pretty much falls into this category, but this doesn’t mean it doesn’t have worthwhile qualities, and it can still be worth playing by the right person.

Deathtrap Dungeon is based on the Adventure Gamebook of the same name, book 6 of the Fighting Fantasy series of the late 1980’s. These books were a combination of choose-your-own-adventure and paper-and-pencil RPG’s, where the text was accentuated with battles whose outcome was determined by a series of dice rolls and decisions by the player, as well as other innovations. Primarily swords-and-sorcery based, the series also included some sci-fi stories. Deathtrap dungeon was one of the best and earliest books of the series. Deathtrap Dungeon , the game, is very closely based on Deathtrap Dungeon, the book, though the former is much larger and action-oriented. Fans of the book will enjoy many elements of the game, such as the occasional unexpected death and some of the enemies, including one surprise monster that plays a large role in the book, but whose appearance in the game has no foreshadowing.

This leads us to the general style of the game. It’s hard. Sometimes you’ll turn a corner or pull a switch, and a huge flow of enemies comes out, or a trap is triggered that brings instant death. Sometimes there are clues that this will be the result of an action. Sometimes there isn’t. Sometimes what’s a clue in one case, like a skeleton on the ground, will occur when there is no danger whatsoever, simply driving up your tension level. Often, you don’t notice or know that a clue is there until it’s too late. Essentially, in this game you’ll die. A lot. In the first level. So the question is, is this game challenging, or just frustrating? The answer is entirely subjective. A fan of the book, or a determined player, will be able to get a lot of reward out of a bit of determination. Usually, a section in which you died quickly can become pretty easy once you apply a new strategy, either in your pattern of movement, weapon or spell choice, etc. A bit of care can go a long way.

Another bonus to sticking it out through the game’s learning curve is that you get to see just how massive this game is. The game box lists “20 bloody 3D levels” as one of the features, but there are actually closer to 40 levels. I discovered this my first time playing, as the horror just kept going on, and I counted how many levels I had done so far (around 18), and thought, “Thank goodness it’s almost over.” It wasn’t. The game also boasts several dozen different enemy types, 8 melee weapons, 6 distance weapons (including a medieval rocket launcher, grenade launcher, and musket), 8 spell types and 9 different items, with many different kinds found on each level, always giving you a variety of ways to slaughter your enemies, or frequently blow yourself up. In truth, this game is massive.

On the downside, however, there is little requirement to make use of all the battle options the game gives you. 90 percent of the time, you can do just fine using the standard sword by blocking, waiting for your foe to attack and stabbing him right after, repeating until he’s dead. Of course, it’s a lot more fun to be creative. When you’re getting repeatedly killed or significantly weakened, however, it’s tempting to take the safe, eventually boring route.

Graphically, the game is weak, even given its age. The fact that it’s all underground, in stone castles and caverns, means that the environments are largely colored in washed-out grays and browns. The characters don’t use a very interesting color palette either. You can always tell what things are, but details are often murky. This can be problematic when you’re looking for things like flame spouts that appear as just a little gray squiggle in the wall. If you’re not paying close attention, you can easily miss a gap in a wall or a switch against the wrong background. There is a lot of polygon clipping and pop-ups, and you can sometimes see through walls, though this works to your advantage. Your character moves stiffly and unnaturally a lot of the time. This is particularly noticeable when blocking or climbing. The character design is okay, though I’m not sure of the wisdom that cast a black leather wedgie-inducing-bodysuit-wearing dominatrix as the female choice of hero. The enemies are decked out with thematically-appropriate details. For an example, see the jesters with heads-on-sticks as their weapons in the circus levels.

The game’s sound is average. Music is not played on every level, but when it is it’s themed to the stages, and doesn’t become jarring, except on the circus levels, when the discordant clown music, meant to be creepy, is just cacophonic. Some of the song tracks are fairly decent and create a fun, adventure-y feel. The sound effects are appropriate and add to the gameplay. For example, enemies teleport into the game at certain points, such as when you kill another enemy, or pass a certain physical point (I believe this is to avoid taxing the game engine, resulting in slowdown, by having too many characters active on the level at one time.) The sound of them warping in alerts you to nearby foes, and also adds to the tension whenever you hear it, because you never know where or what the enemy is.

The gameplay, other than already described, is pretty even. There’s very little aimless running around. Generally, you’ll always have enemies to deal with and treasures close at hand, and the paths are well-defined, without feeling restrictive. You have room to play and fight with your own style. Keeping with the deathtrap theme, there are many, many ways to die. Getting killed by enemies, blown up by your own explosives, falling, falling and landing on spikes, getting mashed by a block, burning, getting stuck full of arrows...

On the frustrating side is the level load times. They aren’t too terribly painful, but they are borderline. The game at least gives you the level description and objectives while it loads, even for a mid-level save, making for a little loading-time reading. Except, these descriptors are often inaccurate. They differ from what you actually encounter in the level in terms of objectives, numbers of certain special enemies, etc. in many cases. It’s as though they were written for earlier versions of the levels and were never updated as game development progressed.

The Good
-this game is huge!
-faithful adaptation of the book
-wide variety of weapons, spells, items equal lots of fun ways to dismember your enemies
The Bad
-little necessity to vary your fighting style
-long level load times
The Ugly
-the graphics!
The Ambiguous
-difficulty level: frustrating or hardcore?
-sound and music
If you somehow manage to finish the game once, it’s so tough that you very well may never want to try it again, even if you enjoyed it immensely. The secrets are unimpressive, basically giving you a few choice inventory items. The game lacks any bonuses such as unlockable movies or varied play modes. So the replay factor is pretty low.
This is a game that shows its age, especially graphically. Given the selection of excellent action-adventure games now available, for both PS1 and 2, I wouldn’t recommend purchasing this game unless you found it for less than $5. The exception to this rule would be if you were a fan of the original adventure gamebook, in which case the nostalgia factor increases the game’s desireability a little.

In conclusion, even though you can get some good laughs out of creatively slicing monsters to bits and chopping their heads off while they’re down, and though the right person can get a fair amount of satisfaction out of conquering this game, I can’t in good conscience rate it better than 5/10.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 09/02/03

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