Remakes are always a bit of a mixed bag. When done well they can breathe new life into an old title and smother you in the heady throes of nostalgia. Done badly they can make you furiously angry and desperately disappointed. In the middle are those muddling titles that take your money under the auspices of expectation, but leave you feeling a little unsatisfied – a bit like a morning after McDonalds.
If you had to put Namco Bandai’s Splatterhouse on the continuum between nostalgic and nasty it would be hovering somewhere in that tepid middle. As a remake it’s not amazing by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not a diabolical monstrosity either.
You play as Rick, a paranormal student who, along with your girlfriend Jennifer, ends up in the infamous West Mansion (for some unknown reason that the game oddly forgets to remedy). Pretty soon Jennifer’s been captured by the nefarious Dr. West, you’re choking blood all over the floor, and the decision to ever go near the damn place is looking increasingly stupid.
But, just before you splutter your final pint over a fortuitously placed photograph of the happy couple, a demonic terror mask appears – which upon wearing transforms you into a muscled monster that’s part Hulk, part Bain, and a whole lotta Jason Vorhees.
You want your girlfriend (who doesn’t seem to be putting up much of a struggle) back and the Terror Mask has embedded itself inside your head, constantly urging you to quench its thirst for blood. If you want to have any chance of getting your damsel back, you’re going to have to cooperate.
That’s the narrative set up for Splatterhouse – and on the whole it’s a fairly decent one. Demonic houses, monsters and insane experimental doctors are nothing new when it comes to horror, but it’s a tried and true staple which is predominantly true to the 1988 original.
What’s different from the original is an obvious attempt at over the top and the so-much-its-just-stupid, violence and gore. Splatterhouse is a mad butcher of a title. Pulverising punches and gory grabs are central not just to the titles shock value (which it has banked so much of its hype on) but also on its gameplay. Kill demons or monsters in increasingly violent and gruesome ways, and you will gain more blood – which can be used to unlock new moves or regenerate Rick.
But it’s this overemphasis on gore that underpins one of the central problems with Splatterhouse. Sure, pulling a Zombie in half, or ripping a demon’s head off with its own tail, is fun the first time and its fun the second time. It’s just not that much fun the tenth, or twentieth time around. In fact, it’s kind of boring.
The title’s main combat is just simple repetitions of button mashing punch and pound (or when carrying a weapon, hack and slash). Unfortunately there is not much more sophistication beyond that simple mechanic – besides the violent finishers, which lack variety and are rendered in vaguely neon shades of red, making the whole experience more garish than gory.
Combine all that with a maddening camera – which at times seems to think that brick walls make better windows than doors, an incredibly steep learning curve, long loading times, frustrating linear progression (which is not helped even with a borrowed trick uncannily similar to Assassin Creed’s eagle eye) and save points that are few and far between, and you’ve got yourself a bit of a problem.
That’s not to say that Splatterhouse’s combat mechanic is innately terrible. If you have a lot of anger, or were the kind of child who liked to pull the wings off flies, then you probably have a good time running around painting the West Mansion’s walls a nice hue of red. It’s just that once you’ve done that for an hour or so, you’ve experienced 90% of the game. The only relief comes from boss battles or, in homage to its forebear, some small intervals of side-scrolling carnage.
These mechanical problems are the same obvious hurdles that all third person action titles suffer from in one way or another. But in ameliorating these challenges, Splatterhouse hasn’t been able to package its experience in the polished way that other titles have managed.
Even on the audio front there isn’t much to save the show. Ambient noise is so so, and some of the creatures sound a little bizarre (especially the zombie in the background during the title screen load, which sounds amusingly like this internet meme). But the voice acting is competent, and is probably intentionally dramatic in that loveable horror-theme style.
The Terror Mask has some rather humorous lines (which come to think of it, I’m not sure was the intention) but for an angry demon he is incessantly chatty. Granted, the Terror Mask is supposed to be talking to you inside your head, but that really shouldn’t be a licence for it to be blatantly annoying. When crushing demon skulls between your huge hands, no one needs to be unfailingly gushed at by an inner psychotic cheerleader. It’s just infuriating; sometimes wanton violence needs to be enjoyed in a little peace.
However the look and feel of West Manor has been done with style. The game is well put together (minus some dodgy looking background textures) and the level design, while linear, is proficient. And although the combat is rote and the finishers lack range – at least they look good. When the central premise of your title is “kill everything in as violent and gory a way as possible” Namco Bandai should be congratulated for providing you with visceral options.
It’s obvious that Splatterhouse is a title for a niche crowd. If you’ve got a thing for sadism and heavy metal soundtracks then you’re in for a goregasm. But that crowd is niche for a reason. The majority of gamers looking for a satisfying third person action title would be best to look elsewhere.
And gamers looking to play a remade title in vainglorious attempts to relive their youths should also stay away. Because as contrary as it sounds, Namco Bandai’s remake has more bore, than gore.