‘Honey, I ex-sanguinated everyone’
If the videogame industry could get an erection, then this game would be it’s engorged penis. Splatterhouse is packed full with more blood than Dracula’s drinks cabinet, and revels in dishing out the arterial spray at every opportunity.
It follows the story of terminally unlucky heavy metal fan Rick, who takes his improbably beautiful girlfriend Jennifer on a romantic date to an old, creepy mansion. Shortly after they arrive Rick gets disembowelled and Jen is kidnapped by Dr. Henry West, the obligatory mad scientist who lives in the mansion. Young Rick hasn’t drawn his last breath however, because as he lays dying he hears a voice telling him to man up and save his girl. It turns out to be The Terror Mask, an artefact that holds the power to restore Rick to life, and then some. It transforms him into a hulking, muscular version of his former self, complete with an insatiable lust for the red stuff (and I don‘t mean ketchup). Arms get dismembered, heads are removed and everything else gets torn, ripped or sliced in one way or another throughout the course of Rick‘s journey to rescue Jen and, ultimately, save the world.
As a horror fan, and someone who has sat and watched both the ‘Tokyo Gore Police’ and ‘Machine Girl’ films, I’m used to this level of mutilation being on a TV screen at any given time. The only thing is, while both those films take the gore to a slapstick level, Splatterhouse goes way beyond that and it becomes quite detrimental to the experience, but let’s go a little deeper.
This game is just red, red and more red. Every time you finish a session you’ll feel like you need to wash all the vomit, bile and blood from your thoughts. While this is obviously a stylistic choice, and I realise that a game called ‘Splatterhouse’ should live up to its name, I feel like they tried a little too hard to be offensive. Sure, tearing a guys jaw in half is all good fun, but when I have trouble following what I‘m doing because the screen is covered with life-juice, I‘m pretty sure it‘s gone too far. The blood of your enemies literally drenches everything, and while at first it seems fun, it quickly becomes obstructive.
Particularly noteworthy, however, is the damage system implemented on Rick‘s character model. He loses great chunks of flesh each time he gets hit, eventually revealing the bone and organs underneath. This is just one of many nice little touches that get sadly lost beneath the patchy frame-rate and repetitive locations.
The only thing I can say about the fundamental gameplay is that it’s a mostly competent beat-em-up. There is a list of upgradeable moves that you pay for with the blood of your enemies (of course), and a set of ‘finishing moves’ called SplatterKills to dish out extra pain to those enemies. Being competent is all well and good, but the real test in this genre is the feel and the flow of combat. Splatterhouse doesn’t excel in either of these. The upgrade tree is disappointingly small, offering very little advancement in the variety of your move set. Only a limited number of combo upgrades are available, along with the option to increase your health meter and the effectiveness of the weapons Rick can pick up during the game.
When you enter into any sort of altercation with the myriad of non-descript monsters, it’s mainly just a case of tapping the attack button with furious abandon. If you want to, you can throw in a nice slow-motion heavy attack, or you could grapple your enemy and perform a throw. Or, as is probably the case, just hammer some buttons until whatever’s on the screen dies. Splatterhouse falls into the age-old beat-em-up cliché of trapping you in a room with a bunch of enemies and telling you to clear the room before you can advance. Every so often it will throw in an objective you have to achieve while fighting (like impale three enemies on a spike) before a door will open, and while this adds a tiny pinch of spice to the mix, it still becomes rapidly tiresome.
Punch your enemy to the point of collapse and he will glow with a red aura, allowing you to perform a ‘splatterkill’. These moves are at first hugely satisfying ( for example, to crush the skull of an enemy you’re told to thrust the analogue sticks inwards) but the lack of variety in them means that as soon as the first level is finished, you‘ve seen them all. Certainly as I reached the later levels they became a complete waste of my time, and I instead opted to beat the enemy to a pulp just to avoid the lengthy animations these finishers trigger.
A couple of things Splatterhouse excels in is both it’s soundtrack and it’s voice talent. Employing a fully licensed metal soundtrack including bands such as Mastodon and Goatwhore, and songs with such evocative titles as ’Morbid Dismemberment’ and ’Rigorous vengeance’, they definitely picked some great tunes to help enforce the pure blood-drenched chaos this game stands for. The highlight for me while playing, and one of my favourite performances in a game for a long time, is veteran actor Jim Cummings providing the vocals of the Terror Mask. He is a snarky, sinister being who revels in the bloodshed and often will exclaim his glee loudly as you dispatch enemies. He shares a very much hate/hate relationship with Rick, and most of their conversations during the game yield some great one-liners and taunts from Cummings, such as ’You know, for a Dick, you’re such a fuckin’ pussy.’ The rest of the cast are pretty good too (particularly Richard Doyle as Dr. Henry West,) but Cummings really steals the show, and I think we can expect to see more of this type of role for him in the future.
I’ll be honest here. Splatterhouse left a very coppery taste in my mouth, and I found little reason to play it beyond the reviewing stage. It has so many problems, not least of all being the crippling loading times. Every time you die you can be waiting up to a minute to start over, and despite your most staunch efforts, you’re going to die a lot. It had the potential to be a goofy, tongue-in-cheek homage to the horror genre, but for whatever reason the game’s focus was put purely on uninspiring combat and turgid platforming. I am an avid fan of horror, particularly the works of the late and great H.P Lovecraft, but even the numerous references to his powerful mythos were nowhere near enough to allude my feelings of total indifference towards the story.
It’s mostly a wasted opportunity for some brutal, bloody fun. I wanted to like it, I really did, but between employing oddly clumsy mechanics (such as the trial and error 2D side-scrolling nods to the original series,) infuriating time-limit missions and frustrating enemies, the game did more than it needed to push me away. Despite this, I feel that it’ll be very much a divisive game. You’ll either love it for the unashamedly OTT violence, or you’ll hang your head in shame when anybody mentions it. While it works competently on a base level, and I can say I thoroughly enjoyed some of it‘s later levels, I came away from this game totally ready to never play it again. There are definitely brains beneath the brawn, but Splatterhouse would much sooner spread them across the walls than use them.
It tries to be the childish, loveable younger brother of God Of War, but turns out to be nothing more than a tepid, forgettable Wad of Gore.