Back in 1988, Namco used Jason Vorhees’ iconic hockey mask to separate Splatterhouse from its forbears; allowing gamers to step into the shoes of left-for-dead parapsychology student, Rick, as he pummelled and battered his way through West Mansion, natty head gear and all, to save his girlfriend Jennifer from the clutches of the maniacal Dr. West. TV-movie storyline aside, Namco’s anti-hero is looked upon with great fondness, and the diversity of home ports, sequels and offshoots (I’m looking at you Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti), have only worked to strengthen Rick-O’s place in video game history. However, with the world now more used to the glistening expanses of Liberty City and the on-line call to arms of Black Ops and Modern Warfare, the question remains: what has changed in the splatter house to warrant a 3D update?
Much like Splatterhouse’s anti-hero, the answer is somewhat of a dichotomy. On one hand Splatterhouse 2010 is true to its namesake, with Rick and the Terror Mask symbiotically taking revenge in a reboot of the original's hack and smash formula, storyline and all. On the other, however, there is something far more unpleasant at work here than Dr West’s army of the Cursed – a residue, if you will, acquired in its translation to a 3D environment: flawed game mechanics.
This is first demonstrated in Splatterhouse’s opening, which acts as a synecdoche for the entire game, offering players a rather misleading turn as a hyper-powered, blade-wielding Rick, who can slash, chop and sauté enemies left right and centre. While this initially demonstrates a fluid combat system that rewards players with buckets of the old red stuff splashed on the floors, walls and camera lens, this hack-a-thon is cut short, and as soon as Rick powers down, the player is introduced to the all-too passive and ineffectual ‘Mask Look’. This ability to switch into first-person perspective (which subsequently doesn’t allow Rick to move) and gaze at ‘points of interest’ jars dramatically with the carnage beforehand. While some franchises can get away with teasing the player with a fully-equipped arsenal before stripping this away (think Metroid), Splatterhouse has neither the narrative arc, pacing or consistency to handle this effectively; resulting in the player feeling rather bewildered as to if and when Rick will be returned back to this much more appealing state. The fact that ‘Mask Look’ is rarely, if at all, needed to find any of the game's collectibles (many consisting of nude photos of Jen that make Sam Fox’s Strip Poker look sexy) makes it not only self-defeating, but offers further proof of the inconsistent nature of Splatterhouse’s game world; and evidence that this game has seen the hands of more than one development team.
Developer Bottle Rocket’s original dismissal, then selective reinstatement during the creation of Splatterhouse becomes more apparent the deeper you journey into the game’s mansions, cities or (in a Jason X turn) future-scapes. Progressively, Splatterhouse becomes, much like its in-game creatures, a patchwork of parts borrowed from other, more impressive beasts. While this in itself isn’t such a bad thing, Splatterhouse’s appropriation of ideas such as God of War’s death moves (here requiring split-second timing or you'll land up on your backside) or Enslaved’s monkey-infused leaps are either too sporadically placed or simply don’t correspond to the character the player is introduced to at the start of the game. Indeed, watching a hulking brute that can’t even move while looking at something, nimbly jump from pillar to post creates an infuriating paradox of ideas that could have easily been remedied at the planning stage.
This is not to say that controlling Rick is wholly unpleasant. When it comes to brawling, this boy can really swing, and there is a certain beauty in the contact of fist, pipe or chainsaw with another living being. If there is any saving grace in Splatterhouse, then this is it. Blows feel solid and tearing a hapless ghoul limb from limb has a visceral quality that few games can replicate. In this respect Splatterhouse firmly does what it says on the tin, and with combat being the game's mainstay it almost succeeds in dragging the player into its smack-happy environment... Almost.
If Rick’s offensive moveset is cause for praise, then his defensive skills – more specifically his dash ability – are (much like his choice of girlfriend) rather lacking. Ending his defensive sprint in a little wiggle (which wouldn’t be out of place in Come Dancing), can often lead to Rick overshooting a target or ending up on a chainsaw blade. This is especially irritating in the sections where you are required to run between a series of ever-falling trap-doors and hinders progress no end.
What all this means therefore, is that trial and error (or simple endurance), rather than skill, plays a large part in Splatterhouse. A fact which is not helped by the camera’s apparent ADHD. In the early stages camera troubles can be excused, as the occasional obscured view, or pan through a wall is forgiveable. On the later levels, however, the camera becomes a major issue as platforms that seem connected often have huge spaces between them. With the shoulder-level camera obscuring the view, it results in the one thing this game has a lot of: death. Unfortunately these issues are not limited to the 3D levels, as the 2D sections suffer a similar fate. With the side-on levels, however, it is often not the camera, but rather the scenery that causes death to any player not wary enough to spot a floor-coloured saw arm or spike-set that seems to appear from nowhere.
The music, much like the rest of the game, is a a mish-mash of ideas, with heavy rock and thrash metal bands such as Slayer, Lamb of God and Death Punch juxtaposed against remixed versions of the original music in the 2D levels. The pounding drums that herald the onset of a boss fight suits the action well, but having heard this a hundred times before, it’s difficult to muster any emotional response. However uninspired the music choice may be, nothing can really top the jibes of the Terror Mask for cringe-making moments; with ‘gags’ ranging from the mildly crude to the downright nonsensical – think Freddy Krueger in the latter Nightmare on Elm Street’s, just before they dipped off the box office radar.
Much like West Mansion, Splatterhouse feels unfinished. Corridors you would expect to reveal a tasty treat are unjustifiably dead ends, weapons seem to spawn erratically, monsters disappear after cut-scenes and so on and so forth. The real horror here though is not the bleeding walls or grotty dungeons, but rather that this feels like a step back from Splatterhouse Part 3 on the Megadrive – primarily due to the removal of the multiple routes offered in the 16-Bit sequel.
Much like catching the occasional Sunday Hollyoaks omnibus, Splatterhouse 2010 can only be recommended as a guilty pleasure. There is something enjoyably primal about the game that’s perhaps best experienced in short bursts; the school boy pleasures of (occasionally) giggling at the Terror Mask’s rude quip; beating something to death with your own severed arm or playing through the unlockable originals and pushing up to make Rick ‘pee’ are all evidence of this. Those looking for their daily fix of bloodlust should look elsewhere, but as a part-time massacre, it suffices.
Text by Paul Barker