First impressions / Splatterhouse

At a recent press event held by Namco, I got a chance to play through the first level of their upcoming Splatterhouse, a remake of a game in a series that’s been dormant for over seventeen years. If you aren’t familiar with the old 16-bit brawler, all you really need to know is that you put on a mask, ¬†got superhuman strength, and killed lots of monsters in Final Fight styled 2D bashings. For this new modern take on the game, the only thing that changes in the description is 2D has become 3D, and there will be heavy metal.

Not that it matters too much, but the game uses the same Rick and Jennifer characters from the games of old. Jennifer wants to interview Dr. West for her college newspaper, but is so creeped out by his place that she brings along boyfriend Rick. Some bad things happen, Jennifer’s being pulled away, and Rick is left to die cut open with intestines splayed across the floor. Luckily, a talking mask on said floor convinces Rick that he will both not die and be able to save Jennifer if he wears it. Of course he’s convinced, and then is transformed into a gigantic killing beast. Que the player assuming control.

Pretty much immediately, it’s clear that Namco has made damn sure the game earn the title of Splatterhouse. This game is bloody. If I had to guess about monster anatomy, I’d wager they couldn’t carry as much blood as the amounts smattered all over the environs of the game. It curdles, it squirts, it spills, it pours… everything and everywhere. And it didn’t let up. If you like violence in your games, this one has it in droves. It looks the part, too. It all looks like a comic book just made for the gratuity.

When I first took control, I was shown Rick’s full potential as a ridiculously huge Hulk-esque beast with gigantic bones jutting from his skin, most notable being sword-like talons from the wrists. This is the form that players will aspire to unlock as they progress through the game. After causing my introductory fit of violence, rage, and blood to spray every which way, I was shown the real starting point, where Rick’s only just barely huge and lacks those giant talons. What a tease. From there on, I had to rely on my fists.

Without huge Wolverine-esque blades, you’d think the violence and blood would get toned down. Not quite. Sure, punching monsters in the face doesn’t cause the mayhem a couple huge blades can, but weaken them enough and you can do Splatter moves. A monster will glow red when you can pull a splatter move, and that’s your cue to run up to that monster and press your grab button. The screen goes dark save for you and the monster you’re about to mame, a quicktime prompt tells you directions to press your analog sticks, and then Rick will, in the directions you just pressed, rip the monster apart in some extremely violent way. Using this, I ripped off arms, ripped zombies apart at the torso, and even ripped one creature’s mouth open to the point that it was followed with Rick reaching down its neck to rip out its lungs. Going back to the arms, I was also able to wield them as floppy weapons. Nice.

The game’s focus is combat, and overall it felt fluid. What I like most in a game like this is the sense that it’s possible to get through any situation without taking a hit, that there’s a system to master. I got that feeling with this game, and back by some of the licensed heavy metal music (Mastodon among them) to bolster every battle with just the right tone of loudness and raw poer, I was able to imagine some very satisfying ends to some very brutal battles. The fighting often reminded me of Arkham Asylum. While I didn’t get to experience a full move list, there was a similar sense of targeting and pulling combos from victim to victim. There didn’t seem to be a way to counter enemy moves, but I also didn’t get to experience the full move set, and it wouldn’t be fair to expect Rick to be as clean or efficient as Batman.

While I only got to see parts of the game within the mansion, I was told that there would be portals to other dimensions where things would certainly get more twisted. The one example I was given was a psychotic carnival level, so think along those lines. There was mention of Hell being involved in the game’s backstory, so I’d imagine/hope you get to beat and mame some demons while you’re at it.

Blood also doesn’t just sit as a dressing. The mask thrives on the stuff. Blood is going to be the main tool used in “upgrading” Rick and reaching toward that mayhem-causing monstrosity I saw at the start. It’s also used when you regenerate your health. Unlike in other games, though, you don’t just sit safe for ten seconds and hope to recover. You hold down two buttons and then charge it yourself. The developers wanted the player to take an active role in healing, and it does work as a nice way to keep you engaged when you’re running away from a mob to juice up. Oh, and you’ll know when you need to. Also like Wolverine, your body will just begin to fell apart in gory chunks.

The game has one goal in mind: killing and making it look brutally good. I only played one level, but it’s hard to argue with the results. Rocking soundtrack and comic styling behind bashing and smashing and ripping things to shreds… it all comes together really well. My main worry would be how long they could make that simple goal last. I feel like I’d be over it in a relatively short amount of time. Like I said, it’s a classic-style brawler, now in 3D and with some added production value. Is that enough? Again, at only one level in, it’s hard to say. But if a meaty bloody romp is just the thing for you, then look forward to October 28th.